Why a USC student won't be charged in fatal stabbing of alleged car thief near campus

Aerial view of downtown Los Angeles and the University of Southern California campus.
Aerial view of downtown Los Angeles and the University of Southern California campus.

A University of Southern California student who fatally stabbed a suspected car burglar was acting in self-defense and won't be charged, the top prosecutor in Los Angeles announced on Thursday.

Ivan Gallegos, a 19-year-old business student, will not face charges in the Monday stabbing on an off-campus Greek Row street after prosecutors reviewed all the evidence, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said.

"We believe that Mr. Gallegos’ actions were driven by a genuine fear for his life and the lives of others," Gascón said in a statement to USA TODAY. "Our heart goes out to the deceased’s family, friends and everyone impacted by this tragic incident."

Xavier Cerf, a 27-year-old whom police said was homeless, allegedly broke into a car on the street when Gallegos and two other men confronted him. The altercation left Cerf on the ground with multiple stab wounds and he later died at the scene, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Gallegos was initially booked on a murder charge and held on a $2 million bail, while the other two men were questioned and released at the scene.

Gallegos told police that he believed Cerf had a gun but officers did not find one, the Los Angeles Times and ABC7 reported.

Gallegos' mother criticizes lack of campus safety

In a GoFundMe webpage created to support Gallegos that no longer exists, his mother Violet said her son acted in self-defense, according to the Los Angeles Times. She said he was only in that situation due to a lack of safety measures around the USC campus.

"Those who know Ivan know that he is a role model not only to this generation but to his community," Violet wrote on Facebook.

David Carlisle, Assistant Chief of USC's Department of Public Safety, said department would have preferred if Gallegos used the school's mobile safety app to notify officials about the situation. He said the university deploys a hundred private security officers everyday that are strategically placed in bright red and yellow jackets around the area.

"Because we're trained to handle situations like that," Carlisle told USA TODAY. "The safety of our student community is our highest priority."

Gallegos is an aspiring musician who overcame growing up in an environment filled with drugs, gangs and prostitution in East Los Angeles, according to a USC Annenberg Media profile about him published last month.

Gallegos founded a nonprofit called Project Dream that "provides guidance and resources to marginalized communities impacted by gang violence, substance abuse and poverty," according to the profile.

Cerf's mother says he was not a violent kid

Cerf’s mother, Yema Jones, said her son has recently grappled with mental struggles following the death of some family members and that he was a peaceful person despite having a criminal record, the Los Angeles Times reported.

She said she hoped they would reunite when he returned home to Houston but was told Cerf had been stabbed several times and died over a phone call from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office.

"They’re making my son out to be a person that he’s not," Jones told the Times. "He was very vibrant. He loved to dance. He wasn’t a violent kid coming up."

Cerf posted videos of himself dancing on his TikTok page, where he had nearly 2,000 followers.

On a GoFundMe page, Jones wrote that she was trying to raise money to bring his body from California to Texas adding that "I just want my son home. He has a 3-year-old son ... I just want him laid to rest."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USC student won't face charges in fatal stabbing near campus. Why?