Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sorensen gets 15 years to life for forcing chili powder into mouth of boyfriend’s 2-year-old daughter


BY SHEA JOHNSON

STAFF WRITER

VICTORVILLE — A 24-year-old Apple Valley woman convicted of killing her boyfriend’s 2-year-old daughter by forcing her to ingest chili powder was sentenced Monday to 15 years to life in prison.

Amanda Sorensen appeared in a Victorville courtroom, wrists shackled at the waist and wearing a San Bernardino County jail-issued green jumpsuit, indicating that she was in protective custody.

Sorensen was convicted Nov. 3 of second-degree murder in the death of toddler Joileen Garcia, who suffered a seizure after being force-fed chili powder as a disciplinary measure for lying about defecating in her pants, according to a San Bernardino County Probation Department officer’s report.

Staring blankly ahead with her attorney by her side, Sorensen did not look at three of Joileen’s family members as they tearfully read victim impact statements one by one. A 10-year-old relative of Joileen’s was also among those who submitted statements to the court.

“Just two short years ago, my daughter was tragically taken from me by a woman who sits in this courtroom,” said Joileen’s mother, Brenda Lopez. “Joileen brought joy and smiles to everyone in her presence.”
Click here to read the full story.

Lead Deputy District Attorney Kathy DiDonato prosecuted this case.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Montclair man convicted in stabbing death

A Montclair man was convicted of second-degree murder Monday in the 2013 stabbing death of a 23-year-old Chino man. A San Bernardino County jury deliberated two-and-a-half days before finding 23-year-old Kyle Larrabee guilty of fatally stabbing Roberto Alejandro Hernandez during a fight.


According to Deputy District Attorney Reza Daghbandan, who prosecuted this case, the killing stemmed from a drug dispute where the victim, Roberto Hernandez, a Chino Sinner gang member, failed to deliver drugs to Larrabee after receiving $400 from him.


The next morning, they sent threatening text messages to each other, but ultimately decided to de-escalate their dispute and smoke some heroin together. Instead, a fist fight ensued and Larrabee pulled out a knife. Larrabee stabbed Hernandez several times, delivering a fatal stab to the chest which punctured the victim’s lung. Larrabee then fled. When police arrived, the critically injured Hernandez was able to tell them that “Kyle” had stabbed him over some money. He died a short time later en route to the hospital.


Police tracked Larrabee down, who claimed that Hernandez stabbed him first, showing them a wound in his arm. He later admitted that he had stabbed himself in the arm on purpose, and told his girlfriend to tell police that the victim stabbed him first. But during his interview he insisted that the victim had pulled out a blue knife first, which led to the defendant pulling out his knife. Police did find a closed, folded blue pocket knife in Hernandez’ pocket.


At trial, Larrabee testified and again stated that Hernandez threatened him with a blue knife. But the evidence showed that the blue knife was found in a closed position and that while it was covered in blood, the blade itself was dry. Sentencing is scheduled Feb. 20, 2015 in Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court. Larrabee faces 16 years to life in state prison.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Law Enforcement Appreciation Day


Today is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, and we at the District Attorney’s Office are extremely thankful for all the men and women across our great country that put on a badge every day and go to work—knowing that they may face dangerous situations.

At the District Attorney’s Office we are fortunate to have a highly-skilled Bureau of Investigation which currently consists of fifty-two sworn peace officer investigators, including one Chief Investigator and two Assistant Chief Investigators.

They hail from police agencies across the state and possess a wide range of investigative experience.  As members of the Bureau they investigate crimes and make arrests related to real estate fraud, auto insurance fraud, workers' compensation insurance fraud, healthcare fraud, environmental crimes, consumer crimes, public integrity crimes, gang crimes, child abduction, cold-case homicides, sexually violent predators and mentally disordered offenders.

They conduct investigations of all felonies and misdemeanors prosecuted by the District Attorney.  Investigators are active members with the FBI/San Bernardino Joint Corruption Task Force, the FBI Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, the California State Department of Insurance Task Force, the San Bernardino County Auto Theft Task Force and the San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Detail.

Bureau investigators are also supported by 15 Investigative Technicians and 10 Office Assistants.

In addition to their assigned duties, our Bureau staff are consistent organizers and participants in San Bernardino County outreach programs such as Shop with a Cop, Tip-a-Cop, the Annual Special Olympics Torch Run, and many more—all of which raise funds and support programs that benefit   disabled children and local families in need.

Today, we salute not only our own officers, but every officer across the nation. May all of you make it home safely tonight.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Case Closed on East Side Victoria Street Gang

Pictured left to right: Justin Gomez (9 years, 8 months in State Prison), Jorge Espinoza (13 years in State Prison), Richard Avalos (17 years in State Prison), Lisa Archuleta (48 days in County Jail), and Fred Archuleta (25 years to life in State Prison)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – After nearly five years and two indictments against 73 members of the Victorville-based East Side Victoria street gang, the largest gang case in San Bernardino County history is officially closed.

Cherish Velez, 25, of Apple Valley, was sentenced yesterday in Victorville Superior Court to 16 years in state prison on six counts involving conspiracy to sell methamphetamine, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, and assault with a firearm.

“For decades, this local criminal street gang has wreaked havoc in our High Desert region,” District Attorney Mike Ramos said. “Thanks to the hard work of the Victorville Police Department, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes and all of our support staff, we have sent 61 gang members and their associates to state prison for a total of 485 years.”

Pictured left to right: Valerie Archuleta (3 years in State Prison), Anthony Carmona (12 years, 4 months in State Prison), Jairo Garrido (4 years in State Prison), Michelle Gonzalez (9 years in State Prison), and Mary Hald (4 years in State Prison)

Eastside Victoria (ESV) is a Southern Hispanic criminal street gang located primarily in Victorville. The gang was founded in the late 1960s early 1970s by several individuals including 50-year-old Fred Archuleta, of Victorville—the reputed head of ESV.

Prior to the indictments, membership in the gang fluctuated between 50 and 100 active members and dozens of associates.

According to Imes, for the past three decades members and associates of the gang have committed the crimes of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, assault with a firearm, sale of methamphetamine, auto theft, extortion, robbery, and burglary.

“Many members are also directly associated with the Mexican Mafia,” Imes added.
 
Pictured left to right: Victor Hernandez (3 years in State Prison), George Lara (4 years in State Prison), Patricia Mancillas (2 years in State Prison) and Robert Mancillas (20 years, 4 months in State Prison)

In June 2007, investigators from the Victorville Police Department Gang Unit commenced an eight-month long investigation of Archuleta. Investigators discovered evidence of an ongoing conspiracy to sell methamphetamine between Archuleta, Robert Mancillas, Raymond Mancillas and dozens of other members and associates of ESV.

The investigation also established attempts to buy, transport and sell methamphetamine, as well as illegal possession and transfer of firearms.

At the conclusion of the first investigation, a special criminal Grand Jury indicted 36 members and associates of ESV for Conspiracy to Sell Methamphetamine; Conspiracy to Transfer Firearms; Active Participation in a Criminal Street Gang; Possession of Firearms by Convicted Felons; Possession for Sale of Methamphetamine; Conspiracy to Commit Robbery; Conspiracy to Commit Assault with a Firearm; and Auto Theft.

At the conclusion of the investigation of Archuleta and the Mancillas Brothers investigators learned that George “Rascal” Degraw was soon to be released from state prison.

“It was well known among members and associates of the gang that Degraw was given the ‘keys’ to the desert,” said Imes. “In other words, his job was to operate all SureƱo gang activity on behalf of the Mexican Mafia."
 
Pictured left to right: Raquel Mesa (4 years in State Prison), Arthur Murrietta (1 year, 4 months in State Prison), Luis Negrete (3 years in State Prison), and Sandra Perez (5 years in State Prison)

Degraw had already sent instructions to gang members to assemble firearms and inform drug dealers of the need to pay taxes, added Imes.

At the end of the Archuleta/Mancillas investigation, law enforcement began laying the groundwork for continuing the investigation when Degraw took over the gang.

In June 2008 investigators from the Victorville Police Department Gang Unit commenced a seven-month long investigation of George Degraw, the reputed new head of ESV, Andrew Camarena, Christopher Alvarado and Joel Pompa.
 
Pictured left to right: Joel Pompa (41 years, 8 months in State Prison), Kimberly Stockton (29 days in County Jail), Melissa Tyler (3 years in State Prison), Jose Villagrana (6 years in State Prison), Alicia Villegas (1 year in County Jail), and Cherish Velez (16 years in State Prison)
During the course of the investigation, investigators uncovered extensive “taxation” of drug dealers, the transportation and sale of a large quantity of methamphetamine, and the commission of violent crimes (robbery, carjacking, assault with a firearm and extortion). 

“Investigators even learned that one person was lured to a motel room and assaulted with a firearm for a dope deal gone bad,” said Imes.

Investigators also uncovered a methamphetamine lab being operated on behalf of the gang as well as dozens of firearms from gang members and associates.

 
Pictured left to right: Richard Torres (4 years in State Prison), Tracy Smith (7 years in State Prison), Michael Perez (8 years in State Prison), Eileen Orosco (4 years in State Prison), and Paula Navarrete (180 days in County Jail)

“It was during this part of the investigation that investigators were also able to establish the gang’s direct connection to the Mexican Mafia through the payment of ‘taxes’ extorted from local drug dealers,” said Imes.

Following the second investigation, a special criminal Grand Jury indicted an additional 37 members and associates of ESV, including one charged in the first investigation, for Conspiracy to Sell Methamphetamine; Conspiracy to Transfer Firearms; Conspiracy to Commit Extortion; Active Participation in a Criminal Street Gang; Possession of Firearms by Convicted Felons; Possession for Sale of Methamphetamine; Transportation of Methamphetamine; Conspiracy to Commit Burglary; Assault with a Firearm; Manufacturing Methamphetamine; Possession for Sale of Marijuana; Carjacking; and Robbery.

“Ultimately, these investigations significantly damaged the criminal operations of East Side Victoria,” said Imes. “In addition to the existing gang injunction, these investigations helped take a part of the criminal element out of Victorville. By putting so many gang members and associates out of business for such a long time, it severely disrupts the criminal enterprise while having a positive impact on the community and the lives of the law-abiding citizens of Victorville.”
 
Pictured left to right: Matthew Lara (7 years in State Prison), James Hoffman (15 years in State Prison), Denise Hernandez (1 year in County Jail), and Stephanie Gutierrez (6 years in State Prison)

Pictured left to right: Marcus Moreno (8 years in State Prison), German Mercado (3 years in State Prison), Vanessa Mancillas (3 years in State Prison), and Raymond Mancillas (9 years, 6 months in State Prison)




Monday, January 5, 2015

District Attorney Ramos sworn in for fourth term

The Clerk of the Board administers the Oath of Office to District Attorney Mike Ramos

District Attorney Mike Ramos took the Oath of Office for the fourth time Monday morning as he was sworn in as District Attorney of San Bernardino County for a fourth term.


"I am honored to once again serve the citizens of this great County, to represent them and seek justice on their behalf," DA Ramos said. "For me, justice is holding the guilty accountable and protecting the innocent while keeping victims and their families as my guide. Just as I have all along, I intend to hold myself to that every day."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deputy District Attorney Carrie Halgrimson obtains 1st degree murder conviction in the case of a Hesperia man who was killed over a dispute about a construction debt


Hesperia man convicted of murder
Jurors return guilty verdict in 2011 shooting death

VICTORVILLE — A 35-year-old Hesperia man was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in a reported scuffle-turned-deadly over an alleged construction debt.

Moses Echavarria was convicted of shooting to death Andrew Battaglia, 29, (pictured left) in December 2011.

Jurors deliberated for three days before returning guilty verdicts on charges of murder and assault with a firearm, court records show.

Echavarria is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 30.

The verdict signals the end to criminal proceedings that began three years ago, and had resulted in a hung jury this summer.

On June 19, a jury announced they were deadlocked on a verdict amid questions about the definition of “imminent danger.” A re-trial began the following month.

Jurors this time were initially undecided whether the murder was premeditated or not, one of the jurors told the Daily Press on Thursday. The juror spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

According to authorities, Battaglia and three others arrived in December 2011 at Echavarria’s home in Hesperia to settle the debt owed to a Battaglia companion. A scuffle broke out soon after they arrived; a 58-year-old victim was beaten in the face and Battaglia was shot.

Battaglia’s brother, Thomas Battaglia, told the Daily Press in June that the 58-year-old man was owed the debt and had actually been invited to the home by Echavarria to settle it. Andrew Battaglia and two others waited in a nearby car when Echavarria began punching the 58-year-old in the face, he said.

Andrew Battaglia left the car to help, to break up the fight, and was shot while intervening, according to Thomas Battaglia.

Click here to read the rest of the story.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Appellate Services Unit obtains AB 109 victory for prosecutors statewide


Deputy District Attorney Eric Ferguson, who is assigned to Appellate Services, handled a writ in the Court of Appeals in which we successfully overturned a superior court decision ordering the early termination of post release community supervision of Thomas Ward.

The Court of Appeal ruled Dec. 11, 2014, that the court had misinterpreted the law and did not have the authority to release the defendant from supervision.

The case revolved around the statutory meaning of AB 109’s definition of the term of PRCS and whether “flash incarceration” was a custodial sanction- it clearly is.

“Thanks to the great work of Deputy DA Ferguson and our ASU staff, prosecutors statewide are now able to prevent PRCS violators from obtaining early termination of supervision,” said District Attorney Mike Ramos. “Ultimately, we can now hold them responsible for their misconduct.”

The case is a published opinion, meaning it can be used by other prosecutors as legal authority.  It is the first case interpreting these sections of the Criminal Justice Realignment statutes. 

Click here to download a copy of the opinion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recent Press Releases


“After so many years of theft, the victims can now feel confident that justice was served today,” said Deputy District Attorney Jason Liso, who prosecuted the case. “Hopefully this sends a strong message that our public servants will be held accountable for their actions when they decide to abuse the public trust.”


According to Senior Investigator John Vega, shortly after recording the false grant deed with the County Recorder, the pair deceived the escrow and title companies and sold the house to an unsuspecting buyer for over $440,000.



Construction Foreman Arraigned on Fraud Charges

Osbaldo Serna, 34, of La Habra, was arraigned Wednesday on allegations that he and the owners of a now-defunct Ontario construction company defrauded their workers’ compensation insurance company out of more than $260,000 and stole from their workers over $160,000 in prevailing wages.

Ontario man convicted of second-degree murder

Once the gun was pulled, Camacho and his friend ran back to their car and got inside. Co-defendant Armando Lara, Jr., 19, of Ontario, yelled, “Let them have it!” Avila fired one shot into the car, striking Camacho in the back of the head. Camacho was rushed to the hospital by his friend. Camacho was pronounced dead approximately two hours later.  




Friday, December 12, 2014

Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Dowd Adopted by First Graders


On Wednesday, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Dowd stood before a room full of first graders at Upland Christian Academy in Rancho Cucamonga and discussed the importance of staying in school.

The Academy recently had all their classes adopt a public servant or servants to learn about what they do, and Dowd was selected by Mrs. Beth Paxton’s first grade class.

Dowd’s presentation also highlighted the role of a Deputy District Attorney and why they are so important to the community and public safety.


“The entire presentation including questions from kids lasted about forty-five minutes,” said Dowd. “They loved the items we gave them especially the Junior DA stickers.  I had them take an oath when they started putting them on that they would promise to stay in school, do good in the community and stay out of trouble.”


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Father and Girlfriend Found Guilty of Torture and Child Abuse

A jury found a father and his girlfriend guilty today of torture and child abuse for starving his two children and physically abusing a third.

Erik Austin Flores, 30, and Mariah Rita Sugg, 23, both of Hesperia, face 20 years to life in state prison when they are sentenced January 8 for their roles in starving Flores’ children, ages 4 and 5, when they were removed from their home earlier this year.


“I am so grateful that the jury took care to find justice for these children,” Deputy District Attorney David Foy said. “These kids were starved to the point where witnesses described them as looking like concentration camp survivors and zombies.”


During a trial that began Nov. 17 before Judge Debra Harris, prosecutors presented evidence that Flores and Sugg lived together and jointly took care of the children from March 1 until June 6.


Dr. Mark Massi, a forensic pediatrician for Loma Linda University Medical Center, testified that both children suffered great bodily injury as a result of long-term starvation. Flores’ daughter, age 4, would have died soon had she not been hospitalized, Massi testified, adding that her body mass index of 11.7 was under the 1% percentile range for children her age and height.


Both children suffered from what Dr. Massi called psychosocial dwarfism – a permanent loss of height as a result of starvation. He also said the girl’s development was arrested as a result of starvation. At age 4, the girl could barely talk and was not toilet trained.


Foy also argued to the jury that there was evidence that Flores had sexually penetrated the child in 2012 and 2014. Dr. Massi found the child had genital injuries caused by blunt force penetration.


They were removed on June 6 after San Bernardino County social workers were called by employees at the Marinello School of Beauty in Victorville, who saw the emaciated children when both defendants brought them to the school on May 16, according to testimony.


The employees said the kids appeared to be like “concentration camp” survivors and “zombies—describing the children as extremely thin and listless.

An older boy who was properly nourished because he ate breakfast and dinner at school testified that Sugg would beat him and his siblings, make them do exercises for hours at a time, and make them stand in the corner all day. The defendants were convicted of felony child abuse for abusing him.


IN THE NEWS:


Father, girlfriend found guilty