A blue Chevy Impala with tinted windows drove slowly around a gang-claimed Anaheim neighborhood in the dark morning hours of June 1, 2012. Around 3:30 a.m., a black Toyota Corolla suddenly cornered the car. A brief standoff ensued before a passenger in the Corolla got out and started shooting. The violent encounter sounds like a typical gang shooting, however this time the people in the Impala were uniformed Anaheim police officers.
But did Anaheim Vatos Lokos (AVLS) gang members Juan Carlos Covarrubias, Jordy Roman Martinez, and Andrew Gomez Sanchez know it at the time? The question is central to charges against them for attempted murder of police officers. The jury trial began Monday in Judge Patrick H. Donahue's Superior Courtroom in Santa Ana and continued yesterday with witness testimony.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Gary LoGalbo called Anaheim policeman Jared Dewald to the witness stand. Dewald drove the Impala that morning with partner Yesenia Escobar riding in the front passenger seat. The two were on a "directed enforcement" assignment and weren't responding to any calls for service in the area. They were driving in an unmarked car.
Dewald, a young, brawny officer with a shaved head, testified to hearing a "popping sound" while driving down Guinida Lane–also known as AVLS' main street. The officers stopped their car on Palm Street to check for damage thinking it might have been a gunshot, but found nothing. They got back in the Impala and continued to drive until they reached Boysen Avenue, when they were approached by a "dark colored Corolla" travelling at a "high rate of speed," Dewald testified.
A standoff ensued as the two cars faced each other. Dewald testified that he believed the driver was drunk, so he crept forward "about 5 to 10 feet" in order to initiate a stop. When Escobar was cross examined, however, she testified that she didn't turn on the vehicle's red and blue emergency lights affixed to the car's visor.
Martinez is accused of getting out of the Corolla next and opening fire. Dewald threw the Impala in reverse attempting to flee. With Sanchez driving, the gang members gave chase, continuing to fire. The cops safely made it to Anaheim Boulevard before backup arrived. The front passenger side had been struck with two bullet holes.
But did the gang members mistake the unmarked car as belonging to Anaheim Barrio Small Town (ABST) rivals? "We were told there was tension due to rival gang shootings," Escobar told defense attorney Joe Gibbons.
The emergency flashing lights would've identified the unmarked vehicle as police. "Did you ever lower the visor?" defense attorney Joseph Smith asked Escobar. "I don't ever remember lowering the visor," she replied. When Escobar finally turned the lights on during the chase, they shined down on her passenger seat and not outward. She claimed they reflected off a wall separating the barrio from Disneyland on the other side anyway. The rear window of the Impala held the darkest tint and the Corolla followed from behind.
Anaheim police officers Jason Smith and Ryan Wardle arrived with lights flashing on their marked patrol cars. Trailing behind, the Corolla made an abrupt U-turn eventually crashing into a fenced lot. Smith and Wardle arrested the three with Sanchez being cuffed an hour after hiding at Paul Revere Elementary.
Smith asked Escobar on the stand if she or her partner wrote a police report about the dangerous ordeal. "I was told not to," she said. The defense attorney followed by asking who gave that order. Escobar told the jury she couldn't recall.
Covarrubias, Sanchez and Martinez each face felony counts of conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder on police officers, and shooting at an occupied car. Prosecutors added on felony street terrorism charges and are also seeking gang enhancements. The defendants pleaded not guilty to all felonies, much less for the benefit of their gang.
The trio, all 19-year-old Anaheimers at the time, face 45 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2