Thursday, November 20, 2014

2014 Management & Leadership Academy Graduates

Congratulations to all of our 2014 MLA graduates for their accomplishment in completing the Management & Leadership Academy. This year-long course provides supervisors with the skills and knowledge needed to successfully transition into management positions, as well as opportunities to develop professional and personal leadership skills.
From Left to Right: Chief Deputy District Attorney Bruce Brown, Asst. District Attorney Mary Ashley, Supervising Deputy District Attorney David Hidalgo, Supervising Victim Advocate Barbara Rivera-Loa, Supervising Office Assistant Marcus Thomas, Chief Asst. District Attorney Michael Fermin, Supervising Deputy District Attorney William Lee, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes, and Supervising Office Specialist Ann Marie Dunbar
From Left to Right: Chief Deputy District Attorney Bruce Brown, Asst. District Attorney Mary Ashley, Chief Deputy District Attorney Simon Umscheid and Chief Asst. District Attorney Michael Fermin

Office Assistant Organizes Holiday Donation Drive in Victorville

Tana Montgomery, who has been with the District Attorney’s
Office for 8 years, stands beside donated items.

When Office Assistant Tana Montgomery received the invitation offering staff a chance to participate in a holiday donation drive for those less fortunate, she jumped into action.

Montgomery, who is currently an OA III felony clerk assigned to Departments 2 and 4 and Animal Cruelty, started collecting a variety of items a month ago, and credits her success to the staff in Victorville.

“It warms my heart to help people during the holiday season,” Montgomery said. “There are a lot of homeless people without families to help them, so it’s great to get together as a team and help out those less fortunate.”

Montgomery collected items such as pet food and supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies, clothing and food—all of which will be donated to two charities: Time for Change and the Helping Hands Pantry.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chief Deputy District Attorney John P. Kochis retires after distinguished career with the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office

The Kochisean World Paradigm
Kent Williams

Deputy District Attorney

What I will always remember about John Kochis is his sense of diplomacy.  He has been a distinguished prosecutor for almost 40 years, but I think his real calling was in diplomacy.  He would have been an equal or better to James Baker or Madeline Albright.  It’s too bad our office doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Middle East—John would have everyone behaving in no time.  John generates this positive aura by displaying respect for everyone—yes, sometimes even for people who don’t fully deserve it.  But he always presumes the best about everyone and he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.  When presented with information to the contrary, John takes it with a grain of salt.  His trademark phrase is “Well, the flip side of the coin is…”  John never made rash decisions.  He liked to mull things over and talk to just about everyone involved before he reached any conclusion—and even then his conclusions were often tentative.  He corrected issues by gentle nudges and by talks that were typically more encouraging than reprimanding.  John pretty much has lived by the axiom of “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  There has never been anything malicious in John’s character, but more importantly, there has never been anything petty.  He is a man of substance.  Every discussion was couched in a constructive, often humorous, light.  His was a reign of charisma rather than terror.

The essence of all of this was that everyone knew that John Kochis was absolutely going to preclude anything unfair from happening.  No one was going to get unfairly vilified or railroaded under his watch.  He never threw the baby out with the bathwater.  That’s an extremely important element to have in a chain of command. John exhibited maturity and confidence.  He had no need to make any personal statement or show of ego. Occasionally we wished he addressed issues more aggressively.  But, as with anyone, you have to take the good with the  bad.  With John, the good outweighed the bad by a factor of ten.  John enjoyed rigorous dissent, he was not threatened by it.  I don’t recall him ever becoming defensive, even when someone adamantly disagreed with him.  Actually, his main response to vocal dissent was to smile.  He liked “lightning rod” attorneys, as long as they were willing to try cases.  John was “old school” in that regard—active willingness to try cases was the currency of the kingdom for him.

John was a workaholic.  He was the classic “first in, last out” type of Supervisor and Chief.  John was never just “kicking back.”  He has been dealing with one major issue or another for as long as I’ve known him, and there was a visible intensity to his work.  But all you had to do was stick your head in his office and ask if he had a moment.  He would break free from his thought processes, smile, and invite you in.  He was never in the least sanctimonious or austere.  In fact, he was casual and warm. The most serious of conversations were augmented with anecdotes about families and movies and the condition of slopes and waves.  I appreciated my early discussions of cases with him. He really likes his lawyers to articulate their analyses rather than just operate off of generalities, instinct or hunch.  He expected us to comprehensively know the facts of our cases.  At the end of the discussion he was typically deferential to the line lawyer’s views and recommendations.  He readily acknowledged the assigned lawyer’s feel for their cases.  He ended every conversation with “Okay, go have fun.”  In his mind, the work we do here is not conventional, plodding work.  Seeking justice is fun.  You seek justice, and then you go surf or you go ski.  That’s pretty much the Kochisean World Paradigm.

When Jim Hackleman left a few years ago, someone mentioned the wealth of “institutional memory” he took with him.  The same thing is true now with John’s departure.  I was a sophomore in high school when John started with this office.  That seems like a lifetime ago to me.  He has seen countless twists and turns since then here in San Bernardino County.  Not the least of those twists and turns were Kevin Cooper and Phillip Lucero.  I saw John’s penalty-phase opening statement in Lucero—it was as meticulous as a Swiss watch and as potent as a missle.  It has set the standard in my mind for the balance of my career.

We knew it was just a matter of time before he departed.  He’s “been working for free,” as the saying goes, for quite some time.  John assures us that we’ll be fine with Bruce Brown and Bob Bulloch, and we will.  But I think we all know that the amazing “institutional memory” will now be on the slopes or the waves, instead of in that northwest-facing office waiting to untangle the latest issue or debacle.

Top Flight Prosecutor
 by James Hackleman
Assistant District Attorney (Retired)

You know that little guy in the tuxedo that they put on top of wedding cakes.  Few people know that John Kochis was the model for that fellow next to the gal in white.  John has always looked the part.  And in the courtroom, it was ever obvious who was the prosecutor.  Jurors paid attention to this good-looking, impeccably dressed attorney whose easy demeanor and command of the facts and the law resulted in their complete trust in him.  He developed into one of the Office’s top flight prosecutors.  He became an expert in Grand Jury procedures and has death penalty convictions to his credit, including Kevin Cooper, a case he continues to monitor and to tirelessly work on through all of its post-trial machinations.  When a critical case had to be won and done right, elected DAs turned to John.  He never let them down.

John was an obvious selection for supervision.  And as a Chief Deputy he successfully ran Central and then the West End for many years.  That trust that jurors gave him was the same trust he engendered with judges, police chiefs, public officials, and the citizens that he dealt with on a daily basis.  He was not an “office” Chief but was in the courthouse, in the trenches with his deputies, and had personal contact with the public and police.  With management he often presented unique insights that got us all to ponder, and his dry wit often got the better of us.  He was always a willing hand and carried many an important Office project to completion.  And from his first days in the Office until his last day today, John could pick up any file and present a beautiful case in the courtroom.  It is hard to picture a career as a prosecutor that could have been done better or a retirement better earned.  Along with my congratulations and best wishes, John has my sincere admiration.      

The Man Behind the Yellow Legal Pad
Karen Schmauss
Deputy District Attorney

I have known John Kochis for 36 years.  I started out covering his murder trials at the old courthouse in Ontario when I was a newspaper reporter.  After I joined the office in 1984, I began working for him.  The best lesson I learned from him is there is no substitute for preparation, preparation, preparation.  That is how cases are won – not so much by brilliant advocacy but by meticulous and thorough preparation. 

I can close my eyes and visualize his  “John writing,” in his neat, compact hand, as he filled yellow legal pad after yellow legal pad with notes and indexed them for use at trial.  He was a trial lawyer before there were personal computers, and his method served him well.  

As a supervisor and as a chief deputy, he was an excellent leader and role model, although it could be difficult to get an audience with him because he was so busy – after all, he’s been working on the Kevin Cooper capital case for 31 years!  His advice was always excellent.  I never saw him get angry or raise his voice at anyone.  John is truly an institution at the DA’s office and he will be very missed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

City of Highland honors Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Brooks

On March 9, 2005, Deputy DA Jennifer Brooks
was killed in an automobile collision in Highland while on her way to
work. Today, the City of Highland dedicated the new bridge over the
Santa Ana River on Greenspot Road in Jennifer’s name.
Highland Mayor Sam Racadio and members of the Highland City Council cut the ribbon on the new bridge

Native Sons of the Golden West Junior Past President Jim Smith and District Attorney Mike Ramos standing on the new bridge with the old bridge pictured in the background

District Attorney Ramos standing before the granite plaque chiseled with Jennifer Brooks' name

The mortar used to officially seal the plaque in Jennifer's name

DA Ramos speaking on behalf of the District Attorney's office about Jennifer's contributions to the office

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Welcome to our Newest Deputy District Attorney

Welcome to Pierpaolo Repetto, our newest Deputy District Attorney, who was sworn in this morning by Assistant District Attorney Michael Fermin.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Department Receives CSAC Award for Campaign to End Human Trafficking

Sheriff John McMahon and Assistant District Attorney Gary Roth accept CSAC Award for Campaign to End Human Trafficking

Eighteen counties in California are being recognized this year with Challenge and Merit Awards.
The annual Challenge Awards program was created by CSAC in the mid-1990s. Since that time, it has grown in popularity.

The award-winning programs are just a sampling of the creativity and leadership demonstrated each day by our counties. More than entries were evaluated this year by an independent panel of judges closely affiliated with California counties and the programs and services they deliver.

The campaign strengthens the County’s zero-tolerance policy on Human Trafficking by creating a vertical prosecution unit and countywide task force and promoting awareness.

Problem or Challenge
Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation have been a hidden plague on our county, state, and nation for many years.  In 2013 it became clear that the District Attorney’s Office needed to focus efforts on more effectively investigating and criminally prosecuting these ruthless exploiters. With the passage of Prop 35, which increased the penalty for human trafficking from an average of 6 years in prison to 15 years-life, the District Attorney had every intention of fully implementing the new law while holding those who were driving the demand for sexual exploitation accountable.

On January 18, 2013, the District Attorney’s Office announced several directives to strengthen its zero-tolerance policy on Human Trafficking at the premiere of a 45-minute documentary aimed at generating awareness about the sexual exploitation of minors:
  • Creation of Human Trafficking Vertical Prosecution Unit within the Office of the District Attorney comprised of 1 Deputy District Attorney, 1 Investigator, and 1 Victim Advocate.  
  • Formation of a countywide Human Trafficking Joint Investigative Task Force with the Sheriff’s Department that consists of a Senior DA Investigator and a Sheriff’s Deputy.
  • Implementation the “Stop-the-John” Project in which the District Attorney’s Office releases and posts online the names and photographs of defendants convicted of solicitation.  
  • Outreach with community members using the 45-minute documentary.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

POST BY DISTRICT ATTORNEY MICHAEL RAMOS: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Right now you're reading this post. Maybe you're in an abusive relationship. Maybe you know a friend or family member who is in a potentially dangerous situation. Either way, the main point I hope to convey is that help is available.

Last year our office filed 3,038 cases across the county that were related to domestic violence. Sadly, 11 cases involved murder.

Too often, our victims of domestic violence are scared to come forward. Scared to make the phone call. Scared of retribution by their abuser. Scared of the unknown that lies on the other side of their current situation. These are all valid feelings, but it’s important to point out that nobody deserves to be a victim. Nobody. And if children are involved we need to consider the tragic impact that domestic violence has on them.

At the end of last year we saw a terrible case come to light in which 28-year-old Ashley Atherley was beat and stabbed to death by her husband, Edly Atherley, who had a history of domestic violence. I still remember standing on the steps of the San Bernardino Police Department beside Ashley’s parents and vowing to seek justice not only for Ashley but for her two little girls who are left without a mother and her family members.

When it comes to fighting for our victims and seeking justice, fortunately, our attorneys in the Family Violence Unit, who are all specially trained to deal with these types of crimes, feel the same way.

Sadly, we see these types of cases far too often across the county. Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It affects all walks of life, and women are not the only ones who are victims. I started this post by saying maybe you're in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, so my charge to you today is to pick up the phone and take action before it's too late.

Call 911 if you are in immediate danger. Call our victim advocates who are available to help. Call a friend or someone you trust because no one deserves to be a victim.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Riverside woman sentenced in Ontario killing, dismembering case

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A 54-year-old Riverside woman convicted of stabbing to death and dismembering her boyfriend was sentenced today to 26 years-to-life in state prison.

Carmen Montelongo was arrested in 2011 after being discovered pushing a trash can down the street that contained the body parts of her 62-year-old boyfriend, Samuel Wiggins. On Aug. 29, after three days of deliberations, a jury found Montelongo guilty of First Degree Murder.

"We are pleased that the jury saw the case for what it was—a heinous crime—and that justice was served for the victim and his family,” said Deputy District Attorney Erica Gallegos, who prosecuted this case.

Statement of Facts

Samuel Wiggins, 62, of Diamond Bar, had last been seen alive in April 2011. Reported missing by his family, investigators turned their attention to longtime girlfriend, Carmen Montelongo. Several weeks later, on May 29, 2011, Montelongo was caught by the Ontario Police Department moving some of Samuel Wiggins’ remains in a trash can down a residential neighborhood in Ontario.

During the weeks that investigators were conducting a missing person’s investigation, Montelongo delayed police action by claiming that she was in regular contact with Wiggins. However, it was during this period that Montelongo had dismembered his body, placing the head and arms in potted plants that were later located in Bell Gardens. The legs and torso were buried in Ontario at a residence where Montelongo was finally discovered and apprehended.

During the weeks leading up to her arrest Montelongo had been living in Wiggins’ home and using his accounts, continuing to draw attention from law enforcement. Her attempt to elude police led her to exhume Wiggins’ remains in Ontario on May 29.

Subsequent investigation by the Ontario Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would show that Wiggins was stabbed to death in his home in Diamond Bar. The victim was stabbed twice in the chest and 22 times in the back. His body was severely decomposed and dismembered. The crime scene had been significantly cleaned, with carpet and tile removed to hide the evidence.