Monday, May 21, 2018

San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office MADD 2018 Prosecutor of the Year


Deputy District Attorney Jack Liu’s work this year has had a significant and lasting impact on the quality and success of DUID prosecutions throughout San Bernardino County. As our OTS/DUID grant prosecutor, Jack embarked on a yearlong campaign to provide training for our entire office on how to effectively prosecute DUID trials. His training is available on video and will be used to train a steady stream of new prosecutors every year.

He also provided our office’s first POST-certified 72-hour DRE training class, presented free of charge, to over 40 of our local law enforcement officers. Because of Jack’s dedication and hard work, we have a full contingent of prosecutors who have the knowledge and skills to effectively present a DUID trial, and we have substantially increased the number of law enforcement officers who can testify as fully certified DREs. Jack’s approach has inspired countless prosecutors and law enforcement officers to be the best they can be when it comes to DUID investigations and prosecutions. He has encouraged our prosecutors to take up the challenge of DUID trials, especially marijuana DUIDs, which are increasing at an exponential rate due to Prop. 64.

Jack’s efforts to combat DUID don’t stop there. He conducted many other law enforcement trainings throughout the year, coordinated an on-call prosecutor system to assist in major DUI cases, and held our county’s first SoCal OTS Regional Roundtable. The Roundtable brought together over 30 SoCal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and criminalists for training and strategic planning on how to more effectively fight intoxicated driving statewide. And he did all this while personally handling a caseload of serious felony DUI cases.

Jack’s extraordinary commitment to strong and effective enforcement of DUI and DUID laws has earned him the title of MADD’s 2018 Prosecutor of the Year.


District Attorney’s Office urges opposition to Kevin Cooper’s request for clemency

Thirty-three years ago, a San Diego County jury convicted Kevin Cooper of the brutal murders of Doug Ryen, Peggy Ryen, 10-year-old Jessica Ryen, 11-year-old Chris Hughes, and the attempted murder of 8-year-old Josh Ryen.

Cooper’s case was reviewed in detail by the California Supreme Court, who determined the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office agreed in 2001 to give Cooper the benefit of post-conviction DNA testing. Cooper’s own DNA expert participated in the selection of the items to be tested. The defense expert selected items that he represented had the best chance of excluding Cooper as the perpetrator of these horrific crimes.

DNA testing was conducted in 2001 and 2002. Although Cooper’s defense team claimed the DNA testing would show his innocence, it proved the exact opposite. Rather than exonerating Cooper, the results of the testing proved Cooper was in the Ryen home at the time of the murders, that he smoked cigarettes in their station wagon after he stole it, and that his blood and the blood of at least one victim was on a t-shirt found by the side of a road leading away from the murders.

Cooper’s execution was stayed in 2004 because he represented once again that a simple scientific test, and further examination of some of the evidence, would show he was innocent. Again, Cooper was given the benefit of additional scientific testing and expert examination of physical evidence collected in the case.

Despite Cooper’s claims that these tests and examination would demonstrate his innocence, a reviewing judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California determined that Cooper alone was responsible for these terrible murders.

“The guilt or innocence of any defendant charged with murder should be determined by a jury in a court of law where the rules of evidence apply, not by an uninformed or deliberately misleading editorial in the New York Times,” said District Attorney Mike Ramos.

Cooper now requests that “Touch DNA” testing be performed on one of the murder weapons, the hatchet, the hatchet sheath, the t-shirt and the prison button. These items were all collected by law enforcement, examined by experts and entered into evidence at trial. They were sent into the deliberation room without restriction, as the trial took place decades before the advent of Touch DNA testing. The hatchet, button and t-shirt were subjected to serological testing in 1983-84 and DNA testing in 2002. Additionally, the hatchet and protective sheath were touched by the owners of the hideout house, their families, visitors and guests whenever the hatchet was used to chop firewood. Consequently, many people have touched the exhibits outside of laboratory conditions. DNA data bases, unlike fingerprint data bases, contain the profiles of certain convicted felons, but not law-abiding citizens. Therefore, Touch DNA testing cannot provide relevant information in this case and cannot exonerate Cooper as claimed. It’s simply another attempt to avoid punishment.

Laws and procedures afford convicted defendants the opportunity to request post-conviction DNA testing. Cooper has already received the benefit of post-conviction scientific testing several times. Each time the testing has shown his claims of innocence are false and instead confirm the overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

“The families of the victims and the surviving victim have waited patiently for thirty-five years for justice in this case,” said District Attorney Ramos. “They have endured not only the loss of their loved ones, but also the repeated and false claims from Cooper and his propaganda machine designed to undermine public confidence in the just verdict.”

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office is opposed to any clemency or further testing for Cooper based on continued distortions and misrepresentations of the facts in this case, and asks California Governor Edmund G. Brown to respect the decisions of the jury, trial judge, California Supreme Court, United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, all of whom have concluded that the evidence in this case overwhelmingly demonstrates Cooper’s guilt. Further delay only mocks the criminal justice system and the victims and their families in their long-lasting grief, as well as the will of the voters who enacted Proposition 66.

Today, the District Attorney’s Office is filing a formal opposition to Kevin Cooper’s request for clemency with the Governor’s Office. The entire document will be released by the District Attorney’s Office later this week.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Two gang members sentenced to life for senseless shooting murder

Two criminal street gang members were each sentenced Monday to 50 years to life in state prison for the shooting murder of Guy Estrada who was riding his bicycle in Fontana. After being shot, the victim was left to die in the middle of the road.

Aureliano Mendez, 21, and David Avina, 29, both of Fontana, were each found guilty April 2, 2018, of one count of first degree murder and one count of street terrorism. The jury also found true firearm and criminal street gang allegations.

“I am proud of the work our Gang Unit is doing every day to hold these local terrorists responsible for their actions,” said District Attorney Mike Ramos. “With the help of all our law enforcement partners and the Board of Supervisors, we will continue our fight. We won’t back down.”

Since the Gang Unit’s inception in July 2005, 11,560 cases have been filed; 3 on death row; 7,195 state prison commitments; 53,956 years + 322 life terms in state prison; 3,458 gang enhancements have been found true and 458 were found guilty by jury trial.

The sentencing of Mendez and Avina today raises the number of life terms to 324 life terms.

Statement of Facts

On April 26, 2015, Victim Guy Estrada, 35, was riding his bicycle in the City of Fontana when he was shot and killed. Four days later, Avina led Fontana Police Department officers on a dangerous pursuit from Fontana to San Bernardino, accompanied by his passenger, Mendez, in his Lexus sedan. Avina and Mendez were wanted in connection with a separate murder out of Fontana, believed to be gang-related and involving the Lexus sedan, based on an April 19, 2015 incident.

According to Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Robbins, who prosecuted the case, officers located a SKS rifle in the trunk of Avina’s vehicle. Mendez and Avina were taken into custody on the April 19 case.

“During trial, it was noted that both defendants wanted to shoot the victim, a random man on a bike,” said Deputy District Attorney Robbins.

Mendez indicated that Avina first shot at the victim but missed before they ultimately pursued him in Avina’s Lexus, while the victim “rode for his life” on the bicycle. Mendez also noted that he held the steering wheel so that Avina could shoot and kill the victim.

Deputy District Attorney Robbins added that the defendant Mendez described how he and Avina laughed about the incident, before driving around the block to ensure the victim was dead. The other case for both defendants is still pending. 

Other Notable Information Related to Gang Unit

California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program

Last year, as part of the California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program (CalWRAP), our office assisted in the relocation of 24 total witnesses and family members. Eight of those cases were gang-related.

In one notable case, the defendant was living with his father and other family members, including four minor children. The defendant, a gang member, stabbed his elderly father multiple times while the father’s grandson watched. The father died as a result of this attack. Another of the four children saw the defendant after the attack, walking through the residence with blood on him and carrying a bloody knife.

First Quarter Gang Stats

The latest gang statistics for the first quarter of 2018 have been compiled by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Statistics for the quarter of Jan. 1, 2018, through March 31, 2018, show that 100 cases were filed from all divisions. There were 116 state prison commitments obtained with a total of 1,024 years of state prison and 10 life terms. 71 gang enhancements were found true and 10 were found guilty by jury trial.

Two sentenced for fake crash insurance fraud

A Fontana man and woman were sentenced Friday for their role in a scheme to rip off insurance companies by staging a hit-and-run accident involving a 2015 Maserati. Roger Mendoza, 50, was sentenced to 240 days in county jail, three years felony probation, and ordered to pay $12,937 in restitution to the Automobile Club of Southern California, after pleading guilty to felony insurance fraud.

Violeta Alcaraz, 38, was sentenced to 120 days in county jail and three years felony probation, after pleading guilty to felony insurance fraud and misdemeanor filing a false police report.

Statement of Facts

In May 2016, RM Capital—a used car dealership owned by Mendoza—purchased a damaged 2015 Maserati Ghibli for $39,750. An August 4, 2016 sales contract showed the Maserati being sold to Violeta Alcaraz for $63,000. On August 24, 2016, Ms. Alcaraz filed an insurance claim with the Automobile Club of Southern California reporting that another car struck the Maserati in an intersection and fled.

Insurance investigators suspected fraud after examining the Maserati and referred the matter to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Automobile Insurance Fraud Unit.

District Attorney Investigators discovered that the Maserati was parked at the time of the damage, not at an intersection as claimed, and was repeatedly struck with a heavy object that transferred house paint onto the Maserati.

Investigators concluded that Mendoza, who lived in the same home as Alcaraz, purchased the damaged Maserati.

According to Deputy District Attorney Tom Colclough, who prosecuted the case, the defendant then made cosmetic repairs to hide the damage without repairing it, created a fictitious sale to Alcaraz, deliberately damaged the Maserati, and falsely claimed the damage occurred in a hit-and-run event.