By Gwynneth Redemann
MERCED, CA- Two alleged members of the Norteños gang, Daniel Martinez and Niko Flores, were charged during a preliminary hearing this week in Merced County Superior Court with multiple counts of attempted murder and street gang activity after suspected involvement in the shooting of a member of the Sureños gang at a Circle K in Dos Palos.
According to Deputy District Attorney Natalia Ruth Enero, on July 22, 2020 Flores and Martinez drove to a Circle K in Dos Palos where they encountered a member of the Sureños.
In an interview conducted by Sgt. Clifton Battles of the Merced County Police Department, testifying at the preliminary hearing, the victim said Flores asked, “What’s up scraps?” to the rival gang member before Martinez shot at the victim in the Circle K parking lot.
According to Sergeant Battles, an expert witness in gang activity, “scraps” is a derogatory word used to describe a member of the Sureños gang by rival gang members.
During most of the expert witness testimony, Battles elaborated on both of the defendants’ histories of gang affiliations. Battles claimed to have had contact with Flores and Martinez as early as 2007 or 2008.
The prosecution emphasized how both of the defendants were deeply entangled with the Norteños gang. DDA Enero asked Battles multiple questions regarding the tattoos on both of the defendants.
Battles said that Flores and Martinez both had gang-related tattoos on their bodies, such as the symbolic 4 dots, “NSBL”, and “RIP Destiny” which all have significance to the Norteños gang.
Enero asked Battles for his opinion on what the tattoos showed about the connection the defendants had with the gang. Battles stated that “it shows their dedication to the gang,” especially to have it tattooed in very visible areas such as on the face.
DDA Enero then went on to ask Battles, based on his expert experience, “how a gang member benefited from shooting a rival.”
Battles explained that there were several reasons as to why shooting another rival gang member would be beneficial to that member and the gang as a whole, including that eliminating a rival means to ensure fewer rivals on the streets. It also shows the dedication and loyalty of that member, and it instills a sense of fear in the rival gangs in the area.
After a lengthy testimony discussing the affiliation that the defendants have had with the Norteños gang and the possible benefits of eliminating rival gang members, the defense attorneys cross-examined Sergeant Battles.
In an attempt to separate his client from Martinez, the alleged shooter, defense attorney Jeffery Castleton, asked Sgt. Battles if it was clear from the surveillance video of that night that Flores actually said “what’s up scraps?”
Battles admitted there was no audio in the video. He also said that the victim was the only person on the scene to have heard Flores say “what’s up scraps,” despite there being multiple witnesses around.
Castleton pointed out the lack of evidence regarding Flores’s statement, while the defense attorney for Martinez, Pahoua Lor, noted another flaw with the surveillance footage—an apparent glitch in the video as the gun was allegedly fired.
In the video, the gun can’t actually be seen firing, and it was also unclear whether the window on the car where the victim sat was shattered from the bullets or if it was already rolled down.
In the closing remarks for this hearing, DDA Enero emphasized the ballistic evidence suggested the premeditative nature of this case. At the scene of the alleged crime, the victim was shot twice in the leg, once by the window next to his head, and there were two bullet holes in the vehicle.
Prosecutor Enero asked the court, “How many times must someone pull the trigger before premeditation is assumed and intent is established?”
Judge Brian McCabe sided with the prosecution and found that there was sufficient evidence to move forward with the cases and to assume premeditation in the attempted murder charges.
Judge McCabe believed that the defendants were working in tandem and refused to dismiss the charges against Niko Flores, despite the request of Castleton.
Flores and Martinez are to appear in court on Oct. 27 for an arraignment hearing prior to trial setting.