La Fiscalía Acusa a ex Empleado Del Condado de Beneficiarse de Los Contratos De Su Esposa con el Condado

La Fiscal de Distrito del Condado de San Diego Summer Stephan, anunció hoy que se han presentado cargos penales contra Rolf Bishop, de 73 años, ex director de Sistemas de Información en Las oficinas del Registrador/Secretario del Condado de San Diego (ARCC). Bishop fue acusado formalmente hoy de un delito grave por violar la Sección 1090 del Código de Gobierno, que prohíbe que un empleado del condado esté interesado financieramente en cualquier contrato realizado por ellos en su capacidad oficial.

Los fiscales alegan que mientras Bishop trabajaba en su capacidad de Director de Información, desde marzo de 2017 hasta enero de 2021, recomendó que un contratista contratara a la empresa de su esposa para trabajar para el Condado. Posteriormente, aprobó facturas relacionadas con su trabajo y el trabajo de sus empleados en proyectos de ARCC. Los investigadores dicen que el acusado y su esposa pueden haberse beneficiado personalmente con cientos de miles de dólares. Se espera que los detalles contables exactos se hagan públicos durante la tramitación del caso penal.

“El acusado y cualquier persona que trabaje para el gobierno tiene el deber de no violar la confianza del público al usar su posición para llenar sus propios bolsillos ilegalmente”, dijo la Fiscal de Distrito Summer Stephan. “Es fundamental que la corrupción pública en todos los niveles del gobierno sea investigada y procesada cuando la evidencia cumpla con la alta carga de la prueba según la ley”.

Este caso fue remitido a la Fiscalia por la Oficina de Cumplimiento de Ética del Condado de San Diego y está siendo procesado por la División de Operaciones Especiales de la fiscalía, que investiga casos relacionados con el uso indebido de fondos públicos, corrupción política, delitos de odio y mala conducta delictiva de funcionarios gubernamentales. incluidos los agentes del orden público y otros empleados públicos.

Bishop fue procesado en la corte superior de San Diego y se declaró inocente. Si es declarado culpable, enfrenta una multa y hasta tres años de prisión. Bishop ya no está empleado en el Condado de San Diego. Una audiencia preliminar en este caso ha sido fijada para el 10 de mayo.

DA Charges Former County Employee with Profiting Off His Wife’s County Contracts

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that criminal charges have been filed against Rolf Bishop, 73, the former Chief Deputy for information systems at the San Diego County Assessors/Recorder/County Clerk’s (ARCC) Office. Bishop was formally charged today with one felony count of violating Government Code Section 1090, which prohibits a county employee from being financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity.

Prosecutors allege that while Bishop was working in his capacity as Chief Information Officer, from March of 2017 to January of 2021, he recommended that a contractor hire his wife’s company to do work for the County. He subsequently approved invoices related to her work and the work of her employees on ARCC projects. Investigators say the defendant and his wife may have personally profited by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Exact accounting details are expected to become public during the pendency of the criminal case.

“The defendant and anyone working for the government has a duty to the public to not violate the public’s trust by using their position to unlawfully pad their own pockets,” DA Stephan said. “It’s critical that public corruption at all levels of government be investigated and prosecuted when the evidence meets the high burden of proof under the law.”

This case was referred to the District Attorney by the San Diego County’s Office of Ethics Compliance and is being prosecuted by the DA’s Special Operations Division, which investigates cases involving misuse of public funds, political corruption, hate crimes, and criminal misconduct of government officials, including peace officers and other public employees.

Bishop was arraigned in San Diego Superior Court and pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces a fine and up to three years in prison. Bishop is no longer employed with the County of San Diego. A preliminary hearing in this case has been set for May 10.

District Attorney Charges Man for Firing Gun During Protest at Mayor Gloria’s Home

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan filed felony charges today against a man who clashed with protesters near San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s home and fired a gun near the crowd last year. Lonnie James Crawford, 37, was arraigned today and charged with discharging a firearm in a grossly negligent manner and unlawful possession of a firearm and a controlled substance. If convicted on both charges, Crawford faces up to four years, eight months in prison.

The charges stem from an incident on the evening of August 30 last year, when a group of people gathered outside of Mayor Gloria’s home to protest. Crawford drove his truck through the crowd of protesters and had a verbal altercation with them. He then entered a nearby apartment building and came out a short time later, firing at least one shot into the air. No one was hit by gunfire and no one was injured.

“These felony charges reflect the seriousness of the defendant’s actions and the danger he posed to the protesters who were clearly victimized by his actions,” said DA Stephan. “I want to be clear that everyone’s right to protest peacefully must be safeguarded and anyone who harms that right through illegal conduct will face consequences.”

The DA reminded the public that victims of crime can contact the office’s Victim Services Division for support and assistance.

The DA’s Office has filed criminal charges in several protest related cases, including Antifa members for criminal actions on an organized protest in Pacific Beach and for the Imperial Beach assault of two men participating in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

Crawford pleaded not guilty at arraignment today and is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on April 28.

DA Issues COVID Test and Price Gouging Warning Amid Omicron Surge

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan warned the public today to steer clear of unapproved at-home COVID-19 tests as people become increasingly desperate to get tested for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Scammers are always waiting for their next opportunity to take financial advantage of unsuspecting consumers and the shortage of COVID-19 tests is no different.

“Before you click the add-to-cart button on that website claiming to sell legitimate self-testing kits, know how to spot red flags so you don’t become a different kind of COVID-19 statistic,” DA Stephan said.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a list of tips on how to vet at-home tests:

· Only buy tests authorized by the FDA.
· Check the FDA’s lists of antigen diagnostic tests and molecular diagnostic tests before buying, to find the tests authorized for home use. (EUA is “emergency use authorization.”)
· Check out a seller before you buy, especially if you’re buying from a site you don’t know. Search online for the website, company, or seller’s name plus words like “scam,” “complaint,” or “review.”
· Compare online reviews from a wide variety of websites. You can get a good idea about a company, product, or service from reading user reviews on various retail or shopping comparison sites.
· Think about the source of the review. Consider whether the review is coming from an expert organization or an individual customer.
· When buying online, pay by credit card. If you’re charged for an order you never got, or for a product that is not as advertised, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
· If you have been scammed, report it directly the FTC ( or contact the DA’s consumer protection team at

If you are looking for an in-person test site, San Diego County provides a list of authorized free test sites on its website (

Finally, since Governor Newsom’s executive order declares a state of emergency through March 31, 2022, the price gouging laws will be in effect until the end of April. The order prohibits sellers from increasing prices on test kits by more than 10% if they had been selling them as of December 1, 2021, unless they can prove their costs have increased. Anyone who began selling tests after December 1, 2021 may not charge 50% greater than what they paid for the kit themselves. A new law that the San Diego District Attorney’s Office co-sponsored expands the price gouging laws to online purchases.

“We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to protect our community against fraudulent COVID schemes, fraud and price gouging” DA Stephan said.

To report an incident of price gouging or a fake or suspicious testing site, you can call the San Diego District Attorney consumer hotline at (619) 531-3507 or by email at

The Consumer Protection Unit is comprised of Deputy District Attorneys, Investigators and Paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices.

Former Sheriff’s Deputy Pleads Guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter

Former San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron Russell, 25, pleaded guilty today to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of a man he saw escape from a patrol car near the downtown San Diego jail in May of 2020. Russell also admitted he personally used a firearm in the commission of the crime. Russell shot Nicholas Bils, 36, in the back and the side as he ran near Front and B Streets. The incident was caught on a Smart Streetlight surveillance camera near the intersection.

Russell is scheduled to be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Francis Devaney on February 7. He faces up to 11 years in state prison.

“As in every case, my office follows the law and the evidence in pursuing a fair and equal justice for all,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “After an extensive analysis of all the evidence, including that presented by the defense after the preliminary hearing, the defendant’s guilty plea to felony voluntary manslaughter accurately reflects that this is a homicide in which the victim was unlawfully killed, and that the former deputy sheriff erroneously and unreasonably believed it was necessary to defend against a perceived imminent threat. The District Attorney’s Office has met with the victim’s mother regarding this settlement. Her input was a critical component in determining the appropriate resolution as she has suffered an unspeakable loss because of the defendant’s actions. Nothing will bring back this family’s loved one, but we hope this conviction will bring them a measure of justice and accountability.”

Nicholas Bils was being transported to jail in a State Parks patrol car when he slipped his left hand out of a handcuff and burst out of the vehicle. A nearby State Parks officer opened the door of his pickup and tried to get out to stop Bils, but Bils shoved the door against the officer and took off running, handcuffs still on Bils’ right wrist. The officer from the pickup ran after Bils. Russell, who was then a Sheriff’s Deputy, was standing at the intersection in uniform and observed the attempted escape. As Bils ran with a handcuff around his right wrist, Russell fired five shots, striking Bils four times.

During a preliminary hearing, a fellow Sheriff’s Deputy who had also witnessed the attempted escape, testified that he planned to chase and tackle Bils. He testified he saw no need for any type of other force and did not feel anyone in the area was in immediate danger. Following a preliminary hearing, Russell was ordered to face trial on a charge of second-degree murder.

Russell’s attorneys raised several theories of justification for the use of the force, but in the plea agreement entered into the public record today, Russell admitted that he “unreasonably believed that I or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury. I actually, but unreasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger. I, therefore, acting alone, personally used my department-issued firearm to shoot Nicholas Bils, ending his life.”

In January 2020, California law changed to make use of deadly force permissible only when “necessary,” when a life is in imminent danger and nonlethal methods are not available. Previously, deadly force had been allowable when “reasonable.” Russell is the first law enforcement officer in California to be charged with murder since the state raised the standard for when peace officers can use deadly force.

Sex Offender Charged with Double Murder

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced multiple criminal charges today against Marco Antonio Valadez, 47, in connection with a December 4 shooting that killed Raquel Pitsenburger, 55, and Marco Antonio Valadez, Jr., 36. Valadez has been charged with two counts of murder and sex abuse charges, stemming from a fatal confrontation in which he was trying to silence family members who were potential witnesses following the disclosure of his sex crimes.

Valadez has also been charged with two felony sexual assault charges for acts committed against Valadez’s 18-year-old family member two days prior to the murders. The two murder charges carry the special circumstances of killing a witness, multiple homicides and allegations of personal discharge of a firearm causing death and committing the offense while out on bail. The sex abuse charges carry “one strike” and “habitual sex offender” allegations for Valadez’s prior conviction for forcible rape in 1998. He also has multiple serious prior felony prior convictions alleged as part of the charges.

“We’re committed to delivering justice for this family in what is one of the most disturbing crimes committed in San Diego County in 2021.” DA Stephan said. “Thanks to the coordination and dedication of our law enforcement partners, this dangerous criminal was captured in Mexico and returned to San Diego to be held accountable.”

San Diego Sheriff’s Department Homicide and Family Protection Division detectives coordinated the murder investigation, and Valadez was arrested in Mexico and handed over to U.S. authorities on December 16.

Valadez pleaded not guilty in San Diego Superior Court today and is being held without bail. The murder charges with the alleged special circumstances make Valadez eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. His next court date is March 28 for a status hearing.

DAs Granted Temporary Restraining Order Stopping Earlier Releases for Serious, Violent Criminals by CDCR

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that she and 27 elected District Attorneys across California have been granted a temporary restraining order, by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei, preventing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from enacting an increase from 50% “good time” custody credits to 66% credits for inmates who have been previously convicted of one or more serious and violent crimes.

The court order comes in the wake of CDCR’s recently enacted “emergency” regulations that allow for additional custody credits to be awarded to serious and violent felons, leading to their earlier release from prison, including credits that are not based upon completing any rehabilitation programs.

CDCR’s newest regulations also grant additional good conduct credits to inmates working in fire camp related activities. Unrelated to fire camp credits, CDCR sought to increase credits to 66% good conduct credits and two-thirds time shaved off sentences to second strike inmates. CDCR took this action amid a pending lawsuit that San Diego DA also joined in challenging the additional credits on the basis that it had illegally used the emergency exception to bypass public comment. The new class of credits would include providing addition custody credits for inmates convicted of domestic violence, residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, human trafficking and possession of weapons, who also have previous convictions for serious and violent felonies.

“Releasing inmates early who have committed atrocious crimes after only serving a fraction of their sentence threatens the safety of our communities and is a slap in the face to crime victims who are still suffering,” DA Stephan said. “My fellow District Attorneys and I do not contest good conduct credits for fire camp work, but extending those credits to inmates with serious and violent criminal histories is not in the interest of justice or the public’s safety.”

To stop the enforcement of this newest early release “emergency regulation,” the 28 District Attorneys filed a temporary restraining order on December 22 with Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office as the lead author. On December 29, the court granted the petition and issued the order against CDCR, opening the avenue to file a full lawsuit.

DA Files Hate Crime

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced criminal charges today against a man who attacked his neighbor on November 10 while yelling anti-gay slurs. Robert Frank Wilson, 40, is charged with one count of felony battery and a hate crime allegation. He was arraigned today in San Diego Superior Court in the South Bay and pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say Wilson blocked his neighbor’s driveway, got out of his vehicle and started yelling homophobic slurs at the victim. At one point, Wilson reached into the window of the victim’s vehicle and struck him in the face.

About five weeks after the incident, on December 18, Wilson was cited by the San Diego Police Department for working with a group of people to hang a large anti-Semitic poster on the fence of an Interstate 805 overpass in violation of the San Diego City Municipal Code. The DA is including the code violation as part of the charges it filed against Wilson. If convicted, he faces up to three years, six months in prison.

“This case and these events demonstrate that those who are motivated by prejudice often spread their hate around to various groups, attacking our neighbors on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or other grounds,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Hate against one group is a threat to everyone and we won’t tolerate these crimes in our community. Anyone considering committing a hate crime should think again as they will be investigated, prosecuted and held accountable under the law.”

Prosecuting hate crimes is a priority for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The DA has nearly tripled the number of hate crime cases it has prosecuted in recent years, filing 21 cases in 2020 and 30 such cases in 2021.

Last year, in response to reports of hate-related incidents aimed at the Asian community across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District Attorney’s Office announced a new online form and hotline where the public can report suspected hate incidents and hate crimes they’ve been a victim or witness to in San Diego County. The online reporting form can be found on the District Attorney’s website here. The Hate Crimes Hotline number is 619-515-8805.

Individuals submitting information about a suspected hate crime will be contacted with information about the DA’s review of the report and any action that may be taken. The public is reminded that hate speech in and of itself often does not rise to the level of a hate crime but is relevant as it could escalate to criminal behavior Hate crimes are often preceded by hate speech. By law, a hate crime is a criminal act committed against another person that is motivated by prejudice against that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Wilson will next be in court on January 5 for a readiness hearing. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for January 19.

DA Releases Reviews of Three Officer-Involved Shootings, One In-Custody Death

Suspect Wielding a Crowbar Advances on Officer

On the evening of April 21, 2021, the Escondido Police Department received a call reporting a person hitting parked vehicles with a metal pole in the parking lot of a business. An officer contacted Steven Olson, 59, the subject of the call, in the parking lot. The officer recognized Olson from prior police contacts. A witness at the scene explained he saw Olson tampering with a vehicle and hitting a pole while speaking incoherently.

Olson was holding a squeegee and a 25-inch metal crowbar in his hand. The officer told Olson multiple times to put the crowbar down. Olson held the squeegee and crowbar down to his side and did not raise the crowbar in a threatening manner. Olson did not comply with the officer’s commands to drop the crowbar and jogged away from the officer. The officer advised over police radio that Olson was running away and the officer was not in pursuit.

About five minutes later, a second officer was driving to an unrelated burglary alarm call when he observed Olson standing in the middle of the street at 100 South Broadway in Escondido. The officer had been monitoring the radio call regarding Olson potentially vandalizing vehicles and was also familiar with Olson from previous contacts. He used the public address system in his patrol vehicle to warn Olson to leave the area or he may go to jail. Olson did not comply with the officer’s commands.

The officer exited his patrol vehicle and Olson walked directly toward him. Olson dropped the squeegee but was still holding the crowbar in his right hand. The officer unholstered his firearm and backed up as Olson walked quickly towards him. The officer pointed his firearm at Olson and gave him multiple commands to drop the crowbar. Olson continued to advance towards the officer with the crowbar held up to his side with his elbow bent in a 45-degree angle. The officer continued backing up while telling Olson several times to drop the crowbar or he was going to shoot him. Olson continued advancing towards the officer, who had stepped up onto a sidewalk and was backing up against a wall. Olson came within striking distance and the officer feared Olson would strike him with the crowbar, so he fired his weapon striking Olson several times. Olson fell back into the roadway, dropping the crowbar onto the sidewalk.

Additional officers arrived within seconds and immediately provided medical aid until paramedics arrived. Olson was transported to Palomar Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. Toxicology testing detected amphetamine and methamphetamine in Olson’s system.

The District Attorney’s review determined the officer would have reason to believe that he was in imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death, viewing the situation as an objectively reasonable officer would. While the officer was equipped with less lethal options, the use of any of these less lethal options was not feasible given the immediacy of the perceived threat. Under the totality of circumstances, the officer was justified in his actions and bears no state criminal liability.

Read the DA’s detailed review here. Video of this incident has been released previously by the Escondido Police Department.


Man Threatening to Jump from a Second Story is Detained

On March 12, 2020 just before midnight, Chula Vista Police received a call from a woman who said her father was attempting to jump out of a two-story window. The woman’s boyfriend was restraining the male. Two officers were dispatched separately to the scene. The woman led the first officer to arrive upstairs where Oral Nunis, 56, was seated on the floor in a doorway to one of the bedrooms with the woman’s boyfriend positioned next to him. The officer attempted to handcuff and detain Nunis by grabbing onto his arm. Nunis pulled his arm away and told him he did not want to be handcuffed. The officer backed off to de-escalate the situation and called for assistance.

The officer continued to speak with the woman about what occurred earlier. Nunis stood up and tried to walk past the officer, who grabbed Nunis’ arm to handcuff him, but Nunis pulled away and ran down the stairs. Nunis ran out the front door and onto the street. The first officer tackled Nunis and a struggle ensued. The second officer arrived to assist. Nunis actively resisted both officers. The officers were ultimately able to place Nunis’ hands behind his back and handcuff him.

Additional officers arrived on scene and Nunis was placed in a WRAP restraint device. A mesh “spit sock” was placed over Nunis’ head after he began spitting onto the ground. Paramedics arrived on scene and loaded Nunis into an ambulance. While in the ambulance, Nunis stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. The WRAP device was removed, and paramedics began CPR. Nunis was transported to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy determined the cause of death was sudden cardiorespiratory arrest while restrained in police custody. The medical examiner was unable to identify why Nunis went into cardiorespiratory arrest, but opined it was likely an excited delirium-type scenario.

The District Attorney’s review of the incident determined the officers’ use of physical restraint techniques and application of the WRAP device were reasonable under the circumstances. After the various applications of force were made during the incident, Nunis was breathing and still able to talk. There were no obvious signs of distress until he was being prepared for transport to the hospital inside the ambulance.
Based on the totality of circumstances and the Medical Examiner’s report where the cause of death was ‘undetermined,’ there is insufficient evidence to show that the death of Mr. Nunis resulted from any unreasonable application of restraint by the officers. After the various applications of force were made during the incident, Nunis was breathing and still able to talk. There were no obvious signs of distress until he was being prepared for transport to the hospital inside the ambulance.

Therefore, the law enforcement personnel involved in his restraint acted reasonably under the circumstances and bear no state criminal liability for their actions

Read the DA’s detailed review here. The Chula Vista Police Department previously released body-worn camera video evidence of this incident.


Suspect Points Loaded Gun at Sheriff’s Deputy

On June 18, 2021, two San Diego Sheriff’s Department Deputies were dispatched to a radio call of a person sleeping under a tree in a vacant lot in Encinitas. Both deputies arrived at about 8:00 a.m. and contacted Eric Anderson, 40. Anderson seemed unsettled and started packing his belongings. He told them he was just traveling through the area and had rested there for the night. Anderson claimed he had never been arrested and was not on probation or parole.

One of the deputies conducted a records check and found prior arrest records and a photo of Anderson. Anderson denied the arrest record and began to stand up. He was told to sit down but he ignored the deputy’s order, and as he stood up, he hid something behind his back. Anderson yelled, “Get the fuck back, get back!” He pointed an object wrapped in a green bandana at the deputies and held it as if it was a gun.

One of the deputies realized Anderson was in fact holding a gun. Anderson ran down the hill and the deputies pursued him. One of the deputies chasing Anderson began closing the distance between them. When the deputy was seven to ten yards away, Anderson began slowing to a stop. Anderson turned his body to the left towards the deputy and extended out his left arm, holding a black semi-automatic handgun in his hand. Both deputies fired at Anderson, who dropped the gun and fell to the ground. The deputies provided medical aid and Anderson was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

In reviewing the circumstances of this case, the deputies’ actions were reasonable based on the circumstances known and perceived by them at the time of the shooting. Anderson created a deadly force situation by pointing a handgun at the deputy. Both deputies reasonably believed that Anderson posed an imminent threat and intended to cause serious bodily harm or death. The use of a less lethal option in this situation was not reasonably safe and feasible. Therefore, the deputies bear no state criminal liability for their actions.
Read the DA’s detailed review here.


Homeless Man Shot During Interaction with Officers

On February 25, 2021 at about 7:00 p.m., a pedestrian flagged down a San Diego Police officer regarding a man armed with a knife at Third Avenue and G Street in downtown San Diego. The man was creating a disturbance and causing pedestrians to walk in the street to avoid him. The subject, described as an older male who was possibly homeless, was later identified as Stephen Wilson, 69. The officer arrived on the scene and saw Wilson speaking to occupants of a red vehicle. There was a shopping cart nearby with trash scattered around it. As the officer exited his patrol vehicle, Wilson walked away from the red vehicle. The officer identified himself and informed Wilson he was there because someone reported a person with a knife acting strangely.

Wilson denied having a knife and the officer did not see a knife on him at that time. Wilson told the officer the knife was possibly in the shopping cart.

Two additional officers arrived to provide cover. The first officer on the scene planned to detain and handcuff Wilson in order to investigate whether he had a knife. As the officer stepped towards him, Wilson said, “Back off,” and moved away from the officer and towards the shopping cart. Wilson turned to his right and the officer saw a knife sticking out of Wilson’s left rear shorts pocket. Wilson was armed with a Santoku-style knife that was about 10 inches long. The officer told Wilson not to reach for the knife. Wilson removed the knife from his pocket as the officer simultaneously drew his weapon from his holster. Wilson dropped the knife to the ground as the officer fired three rounds at him. Wilson was struck and fell to the ground. Officers provided first aid and Wilson was transported to UCSD Hospital for treatment and Wilson survived the shooting.

The District Attorney’s review determined that the evidence showed Wilson reached for and removed the knife from his pocket while standing within feet of the officers, including his fellow officer who was not prepared to defend himself if Wilson planned to use the knife to assault them. The officer who fired was reasonable in his belief at that moment, that Wilson presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. The officer therefore bears no state criminal liability for his actions. The officer stated he did not feel there was time to revert to less lethal options in what he perceived to be a lethal situation.

Read the DA’s detailed analysis here. The San Diego Police Department previously released body-worn camera video evidence of this incident.

DA Ramps Up Efforts to Stop Retail Theft Rings

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that her office took a tough stance early last year against organized retail thieves and is continuing to explore additional ways to hold these criminals accountable amid high-profile ‘smash and grab’ thefts across California.

Today, Stephan and her team met with retailers, business association representatives, retail industry employee representatives, law enforcement and others to discuss the scope of the problem in San Diego County, steps law enforcement is taking to stop and prosecute these crimes and talk about possible future prevention strategies. The meeting was also held to develop a deeper understanding of the issues and possible solutions.

Beginning in 2019, with the passage of California’s Organized Retail Theft Law (PC 490.4), the San Diego DA’s Office began a partnership with the California Highway Patrol’s Organized Retail Theft team of special investigators. Since that time, a number of successful prosecutions have occurred. Crews of thieves coming to San Diego from other parts of the California have been prosecuted in a single case for all crimes they committed against retail stores up and down the state.

“By building strong cases here in San Diego, the message we’re delivering is that if you come to our county to steal, you will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for all of the thefts you have committed in other counties,” said DA Stephan. “We’ve been a leader in the state when it comes to holding these organized crime rings accountable through enforcing the rule of law and are continuing to fight on behalf of businesses, their employees, customers and the community to be safe and protected from harm in our county.”

In a recent case, two thieves were prosecuted for 42 felony counts of looting, grand theft and burglary for breaking into ULTA Beauty, Nordstrom Rack and other stores during nighttime hours. These thieves caused over $700,000 in loss after destroying locked glass doors. The defendants were prosecuted by the San Diego DA’s Office for crimes occurring in four additional counties.

National retail groups estimate retail theft losses to be in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Locally, San Diego County has not yet seen any of the larger “smash and grab” incidents, but instead thefts are increasingly carried out by organized crews of thieves who are travelling around the state and hitting store after store of whatever they specialize in or whatever is in demand like fragrances, tools and electronics. Law enforcement is arresting some thieves who are San Diego residents but say at least half of them are not local residents and only come to San Diego is to steal.

In other cases, robbers hop the counter or enter a pharmacy area to steal prescription medication. Prosecutors also say thieves often strike when stores are open, knowing that sales associates have been directed to leave the crooks alone for safety and liability reasons. With these kinds of robberies on the increase, organized retail theft represents a significant problem in San Diego County.

Another challenge to holding repeat thieves accountable is a change in the law under Prop 47 that says any loss under $950 cannot be charged as a felony no matter how many times the crime is repeated. Currently the law doesn’t distinguish between a person who steals on one occasion and those who steal repeatedly harming small businesses and their employees.

In addition, currently misdemeanor retail theft cases are not bookable offenses and thieves are just issued citations (like a traffic ticket) and told to leave the store. This is due to the need for the jail to allow capacity for serious and violent offenders to address COVID concerns that have been taken advantage of by repeat criminals who have used the zero bail as a vehicle to continue preying on the community.

DA Stephan is also calling on the legislature to restore a key provision of the state’s Retail Theft Law. When the law lapsed recently, the legislature put the law back in place after the shocking images of smash and grab thefts emerged in the media, but without the provision that allows one DA’s Office to combine cases from other counties into one prosecution.
Arresting and prosecuting thieves is important but can’t happen without early reporting from stores. Oftentimes, the crews hit multiple stores per day and the evidence from one store can help prove the thefts in another store. Store video surveillance is particularly valuable, including outside cameras that may capture vehicle information. When arrests are made and property is recovered, police reports are the only way victims can be identified and stolen property returned.