Monthly Archives: September 2013

Deputy kills man, 21, who stabbed another deputy, authorities say

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Crime Scene Cleaner Jason Moore scrubs the street as residents Rocky Reinertson, left, and Charlie Chase talk about last night’s events after a 21-year-old neighbor stabbed his mother and roommate at a home Tuesday night, then attacked a deputy who responded to the fight.

LAGUNA NIGUEL – A 21-year-old man stabbed his mother and roommate at a home Tuesday night, then attacked a deputy who responded to the fight, authorities said.

A second deputy then shot and killed the Laguna Niguel man, said Lt. Jeff Hallock of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Officials on Wednesday identified the man as Connor Bishop Zion. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Zion’s mother, his roommate and a deputy suffered stab wounds in the Tuesday night altercation, but the injuries do not appear to life-threatening, authorities said.

What prompted the attacks in the 200 block of Chandon was not immediately clear.

Hallock said deputies were called at about 7:30 p.m. after receiving reports that someone had been stabbed in the area. When deputies arrived, a man was lying on a roadway.

The 49-year-old man, identified only as Zion’s roommate, suffered traumatic injuries, said Capt. Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority. Zion’s 52-year-old mother suffered mild injuries.

Hallock said Zion also attacked the deputy, stabbing him in both arms, before another deputy shot and killed Zion, Hallock said. The names of the deputies were not released.

The injured deputy and the two other victims were taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo to be treated, Concialdi said.

As with other officer-involved shootings, the District Attorney’s Office is conducting an investigation.



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One defendant was recent homicide victim

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Newport Beach police found Nancy Hammour’s body Monday morning after a caller reported seeing a woman lying face down under the Bay Bridge, just north of the Balboa Peninsula.

Three weeks after a woman was found dead under a bridge in Newport Beach, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday she had been charged in a 2012 drug deal tied to a street gang.

Newport Beach police, who investigated Nancy Hammour’s shooting death and made an arrest, declined to comment Tuesday on whether they believed the killing had gang ties.

Hammour, 28, was charged June 26 with distribution of methamphetamine, but the indictment was sealed until Tuesday. The document lays out bare-bones allegations of drug deals involving Hammour and 14 other defendants and says nothing about a gang.

But it was one of 26 indictments announced Tuesday by federal prosecutors and the FBI as part of Operation Smokin’ Aces, which they said was aimed at the Mexican Mafia in Orange County.

“All of the the defendants are considered either gang members or associates,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said about Hammour.

In a joint statement, the Santa Ana Gang Task Force said the street-level drug deals were part of the gang’s activities, along with murder, assault and extortion. The task force includes the FBI, Santa Ana police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The indictment says Hammour sold 13.73 grams of methamphetamine to a confidential informant Feb. 17, 2012. It also says she ordered drugs from John Terrones, who is also charged in the indictment, in phone calls Feb. 19, March 16 and April 18, 2012.

Hammour was found dead Sept. 2 under the Bay Bridge in Newport. Four days later, police arrested Jaime Prieto Rocha, 40, of Santa Ana, who has been charged with murder.

Police have released few details of why they believe Hammour was killed. Detectives would not comment Tuesday on any link between the federal indictment and their homicide investigation, police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.

Rocha, who is in jail, is scheduled in court Friday for an arraignment and bail review.

In an interview with the Register shortly after Hammour’s death, her sister, Yara Hayek, said Hammour had battled addiction for six years but was trying to get her life on track.

Hammour was supposed to look at an apartment soon and was trying to regain custody of her son, who was born in April, Hayek said.

Hayek said Tuesday evening she was surprised to hear her sister had been accused of being a drug dealer, especially since she was “broke.”

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Hayek said.

She said she has heard little from Newport Beach police since Rocha’s arrest, despite her attempts to get information.



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Prosecutor: Man in burned bodies case sought to flee

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Iftekhar Murtaza booking photo

SANTA ANA – The man accused of kidnapping and murdering his estranged girlfriend’s father and sister and setting their bodies on fire in Orange County in 2007 touched off a massive manhunt when he went missing from his Van Nuys apartment shortly after he became a suspect in the double slaying, a prosecutor contended in court documents.

Iftekhar Murtaza demonstrated a “consciousness of guilt” when he fled to Arizona in May of 2007 to avoid arrest, Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy wrote in a legal brief on a pretrial motion.

Murtaza was the primary suspect in the beating and stabbings deaths of Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and his eldest daughter, Karishma Dhanak, 20, when he disappeared in the middle of the night four days after the smoldering bodies were found in an Irvine park, Gundy wrote.

But detectives had secretly placed a tracking device on Murtaza’s Range Rover and he was traced to the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Gundy said. Murtaza was within two hours of boarding a flight to Bangladesh when he was arrested as he walked into a men’s room at the airport, according to Gundy’s brief.

There is no extradition treaty between Bangladesh and the United States.

Murtaza, 28, has been awaiting trial since then on special circumstances murder charges that he orchestrated and participated in the May 21, 2007, kidnapping and slayings because he blamed the Dhanak family for breaking up his romance with Shayona Dhanak, 18, the Dhanaks’ youngest daughter. He faces a potential death penalty if convicted.

Defense attorney Doug Myers contended in a motion to suppress evidence that there was insufficient evidence to arrest Murtaza at the Phoenix airport.

But Gundy countered that police had the “collective knowledge” to arrest Murtaza because Anaheim detectives had developed evidence that showed he had the motive and the opportunity to commit the slayings. Gundy said detectives also knew that Murtaza’s cellphone had pinged off a tower near the Dhanaks’ Anaheim Hills home at about the same time as the kidnapping, and that he lied when he said he had no travel plans.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled Monday that Murtaza’s arrest was proper and that evidence seized at the airport will be admissible at trial. It was one of several pretrial motions heard this week as attorneys gear up for Murtaza’s often-delayed trial.

Jury selection is now scheduled to begin next week; opening statements are expected by mid-October. The trial could last into December.

Murtaza’s trial has been delayed for more than six years in part because two other men were previously tried and convicted for their roles in the abduction and murders.

Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 27, was convicted of special circumstances murder in 2011 after an Orange County jury found that he helped Murtaza plot the murders. And Charles Murphy Jr., 28, was convicted in 2012 of being with Murtaza on the night of the killings.

After years of legal maneuvering, the trials of the three defendants were separated from each other. Murtaza, the only defendant facing a potential death sentence, is the last to go to trial.



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Escaped O.C. inmate found in Oceanside

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Max Edward Fernandez is suspected of escaping from James A. Musick county jail Friday.

SANTA ANA – A 27-year-old inmate who escaped from a minimum-security county jail Friday afternoon was found Saturday afternoon in Oceanside and taken back into custody, authorities said.

Max Edward Fernandez, who had been locked up at Irvine’s James A. Musick jail facility on suspicion of drug possession, first-degree burglary and receiving stolen property, was re-arrested at 1:43 p.m. Saturday, after Orange County sheriff’s investigators found him at an Oceanside restaurant eating by himself, said Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Jerry Carlsen.

Fernandez, whose last known residence was Laguna Niguel, was interviewed and booked at Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana, Carlsen said.

“He will be housed appropriately,” Carlsen said. “He will not have the freedom he had at Musick.”

Carlsen said it was not immediately clear how authorities learned Fernandez was in Oceanside. He surrendered without incident Saturday and had no weapons on him, Carlsen said.

Authorities discovered Fernandez was missing from the Musick jail around 4 p.m. Friday, when he was unaccounted for during a security check.

He sustained minor injuries when he hopped a jail fence, Carlsen said.

Authorities used bloodhounds Friday night to search near the jail, and appealed to the public for help.

At the time of his escape, Fernandez was being held on suspicion of six felonies, including drug possession, first-degree burglary and receiving stolen property. He is facing sentencing enhancements because he was charged with another offense while released from custody.

Fernandez also faces prosecution on two felony drug possession charges.

He pleaded not guilty to all 11 felonies and two misdemeanors Wednesday, according to court records.

Fernandez was arrested Saturday on suspicion of escaping from custody, which is a felony, Carlsen said.

–Staff writer Alyssa Duranty contributed to this report.



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At least 3 injured in Costa Mesa street fight

COSTA MESA – Police were working Saturday to identify suspects involved in an early-morning street fight that left at least three young men with stab wounds and other injuries.

Costa Mesa police responded around 2:17 a.m. Saturday to reports of a large group fighting outside an apartment complex in the 100 block of Magnolia Street, about a block east of Newport Boulevard, police said in a statement.

Although the fight had dispersed when police arrived, officers found a 26-year-old, white Costa Mesa man on the other side of the apartment complex, at 126 E. 18th Street, with “serious head and facial injuries,” police said. He was taken to Newport Beach’s Hoag Hospital.

Police subsequently learned two Latino men, both 23, had sought treatment at Hoag.

The first, from Costa Mesa, was stabbed in the chest; he was treated and released.

The second, from Stanton, sustained an upper-body stab wound and was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.

Police said both of the men who had sought treatment at Hoag were suspected of being in a Costa Mesa-based criminal street gang.

As of late Saturday, no arrests had been made as investigators continued working to identify additional witnesses and possible suspects, said Costa Mesa police Lt. Keith Davis.

Police said all three injured men were being treated as “involved” parties.

Police also identified a fourth “involved” party as a 23-year-old Latino man from Costa Mesa. He was believed to be part of the same gang as two of the other men, police said.

None of their names were released Saturday pending the ongoing investigation.



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Trio suspected in robbery crashes into police car

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An Anaheim police officer was injured in a collision between his Ford SUV, top, and a GMC Savannah van during a pursuit of burglary suspects.

ANAHEIM – Three people were arrested Friday afternoon after their van rammed a police vehicle as they fled from a robbery, officials said.

One officer injured his ankle in the crash, Anaheim police Sgt. Bob Dunn said. The two men and a woman inside the van were arrested.

Police received a 911 call around 12:05 p.m. reporting a man with a gun heading into a pawn shop in the 1300 block of South Magnolia Avenue, Dunn said. An undercover officer in the area responded, arriving as the people suspected in the robbery were leaving in a gray GMC Savannah van.

The officer turned on the police lights of his undercover SUV, which the van then crashed into head-on, Dunn said. Other police cars arriving at the scene were able to box in the van, Dunn said, and the three occupants were taken into custody.

An employee reportedly was tied up and struck with a handgun before money and merchandise were stolen from the store. Dunn said two handguns were found at the scene.

Jonathan Cephus, 33; Melvin Collins, 30; and Jennifer Graham, 32; were all arrested and booked into the Anaheim city jail on suspicion of robbery and kidnapping, police said.

Orange County Superior Court records show Collins had has had previous run-ins with the law, in 2002 pleading guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon and street terrorism charges, and being convicted of felony robbery and possession of a firearm charges in 2009.

Police are investigating whether the three are linked to other recent robberies in the area, Dunn said.



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Sen. Feinstein will not revive gun control legislation

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introducing legislation in January to ban assault weapons. She said Tuesday she will not reintroduce the failed legislation following this week’s masscre in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of the mass shooting in southeast Washington, D.C., Monday morning, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she would not revive her legacy bill banning assault weapons, citing obstacles on the political front too big to overcome.

“I’ve been with this issue for 40 years, so I am prepared to but it makes no sense right now,” Feinstein told the Register Tuesday afternoon, “unless I know there are 20 more votes in the Senate. … When the votes turn around is when I know enough is enough; that people here are willing to stand up and do what the right thing is.”

Gun control policy has been a central issue for Feinstein on Capitol Hill since 1993, when she led the charge to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons, called “assault weapons,” from sale to the public. A year later, the measure passed as an amendment to another bill that restricted the sale of larger-capacity magazines and some semi-automatic weapons.

In 2004, when the act was set to expire, Feinstein introduced an amendment to a bill that would have extended the 1994 provisions, but it ultimately failed as critics questioned the effectiveness of the ban and the impact on citizens’ Second-Amendment rights. Since then, she has tried to restore the old law as new tragedies occurred, including the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting and the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in 2012. In April, her drive to attach an assault weapons ban to a gun bill failed in the Senate.

Unfortunately, Feinstein said, a law banning these weapons will only come when new members of Congress are elected without being influenced by the National Rifle Association, the biggest gun-rights advocate in the country.

“What happens is, it becomes a recruiting tool for the NRA, so if I didn’t think I had a chance to pass it, why would I do it? So I’ve become convinced that the only thing that’s going to change this, really, are elections,” Feinstein said.

“Until you elect people who are willing to go against the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, and say, ‘We want a moderate program to see that weapons are registered and certain military weapons are kept under control and out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,’ we’re not going to go anywhere. So, I’m not interested in being just a recruiting tool,” she said.

Feinstein’s assessment was echoed by others. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday that gun-control legislation is unlikely to gain any traction in the Republican-controlled House. “So, yes, I think (the Navy Yard shootings) will bring up debate; whether it will bring up action is problematic,” Hoyer said. “If ‘the past is prologue,’ our prologue is not very hopeful.”

President Barack Obama has made a few narrow administrative changes, but those are not likely to alter the kinds of guns most often found at crime scenes.

Obama said Tuesday he was concerned that an American ritual could emerge where every few months, the nation suffers a horrific mass shooting, then fails to take action to stop the next one from occurring. He said he would continue speaking out about the need for new gun laws, but that ultimately, it’s up to lawmakers.

“I’ve taken steps that are within my control,” Obama said in an interview with Telemundo. “The next phase now is for Congress to go ahead and move.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D.-W.Va., the author of a bill on background checks, both said they would like to see a vote on the background checks bill, but the votes aren’t there for passage at this time.

Feinstein observed, “Nothing is sacrosanct, no one can really feel protection because anyone can just walk in do clearly what was done at the Navy Yard. You would think, after all, is a fairly well protected place.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.



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