Tag Archive for: San Diego

Campaign Raises Awareness of Boys Who are Exploited

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan and Health and Human Services Director Nick Macchione today announced an outreach campaign running in January aimed at raising awareness about boys who become victims of human trafficking. In the past, the focus has often been on girls who were being trafficked, but in recent years law enforcement has been working to educate the public that boys are also often victims. The month-long campaign’s goal is to broaden the public perception of who is vulnerable to being sexually trafficked. Officials hope that bringing attention to this issue will improve screening, identification, and services for boys who are victims of sex trafficking. The campaign will appear on billboards, bus transit posters, on social media and in public service announcements on radio. January is Human Trafficking Awareness month.

“We must recognize the reality that the trafficking of boys is more common than the public may realize,” said DA Stephan. “We have a responsibility to protect all children who are being trafficked. This outreach is an extension of our work to increase awareness, improve identification and reporting, and develop specialty services for survivors who are boys.”

While state and local data doesn’t provide good statistics about the trafficking of boys, national studies demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. A study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice estimated that as many as 50% of the commercially sexually exploited children in the United States are boys. In 2013, a study found that the commercial sexual exploitation of boys is vastly under reported.

“Tragically, as many as 50% of sexually trafficked children are boys and LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience sexual violence,” said Nick Macchione, Director of the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. “It’s extremely important that we understand the gravity of the issue and take immediate action by raising awareness through this campaign with the support of our district attorney. At the Health and Human Services Agency, we will promote these valuable and lifesaving resources countywide with all of our community partners.  Together, we will help protect our vulnerable children and youth from sexual exploitation.”

The campaign is being organized by the District Attorney’s Office, Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), and Child Welfare Services. The artwork for the campaign was produced by anti-trafficking activist Genice Jacobs with artist Myriam Obin. A web page, www.ProtectSanDiegoKids.org provides information and resources.

Visit www.ProtectSanDiegoKids.org for more information. For help for you or someone you love, call 800-344-6000 to reach caring, trained staff who can help.

DA Reaches Out to Immigrant and Refugee Communities

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that her office is conducting new outreach to immigrant and refugee populations in the county with the goal of allaying fears about reporting a crime and encouraging cooperation with law enforcement if someone is a victim or witness to a crime. According to the County’s Health and Human Services Administration, approximately 21.5% of the county’s population are immigrants, including refugees.

“My office is committed to keeping every child, adult and senior safe from crime in San Diego County and that includes our large immigrant and refugee communities. It is understandable that if you are a refugee from another country, a documented or an undocumented immigrant, there may be uncertainty about reporting a crime to law enforcement,” said DA Stephan. “We want to ease the fears that people in these communities have and encourage them to contact local law enforcement and cooperate with the DA’s Office if they, a family member, or friend become the victim of a crime. We will not ask their immigration status, which is the law in California, and we have services that can help them.”

So far, the DA’s Office has printed cards in English, Spanish, Farsi and Ukrainian, which encourage refugees and immigrants, whether undocumented or documented, who are victims or witnesses of a crime to report the incident to law enforcement. Police departments, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office are only concerned about the details of the crime, not an individual’s immigration status.

The San Diego District Attorney’s Office does not, in accordance with California law, report immigration status and does not tolerate any actions intended to interfere with or retaliate against potential crime witnesses.

San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas, who represents District 1, said the outreach is needed as the county’s immigrant population is significant and constantly evolving.

“Regardless of their immigration status, all residents in our county should feel safe about accessing the justice system if they are a victim, witness, or otherwise harmed by a crime — it is their right,” said Vice Chair Nora Vargas, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “I’m proud to work in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office and our Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs on this effort to widely distribute information cards to remind refugees and immigrants that they will not be asked about their immigration status when reaching out for assistance to law enforcement.”

Local data provided to the County Refugee Coordinator by local resettlement agency partners shows there were 3,715 refugee arrivals in San Diego County during fiscal year 2021/2022 from 29 countries. The DA is working in conjunction with the San Diego County Office of Refugee and Immigrant Affairs, which is distributing the printed cards to non-profit organizations and other groups that provide aid and resources for immigrants.

“It is essential for immigrant and refugee populations to feel safe and supported in their community,” said Lucero Chavez Basilio, Director of the County Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Department of Homeless Solutions & Equitable Communities. “We will distribute these cards in the community to help ensure all county residents know their rights and understand they have access to resources that can help protect them and their families, without fear of repercussions or unintended consequences and regardless of immigration status. Reiterating this message is an important step in creating a just, sustainable and resilient future for everyone.”

The DA has also produced videos in English and Spanish which feature DA Stephan and Cardinal Robert McElroy. The videos are being posted on social media and shared by Catholic Charities, through its extensive network, to connect with these vulnerable populations and assure them that their status should not stop them from reporting a crime or seeking victim services. Catholic Charities has programming that works to facilitate an effective and memorable transition experience for refugees through an integrated provision of services: resettlement, employment, acculturation, case management, and health.

“The safety and security of the immigrant and refugee communities is close to the heart of God, and we are blessed that here in San Diego County, a person reporting a crime against themselves or their family or friends will find justice and protection without in any way endangering their immigration status or right to continue to live in this community,” said Cardinal McElroy.

Anyone who has been a victim of a crime and needs assistance can call 619-531-4041. A District Attorney Victim Advocate will speak with you ad determine how we can assist you. Program services are provided free of charge, and there is no legal citizenship requirement to receive assistance. More about the DA’s Victim Services Division can be found here.

Man Sentenced for Convention Center Shootout

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Daniel Quiroz, 31, who was convicted by a jury last month of attempted murder and other charges, has been sentenced to 45 years-to-life in prison. Quiroz engaged in a shootout with a Harbor Police officer outside the San Diego Convention Center in March 2021, shortly after being pulled over for a traffic violation.

Quiroz was charged with attempting to kill a San Diego Harbor Police Officer and assault with a semi-automatic firearm on a civilian on March 1, 2021 near Fifth Avenue and Harbor Drive.

“This defendant had no regard for life when he recklessly engaged in a shootout on a downtown street,” DA Stephan said. “Traffic stops are some of the most dangerous situations for peace officers as this case clearly demonstrates, and the guilty jury verdict along with today’s prison sentence brings justice to the police officer and civilian victim in this case.”

 

The civilian victim was struck by a stray bullet during the shootout but was unharmed because the bullet was likely a ricochet that also deflected off of his eyeglasses case which he had in his back pocket. In addition to the attempted murder charge, Quiroz was convicted of three counts of assault with a semi-automatic firearm.

Deputy District Attorney Frederick Washington prosecuted this case.

Fatal DUIs Spike Amid COVID-19

DA’s Office Receives Grant to Prosecute Serious DUI Cases

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office is receiving a $733,650 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety for the ninth year in a row to prevent and prosecute impaired driving deaths and DUI-drug cases. The grant award comes as San Diego County experienced more fatal DUI crashes in 2021 than the county has seen in more than two decades.

Last year, 39 people were killed in 36 DUI-related crashes. So far in 2022, there has been a moderate decrease with 24 people killed, including a 1-year-old child.

“Prosecuting and investigating these important cases require a specialized team of prosecutors and investigators to be able to hold offenders accountable and deter this deadly behavior,” DA Stephan said. “The spike in the number of people dying at the hands of impaired drivers in recent years is disturbing. As the holiday season approaches, people need to make responsible choices, use ride sharing services and keep their friends and family from getting behind the wheel if they are impaired.”

Data shows average blood-alcohol levels of drivers involved in Driving Under the Influence cases are also higher than last year at over .18%. Prosecutors say that more than half of individuals being arrested for driving under the influence have both alcohol and drugs in their system—a deadly combination.

The grant will allow the DA’s DUI Homicide Unit to continue its critical work. The unit, which launched in 2014, streamlines complex DUI cases by creating expertise within the DA’s Office. The specialized unit creates uniformity in sentencing among the four adult courthouses. In addition, the unit helps law enforcement adapt to changes in technology by having a designated DA Investigator who is trained in the latest techniques in collision reconstruction. Since its inception, the unit has prosecuted nearly 200 cases and they have received more than $3.9 million in funding from the Office of Traffic Safety.

Funding will also be used to:

  • Provide training for a select prosecutor to become an expert in DUI-drug cases.
  • Provide training for prosecutors and investigators through California’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Program.
  • Host quarterly regional meetings with law enforcement partners to improve DUI investigations and prosecutions.

“With various alternative transportation options available, there are zero excuses and zero tolerance for driving after drinking or under the influence of a drug,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “The work of the vertical prosecution team is critical in addressing the serious dangers posed by impaired driving.”

In 2021, the District Attorney’s Office filed 5,695 DUI cases, including 134 DUI drug cases and 40 DUI cases in which both alcohol and drugs were present in the driver’s system. So far this year, the DA’s Office has filed 5,120 DUI cases including 192 DUI drug cases and 46 combined alcohol and drug impairment cases.

Funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety is provided through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

McLeod

Fugitive Murderer Arrested in Central America

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that defendant Raymond McLeod, 37, wanted for the murder of 30-year-old Krystal Mitchell in San Diego, was taken into custody Monday afternoon by El Salvadoran law enforcement authorities without incident. McLeod will be returned to San Diego County to face a charge of murder.

“This defendant’s brazen attempt to evade justice is over and the work to hold him accountable in a court of law for the murder of Krystal Mitchell can now begin,” said DA Stephan. “Huge credit goes to the victim’s mother who never gave up searching for her daughter’s killer and worked closely with our office and other law enforcement to make this arrest possible.”

McLeod confirmed his identity to members of the U.S. Marshals team and members of the U.S. Embassy, who were on the ground with the El Salvadoran local and national police when they took him into custody around 4:30 p.m. (Pacific time). Authorities had received a tip that McLeod had been teaching English at a school in Sonsonate.

Beginning in 2018, the DA’s Office coordinated with the U.S. Marshals Service to lead a targeted social media campaign in Spanish and English to encourage tips on McLeod’s whereabouts through Crime Stoppers. The DA placed Facebook and Instagram ads focused on users in Central America and Mexico. McLeod had been spotted in Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize.

The victim’s mother, Josephine Funes Wentzel, is a former police detective has been instrumental in helping authorities search for McLeod. Wentzel has generated leads for law enforcement and helped spread word about the international manhunt on social media.

On June 10, 2016, San Diego police officers responded to a 911 call of a woman not breathing inside of an apartment in the 7600 block of Mission Gorge Road in San Diego. The woman, later identified a Krystal Mitchell from Phoenix, Arizona, was pronounced dead at the scene by medics. Detectives from the San Diego Police Department’s Homicide Unit responded to the scene and determined that Mitchell was last seen alive with her boyfriend (Raymond McLeod). Mitchell and McLeod, also from Phoenix, had been in San Diego visiting friends.

McLeod fled to Mexico after Mitchell’s death. The District Attorney’s Office charged McLeod with murder in June of 2016 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

16 Deputy DAs Honored by Board of Supervisors

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan joined the County’s Board of Supervisors to honor 16 Deputy DAs for their outstanding work and commitment to public safety. Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer declared Tuesday, August 16, 2022, “Prosecutors’ Day” in San Diego County and presented proclamations to each of the individuals being honored.

“This recognition by our Board of Supervisors of the excellence in ethical prosecution that these Deputy District Attorneys demonstrated is very meaningful to our entire team, and reinforces our commitment to pursuing fair and equal justice for all, protecting victims and keeping our neighborhoods safe,” said DA Summer Stephan.

The awardees selected by the Deputy District Attorneys Association, led by Association President Ben Barlow, are Lisa Weinreb, Jessica Coto, Dan Owens, Peter Quon, Flavio Nominati, Zach Wallace, Miriam Hemming, Leon Schorr, Karl Husoe, Scott Pirrello, Jill Lindbergh, Jennifer Reischl, Justine Santiago, Jared Coleman, David Grapilon and Damon Mosler.

There are currently 327 Deputy District Attorneys employed by the DA’s Office and the Office files more than 40,000 criminal cases each year.

The prosecutors were honored for their following contributions:

DDA Lisa Weinreb is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association’s Charles Nickel Award for Excellence in Training, Public Policy or Legal Education given to a prosecutor whose professional excellence and contributions have had significant local or statewide impact in the area of public policy, legislation, training, or education in the criminal justice arena.  DDA Weinreb, as Chief of the Juvenile Division, helped create the Juvenile Diversion Initiative, a first of its kind program that provides San Diego County youth with expanded alternatives to charging, detention, and probation utilizing restorative justice principles allowing victims to have a role in repairing the hard done to them through offender accountability.  The initiative aims to reduce incarceration of our community’s youth and provide the support necessary to move past youthful indiscretions and make a positive change for the individual and the community.  DDA Weinreb worked directly with community support services to provide programs and rehabilitation rather than prosecution for youthful offenders through collaboration with the Juvenile Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Probation Department, Behavioral Health Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Children’s Initiative, and the National Conflict Resolution Center.  DDA Weinreb embodies what it means to be a modern prosecutor through her knowledge of the law, passion for victims’ rights and commitment to public safety, and her leadership ensured this coalition of support for the community’s youth would be successful.

 

DDA Damon Mosler (retired) is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association’s George “Woody” Clarke Award for Prosecutorial Excellence given to an outstanding prosecutor whose contributions in a particular subject matter area of the law promoted justice, fairness, and equality in the prosecution of cases with an important and sustaining impact on the legal community as a whole during the last year or over the course of an entire career.  DDA Mosler rose through the ranks as a trial prosecutor on the Central prelim team, South Bay misdemeanor and felony trial teams, the Juvenile Division in the JUDGE (“Jurisdictions United for Drug & Gang Enforcement”) Unit, the Superior Court Division, and the South Bay JUDGE Unit.  In 2003, DDA Mosler was selected to create an operational plan for a new Narcotics Division in order to combat the rising toll of damage caused by the narcotics epidemic and became its first Chief due to his relevant knowledge, reputation for integrity, and organizational skills.  DDA Mosler was “present at the creation” demonstrating his expertise in the use of confidential informants, wiretaps, and asset forfeiture proceedings; trained prosecutors and law enforcement in-house, statewide, and nationally; and received numerous awards.  DDA Mosler likewise served as Chief of the Special Operations and Chief of Economic Crimes and is widely recognized as a great manager, inspiring leader, strategic problem solver, and, most importantly, an ethical guidepost to many.

 

DDA Dan Owens and DDA Peter Quon are the 2020 recipients of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association’s George “Woody” Clarke Award for Prosecutorial Excellence given to an outstanding prosecutor whose contributions in a particular subject matter area of the law promoted justice, fairness, and equality in the prosecution of cases with an important and sustaining impact on the legal community as a whole during the last year or over the course of an entire career.  DDA Owens was the prosecutor assigned to the case of People v. Jeremiah Owens and Christopher White in which two men tried to abduct a 15-year-old girl in broad daylight outside a residence above Grandview Beach in Encinitas before she fought back and thwarted the sexual assault and attempted kidnapping.  Given this brazen attempt, DDA Owens invoked a section of the California Constitution that allowed the court to find there was sufficient evidence that both defendants posed such a substantial danger to the community and the victim herself that they should be held in custody without bail and could not be released pending trial.  DDA Owens laid the groundwork for the appellate victories to come by drafting and filing excellent motions, developing a persuasive evidentiary record for the court, and arguing aggressively.  DDA Quon, an accomplished, brilliant appellate prosecutor with decades of experience as a Deputy Attorney General handling writs and appeals, joined DDA Owens on the case and the two prosecutors worked together over two years to ensure this novel constitutional issue of statewide importance became settled legal precedent.  DDA Quon led the long odyssey of legal research and brief writing while strategizing with DDA Owens who prepared and delivered the oral arguments before the Fourth District Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the California Supreme Court. DDA Quon and other appellate gurus mooted DDA Owens numerous times throughout the journey to March 3, 2020, for the final arguments in the Supreme Court chamber.  As a direct result of DDA Quon’s guidance and coaching, DDA Owens made the argument that resulted in a unanimous published opinion of In re White upholding the trial court’s no bail order and setting a clear roadmap for how courts statewide must carefully balance the interests of the accused with the rights of crime victims and public safety.  Deputy DA Quon passed away recently and his family is gratified by this special acknowledgment. Peter was an icon in the legal community and left a legacy of mentoring generations of  Asian lawyers.

 

DDA Flavio Nominati is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award, 7 Years or Less in the Office. This past years, DDA Nominati obtained guilty verdicts and achieved justice for victims in three serious felony cases. In the trial of People v. Johnathan Eggers, the defendant was charged with Carjacking, Robbery, and Assault by Means Likely to Produce Great Bodily Injury. There, the defendant stealthily approached the victim from behind with his co-perpetrator who hit the victim in the head with a pistol while a co-defendant tased the victim.  As the victim fell to the ground, unconscious, the defendant took his car keys and drove off in the victim’s car. DDA Nominati then tried a case of People v. Paige where the charges included kidnapping with intent to commit rape, attempted forcible rape, and assault with intent to commit rape. During the beginning of COVID-19 quarantine the Victim was walking back from work on the San Diego City College campus. The Defendant emerged from an alcove where he was hiding, grabbed her, and pulled her into an alcove which was off the walkway. Defendant continued striking her and tried to take off her pants. He kneed victim’s face and started sexually assaulted her. Fortunately, a janitor heard the victim’s screams and the defendant fled. Finally, in People v. Milton Rodgers the defendant fired a gun on several different instances in a residential area, across El Cajon Blvd, near downtown/Golden Hill area, at a residence (bullet was five feet away from the victim’s head while he watched TV inside his living room), and at another victim’s car as she drove through North Park. DDA Nominati secured guilty verdicts for each victim in these cases and as result each defendant is serving a significant prison sentence as a result of these violent acts crimes.

 

DDA Zach Wallace is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award, 7 Years or Less in the Office. In his short time in the office, DDA Wallace has excelled in handling complex cases, including robbery, assault, carjacking, arson, human trafficking, and sexual assault cases. In People v. Rafo, Zach successfully tried a multi-victim sexual assault case in which the defendant preyed upon vulnerable and fragile victims. The defendant convinced his victims to get in his car and then drove them to remote locations. When his victims tried to escape, he would violently beat them, threaten to kill them, and sexually assault them.  A jury found the defendant guilty of forcible rape, forcible sodomy, assault with intent to commit rape, assault with a deadly weapon, three counts of assault with intent to commit great bodily injury among other charges. The defendant who is now serving a life sentence in state prison. DDA Wallace’s experience and talents also led him to be a natural choice for the SAK (Sexual Assault Kit) project to review and prosecute any cases that are potentially issuable such as a 2003 forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, and forcible sodomy case where the defendant drove alongside a 17-year-old girl, offered her a ride, pointed a gun at her, and demanded she get into the car where he sexually assaulted her. DNA was collected back in 2003 but wasn’t tested.  Through the SART kit testing in the SAK project, the defendant was linked to our case based on similar incidents in LA and prosecuted.  Finally, DDA Wallace also filed a 2014 case where a 51-year-old man molested a 13-year-old girl. The DNA evidence was never tested until the SAK Project which proved the conduct victim had alleged did in fact occur. Zach has shown a true passion for bringing justice to the perpetrators of Sexual Assault in our County and ensuring these victims obtain the justice they deserve.

 

DDA Miriam Hemming is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award, 7 Years or Less in the Office. DDA Hemming is an outstanding attorney, who is already handling some of the most serious and complex cases in the DA’s office. This past year she worked with the Gang Task Force to identify a gang responsible for several murders and shootings. In total, from this investigation 9 gang members have been charged with 12 shootings, including 6 murders in both juvenile and adult court.  Also, in 2021 DDA Hemming tried one of the most challenging and complex cases to go to trial since the COVID pandemic.  In her case, the defendant went looking of the victim at a hotel.  He found the victim as she exited the hotel elevator.  The defendant pistol whipped the victim, grabbed the victim by the throat, and as the fight spilled into another hotel room, pointed the gun at the victim’s head and fired, missing the victim by inches.  Almost all the civilian witness, including the victim were uncooperative. After a messy and complex trial, Miriam convicted the defendant, who already had a strike prior, of Assault with a Semi-automatic firearm, Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling. He was sentenced by the Court to a lengthy prison as a result of his criminal conduct and violent history. DDA Hemming’s efforts have made a profound impact on the community as she works to hold those individuals who participate in gang violence accountable under the law.

 

DDA Leon Schorr is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Prosecutor of the Year Award. Thousands of students unwittingly used as pawns in an illegal empire, $400 million dollars defrauded from state funding over three years. $230 million dollars in recovered ill-gotten assets. 19 charter schools fraudulently controlled and operated by fraud. After a full year of intense investigation, hundreds of thousands of pages of bank, school, and financial records, DDA Schorr and his team returned a 240-page indictment after the examination of 70 witnesses at a grand jury over the course of six weeks. DDA Schorr brought charges against defendants in the largest charter school fraud prosecution ever brought to bear in the history of California. It forever changed the landscape of the charter school framework, inspired state legislation, forced school districts and administrators to reexamine their school management and protocols, and protected thousands of school children by stopping the bleeding of losing hundreds of millions of dollars of educational funding. In this charter school’s prosecution, DDA Schorr championed the cause for thousands of students, countless future pupils, caused the return of hundreds of millions of dollars, and forever changed the face of public education. As a result of his efforts, millions of dollars in restitution will be returned and finally be used for the benefit of children, as it was meant to do.

 

DDA Karl Husoe is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award. DDA Husoe distinguished himself through hard work and dedication on two significant cases during 2020-2021. Both cases involved unique issues of first impression where DDA Husoe had to come up with original legal arguments to complex questions of law. These cases were also complicated by procedural quagmires that DDA Husoe had to overcome. Added to the complexities of these cases, DDA Husoe orally argued these two cases in the appellate courts within weeks of each other and via remote video technology because of the pandemic. In Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego, the defendant sought a subpoena for victim’s private Facebook communications in an attempted murder case. This case is significant, because had we not prevailed in this matter, the California Supreme Court could have forced the People to issue search warrants against our victims and witnesses at the defendant’s request. Through Karl’s hard work and dedication over a span of two years, we prevailed, and that potential frightening outcome was thwarted. Also in 2021, DDA Husoe handled People v. Aguilera, a case where the defendants were charged with robbery, carjacking, and other offenses arising from a failed drug transaction. This case was significant because it protects DDAs across the state from defense claims of Brady error simply when we are unable to obtain and disclose information known to federal law enforcement when the federal agency is not the investigating agency. After extensive briefing and oral argument, DDA Husoe convinced the Court of Appeal the refuse a lower court trial ruling and safeguarding DDAs up and down the state from frivolous claims of discovery violations. Of note, DDA Husoe continued working on these two matters at the same time that he assisted with COVID-19-related research and assistance during the height of the pandemic that required all of Appellate DDAs to be on-call 24/7. DDA Husoe’ s hard work and achievement this past year will have long lasting effect on the criminal justice landscape in California for years to come.

 

DDA Scot Pirrello is the 2021 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award. DDA Scott Pirrello and his team spent years investigating and collaborating to solve a problem that needed a fix. DDA Pirrello created a tangible vision for elder justice and developed a task force capable of tracking down and holding accountable those responsible for scamming our elders out of billions of dollars. In 2021, the innovative Elder Justice Task Force (EJTF) officially launched in San Diego County to combat financial fraud committed on an international scale against our vulnerable elder population. EJTF is a collaborative effort that includes the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, FBI, Department of Justice, US Attorney’s Office, San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and many other local law enforcement agencies.  DDA Pirrello’ s efforts enabled the San Diego District Attorney’s Office to coordinate with local law enforcement agencies, collaborate on cases in San Diego County which were related to the same scam, and then work up the cases to the point that the FBI could realize that the dots were connecting to make these relatively small individual cases in San Diego into huge Federal cases with hundreds of victims and millions of dollars in losses. One example was People v. Parore where defendant was a money courier and launderer who San Diego authorities were able to tie to nine separate victims throughout the county’s many jurisdictions where she showed up at the homes of elder victims to pick up the supposed bail money the victims thought they were paying to help their grandchildren in peril. DDA Pirrello was able to coordinate the various investigations across multiple jurisdictions resulting in a conviction of Robbery, Elder Theft, Receiving Stolen Property, and Money Laundering and a sentence in state prison. Such a result for these types of allegations was previously unthinkable. But as a result of this new innovative investigative approach and the development of the EJTF, these results will become the norm moving forward.

 

DDA Jessica Coto is the 2020 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award. DDA Coto has shown consistent tenacity and commitment to bringing about justice in our most sensitive cases including child molest, serial rape, stalking and Sexually Violent Predators. Over the last year, she has demonstrated an expertise in cases involving defendants in positions of public trust and Sexually Violent Predators and successfully doing so under intense community pressure and media interest. In 2019 and 2020, she litigated very high profile and complex cases with successful convictions and results. In the People v. Dorado case, DDA Coto brought justice to eight victims of a serial rapist ranging in age from 22 to 58. Dorado was a complex, intoxication rape case that required both sophisticated lawyering and extraordinary compassion and time to the victims. The jury returned guilty verdicts on 20 counts of sexual assault. DDA Coto also successfully prosecuted the People v. Price case where a firefighter sexually assaulted his 17-year-old stepdaughter. DDA Coto navigated difficult victim issues and helped the victim become more empowered and achieve the justice she deserved. In People v. Herrera, DDA Coto prosecuted a special education teacher who had a sexual relationship for over a year with a 15-year-old student. DDA Coto’s careful trust building with the victim allowed the victim to disclose the full extent of the abuse. Her tenacious search for facts and partnership with detectives helped build a strong case against the defendant and corroborate the victim. After working with DDA Coto on the case, the victim feels justice is served by his conviction. DDA Coto also successfully prosecuted a case against a CWS worker who groomed and assaulted a 17-year-old client, a defendant who attacked and attempted to sexually assault the victim who was out for a run around her neighborhood with her two children (ages 2 and 4), and a defendant who broke into a home of a hearing-impaired victim, strangled, and sexually assaulted her. DDA Coto simply excels in trying the most difficult of cases that come into the office and has proven to be an exceptional courtroom advocate that compassionately supports victims on the road to justice.

 

DDA Jill Lindberg is the 2020 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award. DDA Jill Lindberg’s Outstanding Achievement comes from her 6 years of dedicated work on the prosecution in the case of People v. Matthew Sullivan. Her work culminated with a month-long trial in March of 2020 resulting in a Murder conviction and a 16 Years to Life sentence.  Defendant in this case reported in October 2014 that his wife, Elizabeth Sullivan, and him had argued about their pending divorce and then she just left the house – not to be seen or heard from again.  A Missing Persons investigation eventually went cold until Elizabeth’s partially decomposed body washed up in San Diego two years later.  Jill and her investigative team were relentless in their pursuit of evidence and eventually developed enough forensic evidence to prove that her blood was found underneath the carpet in her old bedroom and years later a folding knife was discovered underneath thick ceiling insulation in the home’s attic containing a mixture of both defendant and Elizabeth’s DNA along with traces of blood.  At trial, Jill handled this complex case with poise despite being trailed by NBC’s Dateline filming her every move.  DDA Jill Lindberg is one of those unique prosecutors who quietly and impressively excels at everything and anything she does.

 

DDA Jennifer Reischl is the 2020 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award.  During a four-month period, DDA Reischel successfully prosecuted multiple life-top jury trials in the Family Protection Unit.  In People v. Montelongo, the defendant shot and killed his girlfriend in the head multiple times in the middle of the day at an apartment complex pool with other families present, before he fled out of the state.  DDA Reischel worked tirelessly with law enforcement and the DA’s extraditions unit to extradite this defendant and bring him to justice here in San Diego.  DDA Reischel’s organization, attention to detail, and streamlined approached led the jury to a quick first degree murder conviction in October 2019.  One month later, in People v. Deneef, DDA Reischel received a guilty verdict for a re-trial involving a third-striker child molest of his 6-year-old stepdaughter.  DDA Reischel’s hard work and compassion for vulnerable victims resulted in a safer San Diego County.

 

DDA Justine Santiago is the 2020 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award, 7 Years or Less in the Office.  DDA Santiago demonstrated she is an excellent young prosecutor in the Family Protection Unit, which handles some of the most difficult cases involving children, elders and other vulnerable victims.   In People v. Oliva and Welch, DDA Santiago brought justice to four child victims in a horrific child molest trial. In this case, four separate children endured years of abuse at the hands of the defendant without their mother to protect them.  As a result of DDA Santiago’s presentation, the jury convicted the defendants of every single child molest charge.  On top of that, DDA Santiago was wonderful with the victims, spending time building rapport with them and earning their trust.  DDA Santiago has demonstrated she will be a value to the DA’s Office and the San Diego community for many years to come by holding abusers accountable and protecting our most vulnerable victims.

 

DDA Jared Coleman is the 2020 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association Outstanding Achievement Award, 7 Years or Less in the Office.  Jared Coleman has excelled in his role as trial attorney in the Family Protection Unit., where he carries a wide variety of cases, including animal cruelty, elder abuse, domestic violence, and child molest. Jared has proven to be more than a jack-of-all-trades, but instead, a master-of-all-trades. In People v. Bach, defendant molested two children of an acquaintance over the span of a few weeks. Despite dealing with two very young and shy victims as witnesses, and a lack of corroboration beyond their testimony, Jared convicted defendant of crimes that resulted in a sentence of over 400-years-to-life. In People v. Oscar Rodas, defendant shot and killed his long-time ex-girlfriend shortly after she broke up with him. Although the murder took place at a gas station, there was only one witness to the murder – a minor female with gang ties who was very reluctant to testify. Despite this witness being “unable to remember” most of what had occurred, Jared was able to secure a first-degree murder conviction in the case. In addition to his responsibilities as a trial attorney, Jared has been the team leader of the misdemeanor trial team.

 

DDA David Grapilon is the 2020 recipient of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association’s prestigious Prosecutor of the Year award.  DDA Grapilon proved he was indispensable to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic by successfully prosecuting a high-profile murder case, while also spearheading the DA’s response to court closures by helping to implement remote court appearances.  In the case of the People v. Quintero, DDA Grapilon brought justice for the 2017 murder of victim Jesus Quiroz. The victim was a tattoo shop owner in Chula Vista who was found bound, tortured, and badly beaten to death by multiple people. The case was solved through forensic evidence left at the scene and the defendant’s own statements.  Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit just before DDA Grapilon was set to give his closing argument in the murder trial.  Immediately thereafter, DDA Grapilon set to work using his tremendous technological skills to help get the entire San Diego criminal justice system running remotely.  DDA Grapilon worked with the courts, the Public Defender’s Office, the private defense bar, and the DA’s Office to provide remote hearings on MS Teams.  He handled the first remote appearance in the County and continued to assist all the criminal justice partners in increasing the services they are able to safely provide.  During the court closures, DDA Grapilon single-handedly responded to hundreds of requests from judges and DDAs for assistance regarding Microsoft Teams and remote hearings.  Fourteen weeks after the first court closure, DDA Grapilon was able to return to court to finish his murder trial with appropriate social distancing measures.  The jury return guilty verdicts and the defendant was held accountable for the gruesome murder he committed.  There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on our world. From his critical role in transitioning the DA’s Office and Superior Court to remote hearings, to his vital work as a prosecutor handling some of the most horrific murders in San Diego, DDA Grapilon very much earned this Prosecutor of the Year award.

 

Double Homicide Defendant Sentenced for 1987 Cold Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a 62-year-old man who killed two people at a birthday party in Ramona then fled to Mexico for 32 years, has been sentenced to 34 years-to-life in prison by San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber for the 1987 slayings of German Aviles, 26, and Ventura Aviles, 21.

On May 27, a jury found Jose Solorio guilty of two counts of second-degree murder after deliberating for two days.

“Today, the families of German and Ventura Aviles received a measure of justice after decades of mourning their loss,” DA Stephan said. “The daughter of German Aviles had to grow up without her loving father over this senseless and violent act.”

During a birthday party for the 4-year-old daughter of German Aviles, Solorio got into an argument with the victims and other men over getting more beer for the party. The defendant became offended over an insult directed at him. He left the party and returned with a loaded handgun.

While standing in the doorway of the apartment, Solorio fatally shot German and Ventura Aviles, then shot and wounded another man inside the apartment. He then shot a fourth man outside the apartment who was returning to the home with beer.

Solorio immediately fled to Mexico, where he hid from law enforcement for 32 years. He was taken into custody in the City of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in April 2019 and extradited from Mexico City in December 2019.

Cold Case Suspect Arrested in Tennessee

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that one man has been arrested in connection with the 1990 murder of Larry Joe Breen, 32 in Point Loma. San Diego police and the FBI took Brian Scott Koehl, 51, into custody in Knoxville, TN on July 13, 2022 after a warrant was issued for his arrest. Koehl will be extradited to San Diego where he has been charged with murder. His first hearing in Knox County Superior Court will be held tomorrow, July 14.

“It is a tribute to the commitment and dedication of investigators and prosecutors in our Cold Case Homicide Unit working closely with local and federal law enforcement that we continue to solve decades old crimes, hold murderers accountable and ultimately deliver justice to victims’ loved ones,” said DA Stephan. “Thanks to their hard work and the work our law enforcement partners in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Knox County Sheriff’s Department and the Knox County District Attorney, we will, at long last, be able to seek justice and accountability for the killing of Larry Breen.”

The victim, a petty officer and cook in the US Navy stationed aboard the USS Fox CG-33, was found on May 25, 1990 in the backyard of a home at the corner of Nimitz Boulevard and Locust Street. The victim had recently rented the home and was preparing to move in.  He was slumped against a fence in the backyard and had been stabbed several times in the neck. His car was missing and was later found abandoned over a mile from the crime scene. Despite a thorough investigation by both the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the San Diego Police Department at the time, the murder went unsolved.

Recently, these agencies reexamined the case, and, with the assistance of the District Attorney’s Office Cold Homicide and Research Genealogy Effort (CHARGE), an investigative lead was developed which led to the current criminal charge against Koehl and his arrest.

CHARGE, which is funded by a three- year grant from the US Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice assistance, is an innovation project by the District Attorney’s office to solve cold case homicides using investigative genetic genealogy, the same research technique that identified the Golden State Killer.  The CHARGE team, which includes deputy district attorneys, investigators, and a research genealogist, has been successfully in identifying the suspects in several cold case homicides including the current prosecution of Carlin Cornett for the 1971 murder of 7-Eleven clerk Christy Bryant and this 1990 murder of Larry Breen.  Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox is the lead prosecutor on this case.

Habitual Offender Who Took Advantage of Deficiencies in the Law Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that 32-year-old defendant Craig Blas, a repeat criminal offender, has been sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to a number of felony counts including possession of fentanyl for sale with an allegation of being personally armed with a firearm; possession of methamphetamine for sale with an allegation of being personally armed with a firearm; possession of a firearm by possessor of controlled substance; possession of a firearm by a felon; person prohibited from owning or possessing ammunition and resisting an officer.

In the period of two years, Blas has been arrested and released 12 times for a range of criminal conduct, including possession with intent to sell fentanyl, possession of a firearm by a felon and evading an officer with reckless driving.

Recent changes in the law, including Propositions 47 and 57, which reduced certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and awarded increased custody credits and/or early release for non-violent crimes, has resulted in some defendants serving less time in custody than they would have otherwise served. In addition, the emergency bail schedule instituted during the COVID-19 state-declared emergency, which was designed to minimize the number of people in custody, had the similar result of allowing some offenders to remain out of custody while their cases awaited final disposition. The emergency bail schedule is no longer in effect thus allowing habitual offenders like Blas to remain in custody.

“The time has run out on this habitual criminal who took advantage of weakened laws and emergency orders to continue to commit crimes and harm his community,” DA Stephan said. “That is why he stands convicted of every charge and the Judge is appropriately sentencing him to prison. We need to continue to fight against the loopholes and deficiencies in the law that are being used by repeat offenders to their own advantage.”

On May 7, Escondido Police officers were patrolling a high crime area when they saw Craig Blas and recognized him as having an active warrant. The defendant attempted to run from officers, but they were able to apprehend him as he fled. Officers found a 9 mm magazine sticking out of his back pocket, three fentanyl pills, a pistol red dot optic aiming device and $736 cash. Officers saw the defendant throw an item in the driver’s seat of the car with which they had seen him walking around. Upon looking, they discovered on the driver seat a fanny pack containing a loaded ghost handgun, 36 grams of methamphetamine and 235 M30 fentanyl pills. A loaded 9mm magazine with eight 9 mm rounds were on the floorboard next to the gun. In the trunk were drug paraphernalia and another 3.6 grams of fentanyl.

DA to Appeal Parole Grant of Convicted Murderer and Former Pro Skateboarder

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that at a hearing on Tuesday, despite strong opposition by her office, the State Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to Mark “Gator” Rogowski, 55, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1992. Rogowski has been serving a sentence of 31 years-to-life for the murder of Jessica Bergsten. The victim’s family members are devastated by the decision and DA Stephan said her office will appeal to the Governor to reverse Rogowski’s release.

Rogowski was a nationally known skateboard personality from Carlsbad who rose to prominence in the 1980s. On March 21, 1991, he raped and murdered 22-year-old Jessica Bergsten and transported her body to a remote desert area, where her skeletal remains were found several weeks later.

“The family and friends of Jessica Bergsten deserve the continued promise of justice in this case,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Our office argued strongly against releasing this violent defendant. We handle hundreds of parole hearings each year, fighting when it’s appropriate to make sure dangerous criminals are not released and crime victims are given a voice.”

At the time of the murder, Rogowski’s girlfriend had broken up with him. In addition, skateboarding was changing from ramps to the street. Rogowski did not think he could do well on street skating and saw his lucrative career coming to an end. Rogowski was upset that his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Brandi McClain, was also coming to an end. Bergsten was Brandi’s best friend. Rogowski hit Bergsten on the head with The Club (a steering wheel locking device), raped her and suffocated her in a surfboard bag. He confessed to the crime several weeks later.

The District Attorney’s Office argued at the hearing that Rogowski remains an unreasonable risk of danger to society. Two of the victim’s family members attended the hearing and provided victim impact statement regarding the effects of the crime upon their family and the unsuitability of the inmate for parole.

In December 2019, a panel of parole hearing officers found that Rogowski was suitable for release, but Governor Newsom reversed the decision in April 2020. The grant of parole came on the third try for Rogowski. He is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.