Suspect in Shootings at Northern Calif. Farms Was Employee

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — An agricultural worker killed seven people in back-to-back shooting sprees at two mushroom farms that had employed him in Northern California and the massacre is believed to be a “workplace violence incident,” officials said Tuesday as the state mourned its third mass killing in eight days.

Officers arrested a suspect in Monday’s shootings, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, after they found him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.

Seven people were found dead, and an eighth wounded, at the farms on the outskirts of the coastal community of Half Moon Bay, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The sheriff’s office said seven of the victims were men and one was a woman. Some were Asian and others were Hispanic, and some were migrant workers.

“All of the evidence we have right now points to a workplace violence incident,” said Eamonn Allen, a spokesman with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. He said that Zhao used a semi-automatic handgun that was legally purchased and owned.

Allen said that Zhao he went in shooting at Mountain Mushroom Farm, where he worked, killed 4 people and then went to a farm where he used to work and killed another 3.

Aerial television images Monday showed police officers collecting evidence from a farm with dozens of greenhouses, which appeared to be the location where police found four dead. On Tuesday morning, police continued to block off the location.

California was still reeling Tuesday from an attack on a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, just outside Los Angeles, that killed 11 and cast a shadow over an important holiday for many Asian-American communities. Authorities are still seeking a motive for the Saturday shooting.

“For the second time in recent days, California communities are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless act of gun violence,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday morning. “Even as we await further details on these shootings, we know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action.”

The new year has brought six mass killings in the U.S. in fewer than three weeks, accounting for 39 deaths. Three have occurred in California since Jan. 16, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass killing — defined as four dead not including the offender — committed in the U.S. since 2006.

On Jan. 16, a teenage mother and her baby were among six people killed in a shooting at a home in California’s Central Valley. Officials discussing the investigation mentioned a possible gang link to the killings.

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez said the victims of Monday’s attack included Chinese and Latino farmworkers. Some workers lived at one of the facilities and children may have witnessed the shooting, she said.

The Sheriff’s Office first received reports of a shooting Monday afternoon and found four people dead and a fifth wounded at the first scene. Officers then found three more people fatally shot at a second farm nearby, Allen said.

About two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Zhao’s car parked outside a sheriff’s substation in a strip mall and arrested him.

“He did not actively surrender to us,” Allen told a news conference Tuesday, declining to answer a question on why Zhao had driven to the sheriff substation.

A video of the arrest showed three officers approaching a parked car with drawn weapons. Zhao got out of the car, and the officers pulled him to the ground, put him in handcuffs, and led him away. A weapon was found in his vehicle, officials said. The video was captured by Kati McHugh, a Half Moon Bay resident who witnessed the arrest.

The sheriff’s department believes Zhao acted alone.

“We’re still trying to understand exactly what happened and why, but it’s just incredibly, incredibly tragic,” said state Sen. Josh Becker, who represents the area and called it “a very close-knit” agricultural community.

Half Moon Bay is a small coastal city with agricultural roots, home to about 12,000 people, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco. The surrounding San Mateo County is a mixture of coastal cities and hills dotted with farms, included floral and tree nurseries as well as ranches. The county also allows cannabis to be grown in greenhouses and at nurseries in some areas.

It’s a majority-white community. About a third of the population is Latino and about 5% is Asian, according to Census data.

“We are sickened by today’s tragedy in Half Moon Bay,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said. “We have not even had time to grieve for those lost in the terrible shooting in Monterey Park. Gun violence must stop.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

24 Hours and Hundreds of Feet Apart, 2 Killings in Downtown Turlock. ‘We Will Not Tolerate’

Less than 24 hours after, and just around the corner from, a fatal shooting early Saturday, another deadly shooting took place early Sunday in downtown Turlock. It’s the city’s second homicide of the year, police say. The Turlock Police Department got a 911 at 1:38 a.m. Sunday reporting a shooting behind the Udder Place and Grand Cru in downtown. Arriving officers found found 31-year-old Robert Morgan, who worked security at Grand Cru, on the ground and suffering multiple gunshot wounds. “Uninvolved persons” were administering CPR, according to a police news release. Officers assisted with lifesaving efforts until an ambulance crew arrived and took Morgan to a local hospital, where at 2:16 a.m. he died.

TPD Detective Sgt. Victor Barcelos has indicated Morgan’s shooting and one the night before are unrelated, the news release says. Officers learned that Morgan, though it was his day off, was at Grand Cru with friends. “Inside the bar, Grand Cru’s security was involved in an altercation with several male patrons of Hispanic descent. Security was able to move the involved parties outside, but the fight continued, and Morgan stepped in while off duty to assist his co-workers,” says the release. While Morgan reportedly was in a physical altercation with a man near the rear of The Udder Place, the as-yet unidentified occupant of a dark sedan stopped, got out and fired multiple gunshots at Morgan. The shooter then got back into the car and fled the scene. Detectives are examining evidence including video surveillance and interviewing “relevant parties.” Additional resources including the Major Accident Investigation Team and the Special Investigations Unit are supporting detectives in the investigation and using specialized equipment to process the crime scene. Jerry Powell, owner of Grand Cru, has voluntarily closed for two weeks to review internal processes and procedures related to evaluating and improving safety measures at his establishment, the TPD release says. “I had a discussion with Mr. Powell regarding this tragedy at Grand Cru, and he let me know he is heartbroken at the loss of a valued staff member and friend,” Turlock Chief of Police Jason Hedden says in the release. “He also informed me that he is closing his business immediately to conduct a review and ensure that Grand Cru is a safe place for both patrons and employees.” The chief adds, “I am employing new, state-of-the-art technologies and resources to combat violent crime in our city to keep our residents and businesses safe and secure. We will not tolerate this kind of activity and want our residents to know we are working hard and will continue to update the public as information can be shared during these investigations.” The Turlock Police Department asks that anyone with information about the investigation to call Detective Raul Garcia at 209-664-7314, or the department’s Tip Line at 209-668-5550, ext. 6780, or email tpdtipline@turlock.ca.us.

The gunshot fatality was the second of the weekend. Early Saturday, just after 2 a.m. in the area of Market Street and South Broadway in downtown, a shooting took the life of a 21-year-old man and wounded a 20-year-old. The man who died is Romeo Portillo, according to a Turlock Police Department news release. The release did not identify the 20-year-old. The two were passengers in a car being driven by 22-year-old Gary Jackson. Both were taken to the hospital, but Portillo later died. The release said all three men are Patterson residents.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee

California Deputy Fatally Shot, Suspect Critically Wounded

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed Friday, just two weeks after another deputy in the department was slain in the line of duty.

The deaths of deputies Darnell Calhoun on Friday and Isaiah Cordero on Dec. 29 were the first since 2003 where a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy was killed in the line of duty, Sheriff Chad Bianco said.

The suspect in Calhoun’s death is in custody and was listed in critical condition after a gunbattle with a second deputy, Bianco said Friday during a news conference.

Calhoun was fatally shot in the city of Lake Elsinore, the sheriff said. He died after being taken to the hospital in serious condition.

“I shouldn’t be here tonight having to do this again,” Bianco said Friday outside the hospital. “I’m devastated to tell of the loss of another of our deputy sheriffs who was killed in the line of duty today.”

Calhoun is survived by his pregnant wife, Bianco said. He had previously worked for the San Diego Police Department — the agency said on Twitter it was “devastated” to learn of his death — before transferring to Riverside last year.

“He was the most cheerful, the most positive, the most good, wholesome man you could imagine,” Bianco said.

Calhoun, 30, was the first deputy to arrive at the scene of an disturbance around 4:30 p.m. Friday following a call of “unknown trouble” where voices could be heard in the background, indicating a struggle, Bianco said.

“At this point, we are not completely sure of the circumstances surrounding the initial contact,” Bianco said.

The second deputy found Calhoun wounded in the street and confronted the suspect in a shootout. The suspect’s identity has not been released.

Lake Elsinore is about 55 miles (88 kilometers) southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Friday’s shooting comes as the sheriff’s department is reeling from Cordero’s death. The 32-year-old was fatally shot last month during a traffic stop in the city of Jurupa Valley, east of Los Angeles.

Cordero had pulled over a pickup truck and the driver, 44-year-old William Shae McKay, shot the deputy as he approached the vehicle. Law enforcement pursued McKay in a manhunt that included a chase along freeways in two counties, authorities said.

McKay was killed during a shootout with deputies after the truck crashed.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco and Cordero’s family have called for the resignation of a Southern California judge who allowed McKay’s release from custody on bail despite his lengthy criminal history.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Criticism of judge in the killing of a Riverside County deputy not so clear, legal experts say

Experts also chide the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office for lack of a forceful argument against reducing bail for William McKay

It’s every judge’s nightmare: San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Cara D. Hutson reduced bail for a career criminal awaiting sentencing on a third strike, allowing him to secure his release and then go on to allegedly kill a sheriff’s deputy.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco lambasted Hutson after the Dec. 29 killing of Deputy Isaiah Cordero and called for the judge to resign. So, too, did Cordero’s mother, Rebecca, receiving thunderous applause at the fallen deputy’s memorial service on Friday.

“Judge Cara Hutson,” she said, “my family is devastated. My son was a good man. My family, Isaiah’s brothers and sisters and his community demand your resignation.”

But an analysis of court documents and interviews with legal experts shows there’s more to the story.

Law experts say Hutson made a legally plausible decision to reduce bail, although probably not a practical one. And they don’t believe  Hutson should surrender her robes. They also found fault with the prosecution in the case.

‘Bad judgment call’

“It’s a bad judgment call, but not legally unreasonable,” said Rudy Loewenstein, a veteran Orange County defense lawyer and a former deputy district attorney.

Suspected gunman William Shae McKay, 44, was killed in a shootout with police after allegedly gunning down Cordero, 32, during a traffic stop in Jurupa Valley. Cordero received a hero’s funeral Friday while the public puzzled over why McKay was not behind bars under California’s “three strikes” law at the time of the shooting.

Acquitted of kidnapping

In November 2021, McKay appeared for a nonjury trial before Hutson, who was appointed to the San Bernardino County Superior Court bench in 2007 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The judge, a Democrat, previously worked as a deputy district attorney from 1994 until her appointment to the newly created seat on the bench. She was unopposed for reelection in 2022.

Hutson found McKay guilty of false imprisonment, making threats likely to result in great bodily injury, evading arrest and receiving stolen property, resulting in a third strike and leaving him susceptible to a sentence of 25 years to life. She acquitted him of two more serious kidnapping charges and reduced his bail accordingly from $950,000 to $500,000 — which McKay told the judge he could not afford.

Asked by Hutson for her input, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Tess Ponce offered this brief opposition: “Your Honor, I think given the change of circumstances and given — just given the stakes I was going to say no bail should be appropriate. I’ll submit to the court.”

McKay ended up making bail pending his sentencing and a motion for a new trial, but he failed to show up in October 2022 for a court date and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Before he failed to appear, McKay was arrested again by Fontana police on a drug charge, but was released after bailing out, authorities confirm. There is no law that would have prohibited McKay from being released on bond again.

$500,000 bail ‘significant’

Legal experts said the $500,000 bail set by Hutson was not inappropriate.

“The judge heard the testimony and adjusted the bail after finding (McKay) not guilty of the most serious charges, and $500,000 is a significant bail,” said Katherine Tinto, director of the criminal justice clinic at the UC Irvine Law School. “According to the transcript, the district attorney did not put up a strong objection to the $500,000 bail.”

Added Tinto: “There’s no indication the judge didn’t do what a judge is supposed to do: evaluate the facts, evaluate the criminal history and consider bail.”

Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, also reviewed the transcript of the bail hearing, obtained by the Southern California News Group.

“All we get from the prosecution is a single sentence (opposing bail). There is nothing in the way of a coherent argument there,” said Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor. “My overall reaction is that the prosecution’s handling of this matter was far from satisfactory. … I don’t think the judge’s handling of this was perfect, but the prosecution should have pushed the judge.”

Jacquelyn Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, responded: “Regardless of criticism, the bottom line is we objected to the reduction of bail, we asked for no bail.”

Details of the case

According to the records, McKay was accused of kidnapping Lisa Little, an acquaintance who had bailed him out of jail previously and cooked for him occasionally.

In March 2021, Little told San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies she was asked by McKay to house-sit and feed his dogs while he was in custody on an unrelated case.

The house was burglarized while she was briefly gone and McKay accused her of being involved. Prosecutors alleged McKay punched her in the face, took her purse, keys, credit cards and cellphone, and dragged her to his garage. He also took the car she was driving, which turned out to be stolen.

McKay tied her hands and feet with duct tape, in view of two accomplices, according to the prosecution’s presentencing report. The woman was taken to various parts of the house, while McKay and the others made purchases on her credit cards, records allege.

At times, duct tape was placed over the woman’s mouth and she was punched. She eventually broke free of her restraints and ran to a neighbor’s house, where she called police.

Later that month, the California Highway Patrol tried to pull McKay over for driving a stolen vehicle, but he led officers on a 20-mile pursuit. He and a passenger, Abrianna Valerie Gonzalez, abandoned the car when it became disabled and fled on foot, armed with knives. They were arrested after Gonzalez stabbed a police dog, which had to be airlifted to a hospital, the CHP said at the time.

Victim hands ‘not clean’

After McKay’s trial, the prosecutor disclosed that she had just discovered there was a federal indictment against the victim — allegedly for transporting fentanyl — an indictment that McKay could have used to impeach Little’s testimony. Before rendering her verdict, Hutson acknowledged that Little may not have been entirely credible.

“The Court knows that Ms. Little’s hands are not clean. I’ll just leave it that way. So she’s not an angel to this Court,” Hutson said. “That is going to be considered within the ruling and verdicts that I am going to give.”

Hutson dismissed two counts of kidnapping and kidnapping to commit rape or robbery, saying the victim was not moved a significant distance to qualify for the charges. But Hutson found McKay guilty of the other crimes.

“Here’s the problem which Mr. McKay has reiterated to the Court on more than one occasion. The way he lives his life is not necessarily the way of the legal system,” the judge said. “In this instance, the Court knows beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. McKay decided to take matters into his own hands and dispense his brand of street justice.”

‘Not going nowhere’

McKay, acting as his own attorney, then asked the judge to reset his bail.

“I’ve learned a valuable lesson in all this. I’m not going nowhere,” McKay pleaded with the judge.

Hutson told McKay that the bail schedule for false imprisonment was $500,000.

“I will not release you (on your own recognizance) because the verdict is in and I have to always be mindful of the fact that you are still looking down the barrel of a life sentence,” Hutson told him. “And so I must keep bail at $500,000 now … because the verdict has changed, circumstances have changed and I have adjusted the bail to those circumstances.”

Hutson knew when she made her ruling that McKay had two prior strikes.

Prior strikes

The first strike was a 1999 felony conviction for assault with a firearm. He was sentenced to three years in state prison. In that crime, McKay was contacted by police during a traffic stop, but quickly accelerated to get away. He led police on a 100-mph chase, driving through a Caltrans work zone and sending crews scattering to get out of the path of his vehicle, records show.

When the car became disabled, McKay fled with a gun in his hand. After initially disobeying orders to drop the gun, McKay finally tossed it aside and surrendered to police, records show.

The second strike was related to a February 2005 attack — while he was still on parole from the first conviction. A couple was in their bed when McKay and an accomplice kicked down their door, turned on the light and began beating them with objects from the room, records state.

Click here to read the full article in the Press Enterprise

Riverside Co. Deputy Fatally Shot in Jurupa Valley, Suspect Killed Following Pursuit on 15 Freeway

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – A deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department died after being shot by a suspect during a traffic stop in Jurupa Valley

The suspect was later shot and killed by deputies following a pursuit that ended on the 15 Freeway.

The deputy was identified as 32-year-old Isaiah Cordero. Cordero was a motor enforcement deputy assigned to the city of Jurupa Valley.

According to Sheriff Chad Bianco, Deputy Cordero was shot during a traffic stop around 2 p.m. Thursday in the 3900 block of Golden West Avenue. He attempted to pull over a driver and as he approached the vehicle the suspect pointed a gun and shot Cordero. 

Witnesses called 911 and stayed with the deputy till paramedics arrived. The suspect, later identified as William Shae McKay, fled the area setting off a massive manhunt. 

McKay was later located in San Bernardino County and when deputies attempted to approach him, he fled, triggering a pursuit. 

The pursuit, which spanned from San Bernardino to Riverside counties, came to a violent end after the suspect vehicle crashed and became disabled along the 15 Freeway in Norco

According to Sheriff Bianco, McKay fired multiple rounds at deputies at the end of the pursuit. Deputies returned fire, striking McKay. 

The suspect did not die at the scene, but was treated and transported to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Both deadly shootings remain under investigation. It is unknown what the suspect was initially wanted for when authorities initiated the traffic stop.

Mckay,44, has an extensive criminal history which includes kidnapping, robbery, multiple assaults with a deadly weapon, and the stabbing of a CHP K9. 

RELATED: Deputy Isaiah Cordero death: Sheriff says ‘we would not be here today if judge had done her job’

“This terrible tragedy should have been prevented by the legal system. McKay has an extensive and violent past and was convicted of a third strike in November of 2021. Instead of sentencing him to 25 years to life, which should have happened, the judge lowered his bail, allowing him to be released,” Bianco said during a press conference. 

“We would not be here today if that judge had done her job,” he added. 

Hundreds of law enforcement personnel gathered outside Riverside Community Hospital Thursday evening to hold a procession for the fallen deputy. Draped with the American flag, the deputy’s casket was taken from the hospital and put in a Hearse where dozens of patrol cars followed it from behind. 

The Riverside Sheriff’s Association released the following statement, “We are devastated by the grief of losing Deputy Isaiah Cordero, a deputy who was a ray of sunshine in the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, a person who was dedicated to protecting others. Once again, we face a tragic reminder of the selflessness and unwavering courage required of peace officers and their families. Deputy Cordero put on his uniform daily to make a difference in his community and keep families safe. Deputy Cordero’s death leaves a tremendous hole in the hearts of so many people who had the chance to know him personally.”

Cordero started working for the sheriff’s department in May of 2014 as a correctional officer for the Robert Presley Detention Center as well as worked at the Larry Smith Correctional Center and the Indio Jail. In February of 2018 h began the 204 Basic Academy and was promoted to a sworn deputy sheriff. In September of 2022 he completed motor school.

“From the day he was hired, his goal was to become a motor deputy. Deputy Cordero learned from his mother the value of serving and helping others,” Bianco said. 

Click here to read the full article at FoxNews LA

1 Arrested in Killing Near USC

A 31-year-old man was arrested in the shooting death of a security guard early Wednesday outside a student apartment building about half a mile from USC, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The shooting was reported around 12:30 a.m. outside the Lorenzo complex in the 300 block of West Adams Boulevard, just south of 23rd Street and east of Flower Street. The victim, a guard at the complex, was shot while trying to escort a trespasser off the property, the LAPD said in a news release.

He died at the scene, officials said. His identity has not been released.

During the investigation, police found a possible suspect sleeping in a parking area near the lobby of the apartment complex, according to the LAPD. The man, later identified as Alexander Crawford, 31, was detained without incident and found to have a handgun in his possession, police said.

Video reviewed by investigators connected the man to the shooting, according to the LAPD, and the gun found in his possession matched the caliber used in the guard’s killing.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Retail Theft a $94.5 Billion Crime Problem at American Stores

Retailers said Covid-19 has worsened the risk of crime

A massive rise in retail theft is contributing to “shrinkage” at brick-and-mortar retailers, contributing to the growth of online sales.

“The National Retail Federation estimates that shrink—an industry term for loss in inventory—amounted to roughly 1.4% of retail revenue in 2021, or roughly $94.5 billion. Most of that shrink is caused by theft, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Globe reported on California’s retail theft last May:

The escalation of organized “smash-and-grab” robberies in cities around the country has been costly. CNN reported in January that retailers across America say shoplifting is now 2% to 3% of their total sales, forcing the retailers to install new security systems, video cameras and security staff.

A 2021 survey of retailers found 65% acknowledged an increase in violence, while 37% said Organized Retail Crime gangs were much more aggressive than in the past.

With every legislative solution killed by California’s Democratic supermajority, retailers and Chambers of Commerce formed Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft (CARRT), and launched a campaign to raise lawmakers’ and the public’s knowledge of the growing theft problem in the state. CARRT is a broad-based coalition of business associations, local groups, and victim organizations advocating for California officials to act now to undo the damage done by Proposition 47.

Not the Bee also addresses this shrinkage: the Covid lockdowns.

“Whoever had the bright idea to shut down the entire U.S. economy, confine people to their homes indefinitely, foment open-ended hysteria about a respiratory virus, and drive inflation to sky-high record rates — congratulations, your strategy is bearing fruit,” Not the Bee reported.

“Brick-and-mortar retail’s indisputable edge over e-commerce is that consumers can get what they want immediately, and can touch and feel the product before buying it. Rising theft — and stores’ measures to prevent it — could dull that edge,” WSJ said.

The National Retail Federation report also found that the vast majority (89.7%) of respondents report that their Loss Prevention department is evaluated according to inventory shrink levels – in other words, shrink reduction is part of their goals, objectives or performance measures. Just 10.3% reported that they were not.

“Retailers surveyed by the NRF said Covid-19 has worsened the risk of crime, partly because labor shortages have made it difficult to fully staff stores,” WSJ said. “Moreover, supply-chain shortages made certain products more susceptible to theft because they fetched high value in secondary markets.”

“Can you imagine a more predictable outcome from the pandemic policies we enacted to fight COVID-19?” Not the Bee asks. “We threw our entire way of life — our economy, our organizations, our social structures, our education — into a complete and total tailspin.”

“Shrink can have a substantial impact on already thin retail margins. Target said that the rise in shrink, including theft, reduced its gross profit by more than $400 million in the first three quarters of its fiscal year, compared with a year prior. For the full fiscal year, it estimates that its gross profit will take a $600 million hit.”

“Although shrink is a perennial problem in retail, it really took off when the pandemic hit. In the five years leading up to 2019, retail shrink grew at a compound annual growth rate of roughly 7%, according to data from the NRF,” WSJ said. “In 2020, it jumped 47%, and rose another 4% on top of that huge jump in 2021. Some retailers, including Ulta Beauty and Target, have said that shrink has gotten worse again this year. ‘When times get tough, shrink goes up,’ Ulta Beauty Chief Financial Officer Scott Settersten said on the company’s earnings call on Dec. 1. ‘We’ve seen that in retail over a long period of time.’”

And who will pay for these increasing retail costs? “Retailers will ultimately pay for shrink risk in some form or another—either on the top line if they want to keep stores completely accessible or on the bottom line if they spend heavily on labor and mitigation measures,” WSJ said. “Finding the right balance will be key to preserving brick-and-mortar businesses.”

And if you wonder why toothpaste, shaving cream and laundry detergent is under lock and key at many stores, it is a theft mitigation measure, according to retailers.

California’s nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released a report that found a direct correlation between Proposition 47 and a marked increase in larceny thefts across California, despite many media reports attempting to refute the correlation, the Globe reported. As for any legislative support from the California Legislature, don’t hold your breath:

The California Assembly Public Safety Committee heard and killed Assembly Bill 1599 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) in March, which sought to repeal Proposition 47, and “make crime illegal again.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Could DA’s Decision Not to File Charges in SDSU Gang-Rape Case Have a Chilling Effect on Sex Crime Reporting?

People who work with sexual assault victims fear they the decision will give pause to sexual assault victims considering coming forward

The decision was months in the making: The District Attorney’s Office would not file criminal charges against three former San Diego State University football players accused of gang raping a 17-year-old high school senior at an off-campus party last year.

The announcement Wednesday closed one chapter in one of the county’s most-watched cases, although a civil case and a university inquiry continue.

And ripples from the case could reach far beyond those probes.

In issuing its statement, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office included this: “The conclusions reached in this review are specific to this incident and should not discourage any victim from coming forward and reporting a crime to law enforcement.”

There is good reason for concern, say activists and advocates, who fear the decision not to prosecute will give pause to victims of sexual assault who are considering coming forward.

Speaker and activist Brenda Tracy — who in 1998 reported gang rape by college football players in Oregon — said Wednesday’s decision “absolutely” has a chilling effect.

“People are looking at this and going, ‘Why, why, why should I put myself through this?’” she said.

“I’ve already seen multiple survivors on social media and people I talked to say, ‘This is why I didn’t report, and I’m so glad that I didn’t (report) because this is what I would have to go through.’”

Even after the #MeToo movement, with the societal attention and advancements it brought, struggles in investigating and prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases endure.

Believing the victim is only part of the equation. Alcohol or drugs may have been involved, potentially affecting the victim’s recall. Many suspects claim sexual encounters are consensual, and proving otherwise can be difficult.

The allegations of rape against San Diego State football players were detailed in a civil lawsuit the now 18-year-old woman filed in August in San Diego Superior Court. In it, she accused three players on last year’s Aztecs football team by name, including Matt Araiza, a stand-out punter newly drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

Within two days of the filing, the NFL team cut Araiza loose. The other two who were accused — then-18-year-old redshirt freshmen Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko — are no longer on the college team.

Attorneys for the three men said the District Attorney’s Office made the right decision to reject filing criminal charges. “I felt confident, based on what I knew, that they would reject the case,” said attorney Kerry Armstrong, who represented Araiza, last week.

Agent Joe Linta tweeted a statement Wednesday from Araiza: “I am grateful that the District Attorney and the San Diego Police Department have discovered all the facts and found no criminal wrongdoing. I am excited to continue my NFL career.”

According to the civil lawsuit, the incident happened at a College Area home not far from the university campus early Oct. 17, the end of a Saturday night party that had stretched into early Sunday morning.

The suit alleges that Araiza, then 21, had sex with the teen in a side yard of the residence before bringing her into a bedroom where a group of men took turns raping her. Leonard and Ewaliko were part of that group, according to the lawsuit.

The woman said she stumbled out of the room bloodied and bruised and immediately told her friends she’d been raped. She reported the encounter to San Diego police a day later.

The investigation lasted months.

In announcing the decision last week, District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office said a team of prosecutors and investigators “meticulously analyzed all the evidence in the case” — including a rape kit, DNA results and at least 35 taped witness interviews.

They said 10 search warrants turned up more evidence, including video of the incident itself.

When prosecutors are evaluating these kinds of cases, they have to believe they have enough evidence to prove to a jury — beyond a reasonable doubt — that a crime was committed and that the accused is guilty.

“Ultimately, prosecutors determined it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction,” the office said in a statement.

The District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that it evaluated the case for several criminal charges, including statutory rape, forcible rape, forcible oral copulation and rape by intoxication.

Armstrong, a criminal defense attorney, said he was most concerned about statutory rape charges. He has said repeatedly that Araiza did have sex with the teen, but that it was consensual and he believed she was 18.

In California, if someone has sex with a child younger than 14, there is no legal defense, but if the teen is 14 or older, that person can argue that they had a “reasonable good faith belief” that the person they had sex with was 18, Armstrong said.

In the young woman’s lawsuit, she said she told Araiza that she was a student at Grossmont High School in the El Cajon area.

But Armstrong said he and his investigators spoke with witnesses at the party that night who said they heard the teen tell Araiza and others that she was 18 and a student at Grossmont College, a community college in El Cajon.

“Just because we see it a certain way doesn’t mean the DA will, but we felt really good about that particular charge,” Armstrong said.

Former prosecutor Samuel Dordulian, who spent 13 years as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, said that when prosecutors decide not to file charges — even if that decision is appropriate — what the sexual assault survivor hears is: “They don’t believe me.”

He said survivors may not understand that prosecutors aren’t necessarily making a decision about their credibility.

“It’s a determination of whether they can prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence that they have.”

Dordulian, who now represents sexual assault victims in civil cases, agreed that decisions against a criminal case can have an unintended chilling effect on others.

“It keeps future survivors from coming forward,” he said, “because they say, ‘Well, look, this woman has the guts to come forward and look what happened. She got shamed in public, and now, no one believes her. Everyone’s calling her a liar.’

“That’s not what’s happening, but that’s how they’re reading it, that’s how they’re interpreting it,” he said.

The news of no charges frustrated Tracy, an activist and public speaker — a role that unwittingly tied her to the San Diego State case. Weeks after the reported assault, the university asked Tracy to give her presentation to its athletes, starting with the football team. She did so, but was not made aware of the specific allegations against Aztec players.

Tracy said one of the “most infuriating things” about the district attorney’s decision not to file charges “is chatter from people who say, ‘Well, if there was really a case, the DA would take it.’

“That’s just not true,” Tracy said.

It’s unclear how the district attorney’s decision will affect the ongoing civil suit.

Dordulian said judges often do not allow juries in civil cases to be told that prosecutors declined to bring charges in a criminal case. That’s partly because criminal and civil cases have different standards of proof.

In a criminal trial, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, it’s far lower — a preponderance of the evidence, or, more simply stated: the allegations are more likely true than not true.

There is another notable difference between civil and criminal trials. In a criminal trial, the jury must come to a unanimous agreement to reach a verdict. In a civil trial, only nine of the 12 jurors have to agree.

Verna Griffin-Tabor, CEO of the Center for Community Solutions, the only rape crisis center in the county, said moving through the justice system can be traumatic. It can involve lengthy and invasive forensic exams, reliving trauma during interviews with detectives and prosecutors, and facing the accused during a trial.

To go through that, only to learn that a case isn’t moving forward, is devastating for survivors, she said.

Griffin-Tabor said she also worries about others who haven’t decided whether to report their experiences.

“I always am concerned that if there isn’t an outcome that the survivor wants, not only will it impact that person, but also other survivors from coming forward.”

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

Claremont School Board Member Quits Amid Allegations He Exposed Students to ‘Half-Naked Men,’ Alcohol

Claremont Unified Board of Education president Steven Llanusa resigned Saturday, Dec. 10 amid allegations that he exposed students to inappropriate behavior, including a “dirty Santa” and alcohol at a holiday party in his home earlier this month.

In an email sent to the Claremont Unified School District community around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Superintendent James Elsasser said Llanusa tendered his resignation early Saturday and will step down immediately from his board duties.

“In the very near future, we will discuss the next steps for filling this vacant position,” Elsasser wrote. “Thank you for your patience during this very difficult time.”

Elsasser, reached by a reporter, confirmed the resignation.

Rachel Forester, a Claremont Educational Foundation board member, said she was previously aware of Llanusa’s holiday parties but had never heard of inappropriate conduct taking place.

A parent of three children attending CUSD schools, Forester called Llanusa’s resignation “the very best thing to happen” but added she “felt” for Llanusa.

“I think (Llanusa) is a decent person and made a really poor decision that is going to cost him,” Forester said.

At a special board meeting that was live-streamed on Friday, Dec. 9, a half-dozen parents said their children, part of the Claremont High School choir program, performed at Llanusa’s home on Saturday, Dec. 3, to raise money for the program.

At the party, parents said, the students were exposed to scantily-clad male dancers dressed as elves and a “dirty Santa,” while some were offered alcohol.

“They were offered an open bar and to socialize with half-naked men, the dirty Santa who made disgusting comments to our children,” parent Gabriel Lozano told CBS Los Angeles.

Police are investigating the allegations.

Click here to read the full article in the San Bernardino Sun

6 suspects Now Charged in Smash-And-Grab Robbery at The Jewelry Exchange in Tustin

Six men have now been charged as suspects in a smash-and-grab robbery in which they stole roughly $87,000 worth of jewelry from The Jewelry Exchange in Tustin earlier this year, authorities announced on Friday, Dec. 9.

The men are accused of wearing masks and brandishing handguns as they entered the store, near the 15000 block of Tustin Village Way, around 2 p.m. on April 28, then smashing cases with a tire iron and hammers, Tustin police Lt. Ryan Coe said.

They grabbed jewelry and then fled, jumping a fence onto the southbound 55 Freeway, where three getaway vehicles awaited, Coe said.

No injuries were reported.

Surveillance video provided by police shows all six men entering the store. One of the men held up a handgun at the entrance while five others walked in, the last of whom also held up a handgun. Three of the men carried bags.

Another video shows four of the men smashing four cases and grabbing jewelry. The suspects fled the store less than a minute after they entered.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has filed charges against all six men that include felony counts of armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

The first of the arrests was made in July, the second was in August, Coe said. The remaining four suspects were arrested from October into December. The last of the arrests was made on Dec.7.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register