Legislative Assistant Briana Zavala

Meet Legislative Assistant Briana Zavala

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Legislative Assistant Briana Zavala, who joined the DA’s Office as a Student Worker in 2016 and became a Legislative Assistant in 2018.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?
I grew up in Southeast San Diego, graduated from Lincoln High School, and received a full-ride scholarship to UCSD. For most of my life, I believed in the idea of meritocracy. I believed that if you worked hard, you would be successful. However, after going to college and studying Sociology, Ethnic and Gender studies, I quickly realized that opportunity plays a major role in that equation. I am where I am today because not only did I work hard, but I was given the opportunity to be a Student Worker at the DA’s Office over five and a half years ago. I am grateful to JJ Anderson and Grace Liu for mentoring me to be the young woman I am today.

Now, as Legislative Assistant, I have the opportunity to work with office executives to create laws that will not only benefit our office but the entire state. I am proud of where I am, but I have every intention of continuing to grow within the County by taking on leadership roles. While I love the work that I do, my favorite job is being a mom to two beautiful, sweet and kind little girls.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Hispanic Heritage month is important to me because I am proud to be Mexican American. It is a time to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the history, culture, and achievements of the Hispanic community. I hope that during this month of celebrations we will use it as an opportunity to educate and have conversations about the lack of opportunity, resources, and marginalization that Hispanic people face to this day. Representation does not equal decolonization. As public servants, we must not only celebrate but hold ourselves accountable for more than can be done in our positions. I ask my colleagues to celebrate this month by reading about mental health barriers in the Hispanic community. The article can be found here.
¡Si se puede! Together we can, and together we will.

Hands stacked together - Empowerment

DA Releases Comprehensive Plan to Empower Crime Victims and Survivors

Saying that crime victims have become invisible in important discussions around funding priorities, community programs, and criminal justice reform, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today released a detailed plan that recommends a dozen specific solutions in direct crime victim services and improved support of crime survivors. The DA’s Blueprint for Transforming Victim and Survivor Care : A Strategic Approach for Empowering Crime Victims, Preventing Harm, and Reducing Violence is the culmination of input from hundreds of stakeholders, victims, survivors, and community members.

The plan comes as a recent SANDAG report shows violent crime in San Diego County is up 14% in the first half of 2021, aggravated assaults with a firearm are up 55% and a statewide report shows California’s homicide rate increased 31% in 2020.

“This blueprint is a call to action for all elected officials, community leaders, and policy makers to always consider the victim’s voice in implementing laws that affect them,” said DA Stephan. “Keeping the victim and survivor perspective at the core of our work is the best way to interrupt cycles of poverty, disrupt pipelines to prison, and prevent generational violence born of childhood trauma and the normalization of crime.”

To better map the intersection of victims and survivors who encounter the criminal justice system and countywide victim services and to identify areas of gaps and needs for needed change, District Attorney Stephan and her team led three key initiatives to collect community input and to shape a new approach:

1) The formation in April of 2019 of a Victim and Survivor Advisory Board made up of survivors from a wide array of crime types.

2) A virtual Crime Victim and Survivor Summit in November of 2020, engaging over 1,300 community partners, survivors, professionals who work with survivors, and others dedicated to elevating the victim voice.

3) The release of the Blueprint for Transforming Victim and Survivor Care, reporting recommendations for significant changes in how to respond in trauma-informed ways and identifying areas of needed programs, policies and legislation, all through a lens of racial and social equity to best serve San Diego County victims of crime.

These initiatives provided opportunities for community partners and professionals to work alongside survivors of trauma to identify gaps and needs in our criminal justice response and to develop ideas for solutions.

As a result, 12 specific recommendations came from the culmination of stakeholder and community input, survey data, crime victim and survivor board input, Summit participant data, and strategic planning sessions. The recommendations include:

  • Developing regional hubs throughout the county of co-located professional services specific to victims and survivors of crime and their families.
  • Supporting and expanding the use of technology for improved victims’ safety, reporting, communication and access.
  • Expanding and funding best practices such as forensic interviews and domestic violence forensic examinations.
  • Building and increasing school-based prevention education and support systems.
  • Screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) to reduce a child’s potential for lifelong health and criminal justice negative outcomes
  • Expand housing for victims and survivors of crime from emergency shelter to permanent housing

“Our society will be judged by how we care for our most vulnerable including children and seniors,” DA Stephan said. “To do this with excellence, we must consult with crime victims and survivors, hear their voices and together pave the way for transformational innovative solutions.”

The District Attorney’s Office is the largest victim service provider organization in San Diego County, serving about 14,000 crime victims annually. The office is the natural community convener to begin and lead an expansive dialogue about empowering the victim voice and best practices in victim and survivor services. The District Attorney’s Office Victim Services team responds with culturally competent, trauma-informed care to individuals plagued by crime, and dispatches mass critical incident teams to provide emotional support and counseling when the community is ravaged by hate crimes such as school shootings or shooting at houses of worship. Because victims and survivors of trauma frequently intersect with the criminal justice system, their perspective is critical to achieving racial and social equity and fair and equal justice for all. The victim and survivor voices are also critical as legislators and political leaders consider changes in the law.

Chief DA Investigator Jorge Duran

Meet Chief DA Investigator Jorge Duran

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service. Meet Chief DA Investigator Jorge Duran, who has been part of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation (BOI) since 2017.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and how you got where you are?
I was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a beautiful island country in the Caribbean. When I was about 5 years old my family fled to the U.S. during a civil war after the country’s president was assassinated. We settled in the Bronx, New York, where I graduated from High School and joined the Marine Corps. I moved to San Diego in 1987 and joined the San Diego Police Department. I worked primarily investigative assignments which included: Narcotics, Homicide, and Gangs. I retired in 2016 as a Captain after 29 and a half years and joined the District Attorney’s Office in 2017. In 2019, I was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Investigation.

The success I have been blessed to achieve in both my personal and professional lives, I owe to my mom and grand ma who, through example, taught me the values which have molded my character: hard work, humility, altruism, empathy, and service to others.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it important?
Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the many contributions and sacrifices made by individuals of Hispanic descent throughout the history of our great country. These contributions span a broad spectrum of disciplines including science, sports, politics, and of course law enforcement. But most importantly, Hispanic Heritage Month allows children to see, read, and hear about achievements by folks like them which will hopefully serve as inspiration to do and be the best they possibly can.

Narcan - Naloxone

Governor Signs Bill Requiring Naloxone in Treatment Facilities

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a bill supported by her office requiring licensed alcohol and drug residential treatment facilities to maintain on premises at least two doses of naloxone or a similar drug approved for the treatment of an opioid overdose has been signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Assembly Bill 381, authored by Assemblymember Laurie Davies and supported by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, also requires a staff member to be on the premises who has been trained on how to administer naloxone. Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a nasal spray that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. People who have become addicted to opioids often enter drug treatment facilities, but suffer is a high rate of relapse, which often occurs within the treatment facilities themselves. Deputy District Attorney Shawn Tafreshi was instrumental in drafting language for AB 381.

“This is a common-sense law that will help save the lives of people who are trying to overcome their addiction,” DA Stephan said. “We are in the middle of the worst drug abuse crisis in American history and people across San Diego County, including residents of treatment facilities, are dying too often because of drug overdoses directly related to the fentanyl crisis.”

The genesis of this legislation and draft language came from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, which recognized a need for the law given the dozens of overdose deaths that occur each year at rehabilitation centers in the county.

In 2019, there were 152 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. Last year, that number spiked to 462. Based on data so far in 2021, experts predict there will be more than 760 overdose deaths. According to the Medical Examiner’s data, since 2017 there have been at least 53 overdoses at or near a rehabilitation center, sober living home, or homeless shelter.

“California needs to equip our drug treatment centers with every tool in the toolbox to help patients recover from substance abuse disorders,” said Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R- Laguna Niguel). “Naloxone has proven to be a safe and easily-administered overdose reversal medication that our centers should always have onsite. With AB 381, having Naloxone or other future FDA-approved drugs readily available can mean the difference between a patient surviving a relapse and an untimely end for someone on their journey of recovery. I look forward to working with all law enforcement and substance abuse advocates to strengthen our policies to ensure California’s opioid epidemic comes to an end.”

Relapse after prolonged periods of sobriety is particularly dangerous to the individuals because physiological drug tolerance decreases. Smaller amounts of opioids are needed to become intoxicated, and likewise overdose. Unless there is naloxone present in the drug treatment facility, this overdose may be fatal.

Gavel & Open Law Book

Christian Youth Theater Sex Abuse Charges

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced charges today against Brad Christian Davis, 40 and David Hott, 34, in connection with sexually abusing students in their care at the El Cajon-based Christian Youth Theater. Davis has been charged with one felony count of sexual penetration by a foreign object for a 2010 incident involving a 16-year-old child and Hott has been charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 for incidents that occurred in 2007 involving a 13-year-old child. If convicted, Davis faces up to three years and Hott faces up to ten years in state prison.

“Protecting children from sexual predators and making sure they are not revictimized during the criminal justice process is my top priority,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “Victims in this case whose abuse was beyond the statute of limitations still provided valuable information and evidence that allowed their voices to be heard and will allow us to seek justice.”

Christian Youth Theater is a national after-school theater company with its headquarters in El Cajon and chapters across the country.

The District Attorney was able to file charges under a law that provides a longer statute of limitations in certain legal circumstances. Most people who experience childhood sexual abuse delay disclosure of the abuse or choose never to disclose it because of fear, embarrassment, shame, or the stigma attached to being a sexual assault victim.

Although the District Attorney’s Office and the San Diego Police Department investigate all aspects of a case to discover each chargeable act that falls within the criminal statute of limitations, not all crimes against victims can legally be charged. Absence of charges, where there was abuse, is sometimes based on the nature of the acts that occurred and how long ago they occurred. The DA noted that in instances where charges cannot be filed, the victim is still an integral part of achieving justice in the overall case because the courts may allow for “pattern evidence” to be admitted as a piece of circumstantial evidence in cases involving sexual assaults.

The District Attorney’s Office and San Diego Police are asking for any additional victims to come forward. Anyone with more information is urged to call the San Diego Police Department.

“I’d like to thank all of the victims for their courage in coming forward and our Sex Crimes Detectives for working diligently on this case with the District Attorney’s Office,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit. “We must hold these individuals responsible for their actions, so they don’t have the opportunity to harm more children in the future.”

Judge Michael Groch set bail at $100,000 for each defendant. Future court dates are expected to be provided in the coming days.

Innovative Work Leads to Prestigious Award for Elder Abuse Prosecutor and Investigator

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that two members of the DA’s Elder Abuse Unit have been named Prosecutor of the Year and Investigator of the Year by the California District Attorney Investigators Association. Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello and DA Investigator Felix Salazar were recognized for their groundbreaking and collaborative accomplishments in helping to develop a new, innovative Elder Justice Task Force in San Diego County lead by the FBI in partnership with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office and several other law enforcement agencies.

Deputy DA Pirrello and DA Investigator Salazar developed an innovative vision for solving complex elder scams that ultimately prompted the development of a task force capable of tracking down and holding accountable those responsible for scamming elders out of billions of dollars. The task force is the culmination of years of work and the beginning of a new era in attacking crime syndicates that prey on the elderly.

“Deputy DA Scott Pirrello, who leads the elder abuse unit, and investigator Felix Salazar tenaciously fought to protect San Diego County seniors from being defrauded out of their hard earned and often desperately needed savings,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Their vision and dedication have taken elder fraud prosecution to a new level that is already bringing organized fraud syndicates to justice.”

Every year, San Diego senior citizens are scammed out of tens of millions of dollars, which happens through phony scenarios that often involve a loved one, such as a grandson or granddaughter needing urgent help or scammers posing as government agencies such as the IRS or Social Security Administration calling to demand money.

Without knowing it, seniors are sending their hard-earned retirement money to international scam syndicates. For years, these criminals operated across the U.S. and out of the country. They were hard to pin down because they committed their crimes in so many different jurisdictions and there was no way to connect the dots.

But thanks to the Elder Justice Task Force, announced last month, the District Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners have begun systematically dismantling these scam syndicates using data-driven investigative techniques. The Task Force shares key information, including databases, and actively works to connect dots and reveal patterns that allow us to zero in on criminals and arrest them.

When setting out to connect the dots in elder scam cases, Pirrello and Salazar spent two years following a money trail of elder victims. During that time, DAI Salazar wrote and submitted more than 200 search warrants to follow the money from elder victim bank accounts. He discovered that the billions of dollars in losses were not going directly from elder victims to overseas accounts. Instead, he found a billion-dollar underground economy in the U.S. full of money launderers willing to transfer large sums of money multiple times to facilitate the transnational criminal organizations getting their money.

Now, with the unprecedented power of the unified collaboration and data sharing between the District Attorney’s Office with the U.S. Attorney and FBI, law enforcement is more prepared than ever to take down these rings through the Elder Justice Task Force.

Last year, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office focused on bringing down an active ring that began preying on San Diego elders. The bait was the same: a call to a grandparent from someone posing as their grandchild in peril in another country. Before the seniors could process the information, the fake grandchild was replaced on the phone with someone claiming to be an attorney demanding bail money for the grandchild or they could face dire harm.

A courier, supposedly from a bail bond agency, was sent to the grandparent’s home to collect large sums of cash. The suspect – an Orange County resident – was identified through Ring Doorbell video. She eventually pleaded guilty to nine felony counts including residential robbery, theft from an elder, money laundering and receiving stolen property. She was sentenced to four years in state prison in June, a sentence that would not have been imaginable just years ago.

“Elder abuse is one of the most underreported crimes, often because of the embarrassment and shame felt by victims,” DA Stephan said. “Our goal is for the Elder Justice Task Force to become an example for the rest of the nation on how to stop the billion-dollar criminal industry of elder fraud.”

Gavel & Open Law Book

Former CEO Fined $37 Million in Massive Charter School Fraud Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today announced that Jason Schrock, 46, charged with stealing tens of millions in public funds has been sentenced to four years in state prison and ordered by a judge to pay $37.5 million in fines with his co-defendant Sean McManus, 48.

In addition to handing down his sentence, Judge Frederick Link ­– who oversaw the entire case – ordered $18.75 million in fines to be paid to the County of San Diego now, reserving another $18.75 million to paid when McManus is sentenced on February 22, 2022. Another $14 million in restitution was ordered to be paid to victims in kindergarten through 12th grade, which will be held in trust and administered by the San Diego Foundation. The remaining restitution of more than $90 million will go the state. The court-appointed receiver was ordered to hold the additional approximately $70 million to be paid out at a future date. In all, more than $220 million in stolen funds were recovered, of which $150 million was the subject of today’s court hearing.

Under a resolution passed unanimously by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors last month, the fines imposed by the court related to this case will be earmarked and exclusively dedicated to programs that directly serve the needs of kindergarten through 12th grade students in San Diego County. The District Attorney’s Office is recommending the funds be allocated in the areas supporting educational equity and acceleration of learning, behavioral health needs, housing and food stability needs, mentorship, and other needs that allow children to thrive, all of which is consistent with the Judge Link’s order to the receiver.

“These defendants engaged in a systematic public corruption scheme on the backs of students, their parents and the public that over time diverted millions of taxpayer dollars into their own pockets,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “Our team’s successful prosecution of this case held the defendants accountable for widespread misappropriation of public funds that extended across the state. Now, a great deal of those stolen funds will be funneled back into supporting students. Children are our future and these funds come at a perfect time to help them recover and succeed.”

McManus, the CEO and president of A3 Education, along with Jason Schrock and nine other defendants were indicted in May of 2019 on a several criminal counts including conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds, and conflict of interest.

The case is one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes targeting taxpayer dollars intended for primary education. Schrock pleaded guilty to felony charges including conspiracy and conflict of interest. He has been on house arrest in his home in Orange County since he was arraigned. As part of the DA’s investigation, more than $220 million in assets and fraudulently acquired taxpayer funds is being recovered, representing one of the nation’s largest recoveries.

Prosecutors said a case of this magnitude, with foreign parties and compounded with the set back of the pandemic, could take a decade to see through trial and appeals, during which time hundreds of millions of dollars would have been unavailable to children for educational purposes. By coming to an early resolution and recovering all the funds, the DA’s office was able to save the cost of litigation and guarantee a victory that puts money back into the system to help educate our youth as intended.

The 235-page indictment was the result of a year-long investigation by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office into allegations of fraud in public schools. The investigation uncovered a massive scheme in which McManus and Schrock directed subordinates and co-defendants to open 19 charter schools in San Diego County and across California and obtained taxpayer funds in a variety of unlawful ways while providing little to no education to most of the children enrolled. McManus and Schrock sought out small school districts with limited experience and ability to provide oversight and proposed they authorize online charter schools to earn additional public funds in the form of oversight fees. Without any meaningful oversight, McManus and Schrock used the charter schools to unlawfully secure taxpayer revenue and siphoned more than $100 million into companies they control.

McManus and Schrock paid athletic organizations for student information and documentation used to enroll children into public school under cover of a “fundraiser.” McManus and Schrock paid pre-existing youth programs as little as $25 per student and the state later compensated them as much as $4,000 per student as a “charter school student.” Some parents were unaware their children were enrolled in a charter school and these children received nothing more than they would have already received from their athletic program. McManus and Schrock further inflated the taxpayer funds they collected by backdating student enrollment documentation, misrepresenting spending to meet state requirements for instructional services expenditures, distorting the calendars for the school year to manipulate the state funding formula, and moving children between schools when the students earned maximum funding for a school year.

McManus and Schrock controlled the charter schools and transferred over $100 million to private businesses under their control by falsifying invoices for services provided to the charter schools that never occurred. McManus and Schrock did not use the money to educate students, but instead spent the funds on themselves and their families—they invested in startup companies, real estate, and wired funds directly to themselves or family members. The funds paid to McManus and Schrock’s companies largely ended up in their pockets.

Nine co-defendants in the case have pleaded guilty thus far, including McManus who will be sentenced on February 22, 2022. As part of the plea agreement, McManus is cooperating with the District Attorney’s Office and the court-appointed receiver to assist in the prosecution of the remaining defendants and in the court-appointed receiver’s efforts to recover additional funds.

Diverting Youth Arrested for Arson

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office is providing a $25,000 grant to the San Diego Burn Institute in support of their Youth Firesetter Intervention Program (YFS). The diversion program incorporates evidence-based risk assessment tools and education to intervene in dangerous fire setting behavior by youth and stop it at the source. The grant comes on the heels of the DA announcing its new Juvenile Diversion Initiative.

“Data shows that most youth come into contact with the criminal justice system only once, so initiatives like the Firesetter Intervention Program are critical in re-directing young people away from this specific behavior that got them into trouble,” said DA Summer Stephan. “The program also addresses the root cause of the juveniles’ arson behavior which can put themselves or others in danger.”

YFS responds to referrals from county fire departments, law enforcement, school officials, probation, juvenile justice systems, Metro Arson Strike Team, and others in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The Burn Institute provides risk assessments for future fire setting behaviors and education courses with the youth and family about legal ramifications, fiscal ramifications, and the dangers to self and others. The program also makes referrals to community agencies to address compounding clinical issues.

“Fire is everywhere in our society, from lighting a candle, to large explosions in movies,” said Susan Day, Executive Director of the Burn Institute. “Children see and mimic these behaviors when they don’t understand the risks or think through what could happen. Our YFS program uses prevention and intervention techniques to help change a child’s behavior before a curiosity or experimentation with fire becomes more destructive”

Juveniles under age 18 who are referred for fire setting behaviors are eligible for services available in English, Spanish and other languages. The District Attorney’s Juvenile Division reviews about 10 allegations of arson by youth each year. However, the YFS program assists many more youth than cases the DA receives. Firefighters or law enforcement might suspect a youth is involved in starting the fire but may not have the evidence to submit a case. In those cases, the youth will still be referred to Burn Institute for assessment and education on the dangers of fire.

Research shows that 55% of U.S. arson arrests are under the age of 18, and almost half of these arrests are age 15 and under. Arson is the second leading cause of all fatal home accidents, and fire setting is the largest cause of home deaths among children.

The YFS program is confidential and free of charge. Individuals don’t need a referral and can self-enroll in the program by contacting the Youth Firesetter Program Coordinator at 858-541-2277 x 111 or YFS@burninstitute.org.

Fentanyl-Laced Blue Pill

‘Day of Action’ Calls Attention to Alarming Spike in Fentanyl Overdose Deaths

A “Day of Action” will be held in National City on Saturday, August 28 to bring public awareness to the ongoing increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths across San Diego County, provide community resources on how to save a life and important information on how to avoid becoming an overdose victim. The event will include demonstrations on how to administer Narcan – the medication used to save a person who is overdosing on opioids, including fentanyl. Free doses of Narcan will be available.

In 2019, there were 152 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. Last year, that number spiked to 461. Based on data so far in 2021, experts predict there will be more than 760 overdose deaths.

‘Day of Action’ Calls Attention to Alarming Spike in Fentanyl Overdose Deaths“Our county is experiencing a fentanyl overdose crisis in which teens and adults dying in nearly every zip code,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “In spite of the focused outreach and awareness efforts of many of us in the community, opioid overdose deaths have continued to increase over the last two years. We are stepping up our efforts to educate the public on how street drugs, no matter how authentic they look, are often mixed with fentanyl and are behind the alarming spike in deaths. One pill can kill. This is a call to action for our community to become more informed and empowered to save lives.”

The event is being held at the DA’s CARE Center, 12 N. Euclid Avenue in National City from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The day was organized in partnership with the County Health and Human Services Agency, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and many other community organizations.

“The NAACP San Diego branch is happy to partner in this harm reduction activity,” said Francine Maxwell, president of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP. “Harm Reduction is the best prevention to empower our community. The mission of the NAACP San Diego branch is to always collaborate before we challenge the status quo. We thank the District Attorney for her responsive action and leadership and to all the partners participating in this event.”

In addition to free Narcan, the Day of Action will feature informational booths and resources on housing, education, mentorship, health and behavioral services. Speakers will include DA Summer Stephan; Francine Maxwell, President of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP; Dr. Nicole Esposito, Assistant Medical Director of County Behavioral Health Services; and DEA Special Agent Rocky Herron.

For more information on the dangers of opioids, watch this video.

Libro de martillo y ley abierta

Gang Member Charged in Murder of Woman in Parked Car

The San Diego County District Attorney filed felony charges against a gang member in connection with the fatal shooting of a woman as she sat in a parked car with her family in Spring Valley in April. Jammerieo Austin, 26, has been charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, shooting at an inhabited vehicle, and two counts of being a felon in possession of a gun.

San Diego resident Karmen Dionne Anderson, 40, was shot in a car parked outside a liquor store on Bancroft and Golf drives in Spring Valley at about 11:30 p.m. on April 24. Anderson was in the car with her husband, who was in the driver’s seat, and a 4-year-old child in the backseat when the shooting started. Anderson, who also went by Karmen Hicks, was the only person hit by gunfire. She was treated at a hospital for multiple gunshots wounds but died two days later.

In open court on Wednesday, the prosecutor said the shooting was gang-motivated and Austin used an AK-47 to shoot 13 rounds into the car, causing it to burst into flames with the 4-year-old momentarily trapped inside the car.

Prosecutors say surveillance footage showed the defendant’s car following the victims’ car with its headlights off just prior to the murder. Austin ambushed the would-be victim when he stopped his car at a liquor store. The defendant’s car drove back and forth several times waiting for their intended target to emerge from the store. As soon as he did, the defendant opened fire. Investigators also located a photograph taken the day of the murder, which showed the defendant posing with fellow gang members, one of whom was holding an AK-47, which is believed to be the weapon used in this murder.

The investigation into this murder is ongoing. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Homicide Unit at (858) 285-6330/after hours at (858) 565-5200. You can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

The charges come as law enforcement officials are reporting a troubling increase in gang-related crime and the proliferation of ‘ghost guns’– firearms that are assembled by hand and are usually untraceable. According to the District Attorney’s Office, most of the criminal cases it files involving ghost guns are gang related. Since 2019, the DA’s Gangs Division has charged cases involving over 100 ghost guns. At the same time, gang-related cases submitted to the DA’s Office by law enforcement countywide are up 25% from same time last year

A readiness hearing for Austin has been scheduled for August 5, 2021.