Monday, July 29, 2019

Peer Support Team

Did you know that you work for the only District Attorney’s Office in the state that has a multi-disciplinary peer support team that includes members of every division and serves the entire office?  It’s true!  While many law enforcement, firefighter and first responder organizations have peer support programs, we are the only District Attorney’s office that has a fully trained and structured program that involves more than law enforcement members only. 

The SBDA’s office has recognized the value of providing a way for their employees and their family members to deal with personal and/or professional problems.  A successful approach has been to provide a program that offers a peer component that is mutually convenient for the supporter and peer, in addition to Employee Assistance resources.  A peer support volunteer is a fellow co-worker who is trained and available to listen to someone in need and can refer you to the appropriate outside resources if needed.  When something is going on in your life that is negatively impacting your work performance, family or self, a peer supporter may offer that assistance by just listening and giving appropriate support.  The content of the assistance is confidential providing it does not violate any law or office policy.  Peer supporters are not counselors, mental health professionals or chaplains.  They are every day, regular folks who have committed to ongoing training and volunteer time to help their co-workers. 
Your Peer Support team is here for you!  Look for when we host our events, such as the upcoming “Wellness in the Workplace” lunchtime training.  Past events have included sharing information over Root “Peer” Floats, Holiday Cookies & Cocoa, Ice Cream Socials and providing information for new DDA training.   Our jobs are critical to public safety and can get stressful at times.  Everyone benefits from having healthy, supported co-workers in a safe and professional environment.  As a member of the office, you have access to peer supporters within the office AND to the office employee assistance program, provided by The Counseling Team International.  This is free is and includes a 24/7 crisis hotline for you and your family.  TCTI provide confidential behavioral health and wellness services. 
Don’t want to talk to anyone in the office?  No problem!  You can call TCTI directly at 855-733-7855.  They offer counseling for a variety of life’s issues, such as relationships, finances, depression, suicide, grief, job stress or substance abuse.   TCTI works with hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country and has well trained, professional staff that understand the demands of working in public safety. 
Check out Peer Services on the DA Starnet, Useful Links – click Peer Support.  We have a transparent set of guidelines for supporters and all staff.  Look for our posters and contact cards in the break rooms.  Starnet has a list of resources you can access directly.  If you are interested in becoming a peer supporter (our team is currently full but we do maintain a wait/interest list with Melissa Murray) or have suggestions for training and services, please contact Team Coordinators Christine Murillo, Flerida Alarcon or Mary Ashley.
If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, please consider calling 909- 884-0133 or (800) 733-7855.  Help is available and you are NEVER ALONE. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Jury Recommends Death in People v. Charles Merritt

On November 11, 2013, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department was notified of possible human remains in a desert area of Victorville, California.  The next day, Sheriff Department Homicide detail, along with the Coroner investigators, began excavating the graves and found the remains of four individuals, later identified as the McStay family: Joseph McStay, Summer McStay, and children Gianni McStay, and Joseph “Chubba” McStay Jr.  Coroner examination of the bodies revealed that each member of the family was killed by blunt force trauma to the head.   

The family was reported missing from their Fallbrook home in San Diego County on February 15, 2010.  A business associate of Joseph McStay, eventual defendant Charles Merritt, was interviewed by police two days later.  He spoke of the family in the past tense several times and told them he did not care for Summer.  San Diego County investigators learned the McStay family’s Isuzu Trooper truck was towed from a lot in San Ysidro on February 8, 2010.  DNA swabs were collected into evidence from the vehicle.  The samples were taken from the steering wheel, gear shifter, and control panel of the vehicle.  The samples were compared and matched the defendant’s DNA. 

 During the time period of the disappearance, the defendant’s cell phone was turned off.  Two days after the disappearance, however, the defendant’s cell phone signal was received by a cell phone tower in the desert area of Victorville.  The cell phone tower was located near the gravesite where the bodies would eventually be discovered.

Additionally, investigators learned of a business relationship Joseph McStay had with the defendant in the case.  McStay hired Merritt as a designer and builder of custom water fountains for his business.  It was later revealed that McStay loaned the defendant $30,000 to pay off a gambling debt.  A few days prior to the disappearance of the family, the defendant began writing and forging checks from McStay’s Quickbook checking accounts.  Merritt also wrote checks to himself after the disappearance but backdated them to the date of their last meeting. 

With this and additional evidence, Merritt was arrested for the murder of all four McStay family members.  The trial began in October of 2018 and was tried by veteran San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors Sean Daugherty, Britt Imes, and Melissa Rodriguez.  After months of trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first degree murder on all counts, and on June 24th, 2019, agreed to impose the death penalty for three of the four counts of murder.

A great job by Sean, Britt, Melissa, and the entire law enforcement team that worked on the investigation and prosecution of this case for the better part of a decade.  Justice for the McStay family was achieved in this matter!