By Danielle Eden C. Silva
Monday morning in Department 10 began with the investigating officer in the Christian Rizo case, Officer Pablo Gonzales, continuing his testimony. The prosecution picked up their direct questioning by asking about gang affiliation. Arnulfo “Happy” Bermudez, the victim, had Sureño gang involvement, per officer reports and an arrest in 2015.
Adrianna Pena, a witness who was the driver of the vehicle the defendant was in, was considered affiliated with Vario Bosque Norteños (VBN), a Norteño gang subset of Woodland, but not a gang member. Several videos from her phone were played for the jury, of her associating with the defendant and another person, one the officer identified as a gang member, in her car.
The prosecution pointed out how in one video they say several phrases and Ms. Pena makes a “W” sign with her fingers, which the witness identified with Woodland. By “west side,” she could mean the “Four Corners” area, known as Norteño territory, located on the west side of Woodland, around West Cross and Cottonwood Streets. Another person in the car throws up a “14” and the three mention “B’s Up.” The officer claimed the phrase meant, “Bosque’s Up,” a gang phrase in relation to VBN.
Officer Gonzales identified Rizo and Pena as active gang participants of VBN, but not active gang members. They have knowledge of what the gang does but they do not meet enough criteria to be identified as gang members.
After being asked about the gang meaning for “respect,” the officer explained gangs strive for power and control. Respect is usually earned through fear and intimidation, often in an attempt to help maintain a gang’s identity. Gangs need to keep their behavior consistent or their reputation would diminish. If Izzy Alvarez, another man who claimed he shot the victim, took his testimony back, he would be considered distrustful and dishonest among the gang members and would have his reputation lowered.
The actions of gang members help the gang earn intimidation and fear, the officer explained. Actions are often violent to establish strength and gang representation in an area, such as the shooting in the VBN neighborhood. Four Corners has been considered Norteño territory for two decades. If a Sureño walked through in a bright blue shirt, a gang member would be expected to confront that Sureño. This most substantial show of force allows the gang to show off reputation and strength.
Officer Gonzales then mentioned two separate gang cases. One case concerned a young man who was almost run over by a car. The other case concerned a victim who needed to be carried off. Both cases concerned Norteño on Sureño attacks.
The prosecution directed the investigating officer to the shotgun. He asked how a shotgun should be fired, to which the officer, who shared he was experienced with shotguns, claimed that the firearm position should be high on the shoulder in regard to the damages to the seat and the victim. If the shooter held the shotgun at shoulder level, the shooter would be in danger of having their face hit from the recoil. If a shotgun has a pistol grip, all the control would be in the hands. As for the range of the gun with pellet ammunition, Officer Gonzales shared that the spray depended on the characteristics of the gun.
In cross-examination, the defense clarified that Officer Gonzales only investigated five to six gang-related cases this year. Not all of these cases concern homicides. The last gang member homicide happened two days before this, but the officer couldn’t recall past then as he began investigating in 2016.
The defense asked more in-depth questions about the gang information the officer provided. The officer agreed he didn’t know if the first video’s phrases were from a rap song. In regard to Izzy Alvarez, the officer shared that Mr. Alvarez could have been trying to bolster his reputation and respect with other gang members.
Returning to the shotgun, the officer shared that pellets spray once they leave the barrel. There were no pellets in the driver’s door and there should be no pellets in the driver’s door if the driver’s door was closed and the shot was from above. The defense shared that the driver’s door could have been open. In addition, the defense asked if different people at the scene heard a different number of gunshots, which the officer confirmed.
In redirect by the prosecution, the officer agreed the back seat would have been affected by door penetration from hip level pellets, whether or not the front door was open. The pellet trails in the back seat were noted as traveling downward from right to left, facing the front of the car. Additionally, the officer shared that gunshots reverberate so people mishear the number.
Returning to the defense, Officer Gonzales noted he saw but didn’t process the car, the Woodland Police Department did. He could identify the pellets marks but the officer and his department recreated the shotgun positions until they were consistent with what he searched for. Officer Gonzales agreed with the defense that Mr. Silva and Mr. Vital had drug problems.
In redirect, the officer shared wounds were found from the front to back, and left to right. After this, the witness was allowed to step down from the stand.
Adrianna Pena was brought in but did not testify and, instead, was escorted out. The prosecution played the video recording of Ms. Pena’s interview as agreed by both the defense and the prosecution. Portions were shared with the jurors who were also provided with transcripts. The audio at times was difficult to hear because of mumbling, but the interview noted that two officers from Woodland had flown down to Houston, Texas. Ms. Pena had been held at the police department there and they wanted to give her a chance to tell the truth. They read her her Miranda rights and requested she explain more of what happened in Woodland.
The officers shared they knew she was involved in the case, which she denied at first, simply stating she hung out with people that would eventually steal her car. After hearing the officers had received video surveillance of a woman and two other men in a car and footage of her car, she continued to withhold information. The officers mentioned other cases where sharing information helped a person’s case, but she expressed concern for the defendant, whom she referred to as “Kiki.” While they couldn’t guarantee her a deal, they said being honest would be better in the long run, as she knew the situation better than they did.
When the officers noted she could be charged with accessory to murder, Ms. Pena shared she had been drunk that night and just drove them around. “It shouldn’t have happened the way it did.”
The court was dismissed for the lunch break.