By Alex Klimenko
RIVERSIDE, CA – A pretrial hearing here in Riverside County Superior Court Friday was a study of alleged gang activity, and, if it existed, what role it played in a 2018 murder.
In 2018, Guillermo Cintora Gomez, Christian Miramontes, and Manuel Vargas allegedly shot and killed a member of a rival gang in Cathedral City. Following the shooting, Gomez fled to Mexico where he was eventually arrested by Mexican authorities and brought back to the United States to stand trial.
All three men are charged with first degree murder with an enhancement for gang activity, and by means of lying in wait.
DDA Fimbres asked the investigator about an interview that the police officer had with Miramontes: “Did you ask Mr. Miramontes if this was a JT Northside type thing?” The investigator answered “yes.”
DDA Fimbres further asked, “How did he respond to that question?” The investigator answered, “I believe he responded by nodding his head up and down in the affirmative.”
DDA Fimbres then directed his questioning toward an interview that the police investigator had with Manuel Vargas regarding his alleged involvement in the gang.
During this line of questioning the investigator stated, “It had to do specifically with images we got off of an open source search from I believe it was Facebook there where images I observed that were consistent with the hand signs that I demonstrated here in the court yesterday, the J and the T.”
The investigator then described how Miramontes and Vargas acted together in regard to the alleged murder.
Defense Counsel Rodriguez objected to this line of questioning based on the fact that the statements were based on speculation.
DDA Fimbres argued that the testimony was admissible because the officer had knowledge due to his prior training on how gangs operated.
Judge Dean Benjamini overruled the objection.
DDA Fimbres then asked the police investigator about hypothetical crimes, which were similar to the alleged shooting. DDA Fimbres also asked about how these hypotheticals would or would not benefit a hypothetical gang or the hypothetical gang member.
The police investigator responded to these hypotheticals by describing how respect is a part of how gangs act, and explained that when gangs are disrespected they have to respond to the other gang.
The police investigator further emphasized that “a lot of times a tit for tat mentality is something that’s engaged upon.”
Defense Counsel Rodriguez focused his questioning about prior alleged vandalism that the defendants had in relation to their gang, asking the police investigator about hypothetical situations regarding tattoos that gang members may or may not have.
And then Rodriguez suggested police investigators assume that people are a part of gangs, and asked the investigator if he’d “ever heard of circular reasoning.”
The investigator said no, but said he always fully investigates allegations of people being in a gang.