Monthly Archives: April 2012

Supreme Court rejects bid to shield Sheriff Lee Baca from lawsuit

Sheriff Lee Baca

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to shield Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca from being sued for racial gang violence in the jails he supervises.

The justices without comment turned down an appeal from the county’s lawyers, who argued Baca cannot be held personally liable for the stabbing of an inmate since he had no personal involvement in the incident.

Instead, the court let stand a decision of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Baca can be sued for “deliberate indifference” to the inmate’s rights since he was on notice of the jailhouse violence and failed to take action to stop it.

Dion Starr says he was stabbed 23 times by Latino gang members at the Central Men’s Jail in 2006. He also says he was kicked in the face by a guard who saw the incident and refused to come to his aid. In his suit, Starr named Baca as well as the guards and deputies who were at the scene.

Sonia Mercado, a lawyer for Starr, said it is important that the county sheriff be named in the suit.

“Unless the supervisor is held accountable, nothing will change. This horrendous misconduct will continue,” she said.

Timothy Coates, a Los Angeles lawyer, appealed to the high court in December, urging the justices to throw out the claim against the sheriff. He said plaintiffs’ lawyers try to win big damages judgments by naming top officials, whether or not they had a personal role in the actual case.

“If you are the head of an agency, you are a big target, and you can get dragged into lots of lawsuits,” he said.

Judges in California had been split over whether there was enough evidence for the suit against Baca to go forward. U.S. District Judge George Wu in Los Angeles threw out the claim against the sheriff in 2008, since there was no evidence personally linking Baca to the jailhouse stabbing.

The Supreme Court in 2009 also made it harder to sue top officials. In a 5-4 decision, it threw out a suit against former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft seeking to hold him liable for the arrest and jailhouse beating of Muslim men following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The court said plaintiffs need specific facts showing a top supervisor was directly involved in a constitutional violation. Afterward, a divided 9th Circuit allowed the suit against Baca to go forward.


Tags: , , , , ,

Robert Wagner’s daughter arrested after shooting at Malibu home

Courtney WagnerThe daughter of actor Robert Wagner and actress Natalie Wood was arrested on suspicion of narcotics possession after a reported shooting in Malibu, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said Monday.

Deputies were called to a home in the 24400 block of Piuma Road in unincorporated Malibu on April 22, following a report of a shooting, according to a sheriff’s statement. Courtney Wagner, 38, of Malibu, and Matthew Cox, 24, were at the residence when deputies arrived.

During the investigation, they found several handguns and several baggies “of what appeared to be narcotics at the location,” according to sheriff’s officials.

A short time later, Cox was arrested on suspicion of discharging a firearm in a negligent manner, sheriff’s officials said. Wagner was booked on suspicion of narcotics possession, according to sheriff’s officials.

They were released on bond after being booked at the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff’s station, officials said.

In November, the department announced it was reopening its case into the 1981 death of Robert Wagner’s wife, actress Natalie Wood. Her death at the time was ruled an accidental drowning while boating off Santa Catalina Island.

By January, sheriff’s investigators said they had uncovered no new evidence in her death nor anything to suggest it was not an accident.


Tags: , , , , ,

68 arrested in alleged San Bernardino County cockfighting ring

Rooster at alleged cockfighting barn
San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies arrested 68 people in connection with an alleged cockfighting ring after raiding a barn over the weekend in Hesperia.

The raid took place about 10 a.m. Saturday on the 14000 block of Summit Valley Road, the sheriff’s department said.

Some 75 people were at the alleged cockfight and scattered as deputies arrived in trucks, aided by helicopters overhead, and tried to detain as many as they could, sheriff’s officials said.

Deputies found the carcasses of several dead roosters and seized 63 live birds and $20,000 in cash that had been used to gamble on the fights, sheriff’s officials said.

Participants came from La Puente, Panorama City, Lancaster, Riverside, Victorville and Hesperia, sheriff’s officials said.

The barn’s owner and alleged event organizer, Daniel Urena, of La Puente, also was arrested, sheriff’s officials said.Those detained were booked on suspicion of felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty, cockfighting and animal sport cruelty. Immigration holds were placed on 32 people suspected of being in the country illegally, the department said.

“We will not let or allow this blood sport to flourish in the County of San Bernardino,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops in a statement.

Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at (760) 868-1006 or (760) 552-6800. Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to contact the We-Tip Hotline at (800) 78-CRIME (27463).


Tags: , , , , ,

Deputy who tried to smuggle heroin in burrito pleads no contest

Henry Marin

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who tried to smuggle heroin into a courthouse jail inside a bean-and-cheese burrito pleaded no contest Monday to two felonies, authorities said.

Deputy Henry Marin, 27, faces up to two years behind bars after the open plea to a single count each of bringing drugs into jail and conspiracy. An open plea means there was a previously negotiated deal. Marin faces up to two years in jail when sentenced June 22 by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anne Egerton.

Prosecutors alleged Marin and at least two other unnamed people conspired with him. According to the indictment, one of the two contacted the other to discuss using a deputy to get narcotics into the Airport Courthouse jail.

Several days later, the two met at a sheriff’s jailhouse, an indictment states. One instructed the other to get the drugs and stuff them into a “food item,” the indictment states. Authorities said a woman took the package to one of the Airport Courthouse courtrooms, where she allegedly met with Marin and handed him the burrito.

The burrito episode was one of a series of contraband-smuggling cases at Los Angeles County lockups.

In recent years, at least three sheriff’s department guards have been convicted and a fourth fired in connection with smuggling or attempting to smuggle narcotics into jail for inmates.The porous nature of the jails was highlighted last year when The Times revealed that FBI agents conducted an undercover sting in which a deputy was accused of taking $1,500 to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate working as a federal informant. Federal authorities are investigating reports of brutality and other misconduct by deputies.

Before the burrito incident, Marin was featured in the first episode of Fox’s reality show “The Academy” based on the sheriff’s department’s training of recruits.

Marin’s subpar performance eventually led to his ouster from Academy Class 355 for flunking two role-playing exercises. In one, he failed to call for help after a suicidal woman drew a gun, and he was unable to recall the radio code for an emergency.

“You blew this one, big time,” his instructor says in the TV show.

After he failed a second scenario, Marin was dismissed from the academy.


Tags: , , , , ,

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s stolen Lamborghini found in storage unit

Guy Fieri

A $200,000 yellow Lamborghini owned by celebrity chef Guy Fieri and stolen from a San Francisco car dealership was found in a Point Richmond storage unit, police said Monday.

The 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo was stolen in March 2011 from a dealership on Van Ness Avenue when a thief rappelled from the roof, entered through a window and drove away in the car, police said, according to CBS Channel 5 in San Francisco.

Surveillance video obtained from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin County town of Tiburon showed the Lamborghini driving by after the theft, but the car was not found until Saturday when Marin County sheriff’s investigators stumbled upon it while searching a storage unit in Point Richmond.

The unit belonged to a 17-year-old boy who was arrested Saturday on suspicion of a shooting into an occupied car in Mill Valley earlier this month, according to the sheriff’s office.

San Francisco police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza confirmed Monday the Lamborghini found in the storage unit was the same one stolen from the dealership.

Fieri, who hosts various TV shows, could not be reached for comment.


Tags: , , , ,

HIGHLAND: 1991 murder case triggers Michigan arrest

A 49-year-old Michigan man pleaded not guilty today to a murder charge that accuses him of using a .22-caliber rifle to gun down a man in a Highland apartment – 21 years ago.

Alfred Terrance Woods was arraigned in San Bernardino Superior Court and tentatively scheduled for a May 10 preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence against him to warrant a trial, online records show.

Woods – also known as Jullian Terry Cane – was arrested April 13 in Westland, Mich., according to San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials. He is charged with slaying Horace Shaw Terry at the Rimrock Apartments along the 7800 block of Sterling Avenue in Highland, about a half mile north of San Bernardino International Airport, on Feb. 17, 1991.

“Cane was identified as the possible murder suspect in 1991, but he fled the state and was never interviewed,” investigators say in a written statement. “In February of 2012, deputies … developed information that led them to believe Cane was in Westland, Mich.”

On April 9, prosecutors charged him with murder under the name of Alfred Woods.

The two men knew each other and apparently had an argument, though detectives aren’t certain of the subject of the dispute, sheriff’s officials say.


Tags: , , , , ,

RIVERSIDE: Defense lawyer says defendant killed officer

A defense attorney for Earl Ellis Green told jurors today her client was the killer of a Riverside police officer.

“Earl Ellis Green murdered officer Ryan Bonaminio,” Deputy Capital Defender Gail O’Rane told the jury of eight men and four women during her brief opening statement.

Green faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. The defense attorney said she will ask jurors to consider second-degree murder, which does not carry the death penalty.

But Deputy District Attorney Michael Hestrin called Green’s Nov. 7, 2010 slaying of Bonaminio “a case of cruelty and brutality.”

Green, 46, a parolee with a history of violent crimes, is charged with slaying Bonaminio after the officer slipped and fell on wet pavement while chasing the suspect on foot late that Sunday night.

Hestrin described how the officer, after chasing Green along the edge of Riverside’s Fairmount Park and then into the parking lot of an adjacent church, slipped and fell on a muddy patch and was set upon by Green. Bonaminio was first beaten with a metal bar, then shot in the head as he lay on the ground of a parking lot.

Stephen McQueen, a witness to the murder, testified after opening statements about the chilling scene in which Bonaminio said twice: “Don’t do it. Don’t do it,” as Green closed in on the already-beaten officer, firing twice and missing before firing a fatal third shot.

“He didn’t beg,” Hestrin said earlier. “He just said, ‘Don’t do it.’”

The officer died near the outside stairwell of a church on private property adjacent to the park. McQueen, a volunteer caretaker at the church happened to be standing next to his car in the parking lot when the two men ran by.

“Officer Bonaminio’s blood, and his life, poured out of him,” Hestrin said in his opening statement. “He died there, on the cold and dirty asphalt, in the parking lot of the Center for Spiritual Living.”

“I wish I could tell you what Mr. Hestrin said was not true. But I can’t,” O’Rane told the jury of eight men and four women before they began hearing testimony.

The defense attorney said she will ask jurors to consider whether Bonaminio’s slaying was first or second-degree murder, saying they should consider his state of mind.

The day before Green killed Bonaminio, she said, an argument between Green and his uncle ended in Green being ordered to move his trailer off the family property in Rubidoux and also being told he could no longer work at the family-owned auto repair shop.

Bonaminio had received the call of a hit-and-run between a tractor-trailer rig and a car near Highway 60 just north of Fairmount Park, with the truck entering and then exiting the freeway for surface streets. The woman whose car was struck by the tractor-trailer rig followed and called 911.

Bonaminio was patrolling on Market Street along the eastern edge of the park when he spotted the truck heading the opposite direction. The dashboard camera on Bonaminio’s patrol car shows the officer made a u-turn and pulled up behind the truck.

The driver fled, and the dashboard camera video shows him reaching under his jacket and pulling out a metal pipe.

Hestrin presented it today in court. It was recovered near the death scene. It was clearly a dumbbell, with circular hand guards on either side of cross-hatched grip area in the center.

As Bonaminio exited his patrol car to chase Green, he can be heard shouting on the camera’s recording device, “Stay in the car! Stop!” Police had said earlier the foot chase quickly took the officer out of range of the camera’s audio recorder.

Hestrin also outlined the DNA and fingerprint evidence against Green, how McQueen would testify about the beating and shooting as it took place in front of him, as well as how police recovered Bonaminio’s missing handgun from the linen closet of Green’s girlfriend’s home.

Today’s opening statement was the first time the prosecutor said that Bonaminio was slain with his own police-issued handgun, a Glock .40-caliber semi-automatic.

Hestrin opened his statement by showing jurors a portion of a video from the dashboard camera of Bonaminio’s patrol car.

Tuesday, officers who arrived first at the scene will be followed by expert witnesses who will discuss the evidence taken from the dashboard camera, according to court documents.

Bonaminio, a Riverside native who had served two tours with the Army in Iraq and was a four-year member of the department, was 27.


Tags: , , , , ,