By Linnea Patterson
“Should I?” “You won’t.” was the exchange that allegedly led to the shooting at Woodland police officers on August 31, 2016.
The trial of Christian “Kiki” Rizo reconvened on Monday in Department 14, the Honorable David Rosenberg presiding. Mr. Rizo faces charges of assault with a semi-automatic weapon and attempted murder. As a member of Varrio Bosque Norteños, or VBN, a Woodland street gang, the crimes Mr. Rizo faces are enhanced by “benefit to a criminal gang.”
The first witness called to examination was a “friend with benefits” of the defendant, who was driving the car that Mr. Rizo shot out of. This witness testified in custody as part of a plea agreement. She claimed that Mr. Rizo, herself, and another VBN member were driving with no particular destination on the night of August 31st. When they saw police lights behind a fence at the Casa del Sol trailer park, Mr. Rizo asked the witness, “Should I?” and proceeded to reveal a handgun, to which the witness responded with what she claimed was a taunt: “You won’t.” As she turned left on East Street and then E. Gum Street, Mr. Rizo shot two or three shots, although the witness claimed she never saw him shoot the gun, as she was driving.
The next witness, however, contradicted the theory that the defendant had no prior plans to discharge his handgun, or never meant to kill anyone. This former VBN member, who was also testifying as part of a plea agreement, claimed that Mr. Rizo was aware of the homicide that the police were responding to, and that two VBN members were involved.
The witness claimed Mr. Rizo told him he fired his gun in an attempt to distract the police away from the crime scene: “He [Rizo] told me he shot at the cops so Oso and Bandit could get away.” However, the defense attorney, Jesse S. Ortiz, III, argued that the witness’s information was not firsthand, saying, “All the information you have is what someone else told you.” But the witness claimed there was no reason to lie, as he could be killed by the Varrio Bosque Norteños for revealing this information. He stated, “If they have a chance to shoot at me, they’ll shoot at me.”
The People then called probation officer Sergio Pimentel to the stand. Officer Pimentel was part of the Yolo County Gang Task Force in 2016, and oversaw Mr. Rizo and other VBN members after their arrests. He also seized several of Mr. Rizo’s phones, in 2016 and 2017, and testified that there were videos of Mr. Rizo shooting guns. This illustrates the prosecution’s continuing trend to emphasize Mr. Rizo’s participation in violent gang activity.
The Journal of a Gang Member: “Snitches Get Sprayed”
By Kristen Tuntland
The trial of Christian Rizo resumed this afternoon with the reading of his private journal which included the caution that “snitched get sprayed” (shot). Three witnesses from the Woodland Police Department testified: Detective Maribel Cortes, Corporal Richard Towle, and Detective Pablo Gonzales.
Detective Cortez testified that she was working on a murder crime scene around 1:15 am on August 31, 2016, in Woodland, when she heard vague yelling and two gunshots. She took cover by Sergeant Frank Ritter’s vehicle. About five minutes later she heard more gunshots. After the gunshots ceased, she noticed the bullet hole that was inches away from her previous position. However, she did not see any cars on East Street and did not notice any cars circling the area.
Next, Corporal Towle testified he was also working at the same crime scene during the incident. Around 1:15 am, he heard a male voice yelling indistinguishably, then two gunshots. During the yelling, he saw a car driving north on East Street. About eight to ten minutes later, he heard three to five more gunshots coming from the direction of the Gum Street overpass.
Once the gunshots ceased, he found a single bullet hole in the driver’s side door of Sergeant Ritter’s vehicle that was inches away from him. He located the actual bullet in the rear driver’s side floor board. When he removed the bullet for evidence, he estimated a 9mm handgun was used.
He also discovered a single bullet hole in the six-foot-tall chain link fence with privacy slats that separated the officers from East Street. He used fiberglass trajectory rods to determine the path of the bullet, which likely confirmed the direction of the Gum Street overpass. The next day, he was contacted by citizens to report finding three shell casings from a 9mm handgun near Gum Street overpass.
Corporal Towle claimed that the flashing emergency lights from the police vehicles should have been visible through the privacy slats in the chain link fence. However, there is currently no photographic evidence that shows what is or is not visible through the chain link fence from East Street. Additionally, he never found a second bullet or bullet hole in the area.
Detective Gonzales testified as an expert witness on gang crimes, trends, and membership. Currently, Woodland is turf for a gang known as Varrio Bosque Norteño, or VBN. He testified that VBN’s signs include various hand shapes to make the letter “b”, they are usually associated with the color red, and they use numbers four or 14. VBN’s primary activities include: murder, attempted murder, drug sales, firearm sales, accessing firearms, assaults with deadly weapons, and property crimes.
Several search warrants were executed against Mr. Rizo, which led to the discovery of two journals. He testified that the language in the journals is definitely gang affiliated, due to the terminology such as “snitches get sprayed” and references to specific numbers, rival gangs, and police.
Detective Gonzales also searched through Mr. Rizo’s profile and private messages on Facebook, which include photos of him in gang affiliated clothing, using hand signs, and being with other known VBN members. He also wrote “f**k the police” on his Facebook profile and private messaged someone saying “trying to kill some cops.”
The importance of respect by other VBN members was emphasized by the detective. He testified that violence, especially toward police, leads to increased respect and status among VBN. In this case, respect is synonymous with fear, intimidation, and power because it means other people are less likely to tattle if they know how dangerous the gang is. For this reason, Mr. Rizo luring police away from his friends about to be arrested near the crime scene would have greatly benefited him, as well as VBN.
However, the person murdered at the crime scene did not have any gang affiliation. Additionally, Mr. Rizo did not seek information on status of his friends about to be arrested until 5:06pm later that day. There was no activity on his Facebook page around the time of the incident and he is known to use Facebook as his main form of communication.
Before dismissing the jury, Judge David Rosenberg read stipulations, including the results of ballistic tests showing the bullet and shell casings are from a 9mm pistol, not a semi-automatic weapon. Closing arguments will begin on Wednesday, February 13 at 9 AM.