News

Robberies, burglaries on the rise in 2011

Palo Altans see wave of gun-related property crimes and burglaries

Palo Alto began 2011 in the midst of a crime wave that included violent street holdups and property crimes. Police held a community meeting Jan. 19, and Chief Dennis Burns announced that smashing the robbery trend that had begun in September 2010 was the department's highest priority.

More patrols, including plain-clothes officers, were added to the streets. City Manager James Keene posted a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the crimes.

At least 10 people were arrested for the street robberies, some of whom committed more than one, police said. The perpetrators lived in a number of cities, including Menlo Park, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, San Jose and East Palo Alto, police said.

Villivuni Fono, 21, of East Palo Alto was arrested Jan. 5 for two of the gun-related robberies on Fulton Street near University Avenue and on Forest Avenue near Cowper Street. His girlfriend, Ana Loiloi Umufuke, 24, and a 16-year-old male juvenile had been previously arrested for the crimes.

Fono pleaded guilty to two felonies on May 20 and received five years in state prison. Umufuke received 45 days in county jail for one count of robbery.

Dean Allen Holmes Jr., 23, of San Jose, was arrested on Jan. 19 for robbing a pizza-delivery man and a woman in separate incidents. Holmes allegedly snatched the woman's purse as she approached her home in December 2010. He also allegedly robbed the pizza man at gunpoint on Ben Lomond Drive as he returned to his delivery van.

Shamika Westmoreland, 28, and her father, Rickey Westmoreland, 58, of Sunnyvale were arrested March 2 for felony possession of stolen property after they were caught using the female victim's credit card to buy a Sony PlayStation game console.

Additional street robberies took place sporadically in the latter half of the year, with the total rising to 21 since September 2010.

Three men robbed a McDonald's employee of a large cash deposit outside the Wells Fargo Bank at California Avenue and El Camino Real on Aug. 3. Police quickly apprehended three men, Ismael Aquino-Flores, 20, Fabian Delgadillo, 21, and Gerardo Yepez-Soto, 21, of Redwood City.

On Oct. 20 a woman was robbed of her purse at gunpoint on Ramona Street downtown while walking home. Police soon identified Emanuel Abazan, 18, of Redwood City, as a suspect.

As the year closed, police sought a man who attempted two robberies and a burglary Dec. 10 in the north end of the city. The man, riding a bicycle, threatened a woman and demanded money on Waverley Street and attempted to grab a teen's iPod on Tasso Street. Unsuccessful both times, he then stole a bicycle from a garage on Walter Hays Drive.

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Burglars targeted both commercial and public establishments this year.

Police sought a suspect in a string of commercial burglaries that have occurred since 2009. A person who is thought to be involved in more than 10 burglaries at small businesses, restaurants and salons from Beverly Hills to San Mateo also broke into several downtown and California Avenue businesses. Police released surveillance footage of the burglar, which was recorded during one break-in.

Thieves stole cash and a computer from Ernie's Wines and Liquors on El Camino Real on Aug. 31. And a burglar or burglars in early November left behind fingerprints after taking nearly $5,000 in cash from small downtown retailers in two separate incidents, police said.

Four schools were targeted for laptops, cameras and other digital equipment during the summer. Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto and Gunn high schools and Duveneck Elementary School were among those struck. Burglars broke into Duveneck three times in four weeks, according to police.

Two 18-year-olds, Alfredo Gonzalez and Nayely Castillo of East Palo Alto, were arrested for the Gunn break-in. Police sought seven others in connection with the July 25 burglary at Duveneck. Jaime Maldonado, 20, of Menlo Park, was arrested for the thefts. Six suspects from Menlo Park, Redwood City and Hayward were allegedly involved in the purchase of the stolen laptops, police announced on Dec. 1.

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On Feb. 10, nearly 15 months after Jennifer Schipsi's charred body was found in a burned Addison Avenue cottage, a jury convicted Schipsi's boyfriend, Bulos "Paul" Zumot, of strangling the 29-year-old real estate agent and setting their house on fire to cover up his crime.

The murder trial, which pitted Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham against celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, featured extensive cell-phone records, tearful testimony from Zumot and a transcript showing a heated exchange between Schipsi and Zumot on the morning of her death.

Zumot's tears and alibi ultimately proved unconvincing to the jury, which found the former hookah-shop owner guilty of first-degree murder and arson. He did not go out quietly. In October, as Zumot was receiving a sentence of 33 years to life, he accused the judge, the prosecutor and Palo Alto police of corruption and had to be removed from the courtroom.

Zumot filed an appeal of his conviction in November in California's Sixth Appellate District Court.

Another murderer, Otto Emil Koloto, tried to get his conviction overturned, but the 6th Appellate District Court denied his appeal on Nov. 22. Koloto had been convicted in March 2010 of first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting of 27-year-old Philip Lacy during a robbery outside Palo Alto City Hall.

Koloto was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He appealed on grounds that jurors were erroneously instructed. The trial court also should have discharged a juror for having a conversation with a prosecution witness during a trial recess, he argued in court papers.

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In East Palo Alto, the year started out promising for residents, who by June had seen a significant drop in violent crime that was part of a several-year trend, according to police.

Murders were down 75 percent, shootings were down 65 percent, and overall crime was down 10 percent from 2010.

But the community faced two devastating tragedies: 3-month-old infant Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia was shot to death on June 5, and 6-year-old Sioreli Torres Zamora, was struck and killed by a teacher's car while in a crosswalk on her way to school on Sept. 28.

Fabian Zaragoza, 17, of East Palo Alto, was arrested and faces murder and attempted-murder charges for killing Izack and shooting the boy's parents, who survived a barrage of bullets fired into their vehicle as they prepared to leave a party. Police said the shootings were a case of mistaken identity. Izack's 3-year-old brother was in the car but not injured.

In response to Izack's death, East Palo Alto police on June 17 announced a full attack against the Norteno and Sureno gangs. The department formed a coalition of county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies.

Sioreli's death prompted changes to the Bay Road and Gloria Way intersection where she was struck. The East Palo Alto City Council on Nov. 29 voted to add flashing LED signs and pavement markings. Sioreli was the second traffic fatality in less than three hours within a two-block area that day. Danny Lee Dixon, 50, was killed the same morning when a wrong-way driver who was fleeing from police struck Dixon's motorcycle head-on. Eric Banford, 46, of East Palo Alto, faces second-degree murder and other charges for Dixon's death.

East Palo Alto's murder rate rose to eight as of Dec. 14. Police blamed the majority of the killings on a trio of individuals who caused a homicide spike during the summer. At one point, there were five murders in two months. That pushed homicides up by 75 percent by Dec. 9.

The city went through periods of relative calm punctuated by clusters of shootings. Overall crime decreased by 4 percent by Dec. 9.

In a letter to the community, police Chief Ronald Davis expressed his disappointment, saying 2011 had been "a challenging year." But he pointed to the progress the city has made overall.

In 2005, there were 15 murders and 122 shootings -- a substantial difference compared to 7 murders and 31 shootings this year (as of Dec. 9), he said.

Shootings were down 15 percent; assaults were down 21 percent, and auto thefts dropped 33 percent, according to a police report. But robberies, burglaries and larcenies increased, in keeping with a trend seen in other local cities.

Davis said he expected further crime reductions in 2012, due in part to the city's efforts in the past year to develop a strategic expenditure plan for Measure C, a public-safety parcel tax.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by addition
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm

not to mention continuos harassment of certain citizens, by the police. people who are not criminals ,but are always profiled. but now ,even victor frost is being harassed. cops tolerate a lot from him, but now even white guys are being harassed,. good excuse to increase awareness of non important activities such as the huge waste of money on marijuana searches.free plants for everyone.


Like this comment
Posted by white collar
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Why does white collar crime in our city get swept under the rug? There were some huge frauds and thefts committed by local residents or against local businesses this year. The Mercury-News has much better coverage of Palo Alto white collar crime than the PA Weekly.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm

white collar, you're right. This publication, which has many great things about it, has a slant, imo, toward fear-inducing local-centric stories. If, for example, I didn't know how to read beyond this slant, I never would've stepped foot in EPA, where I've lived for many years.

There has been a lot of white collar crime, & given this economy, it helps us all to be aware of the goings on & the impacts on us. When I'd read & comment on the stories re Page Mill Properties & what they did here in EPA, to the banks they borrowed from & to local businesses, I was shocked that so many commenters only focused on the lower income EPA residents instead of the thugs in suits who lost hundreds of millions of dollars from loans & CalPERS. On top of that, I'd love to know how much money the principles - most of them locals - made off with. Heck, even after they deserted their EPA offices, they made off w/the rent monies of 1800 units when technically that money belonged to Wells Fargo. One of the head honchos of PMP is now on a local charity board. What the heck? That's just one complicated local story. But somehow, the focus is always on the lower income residents instead of the actual perpetrators of this debacle.

These white collar crimes leave us all footing the bill - which means that we get ripped off more than once. Yes, I know that street rime can be dramatic & dangerous, but I can't help but wonder if it's not a budget and/or bandwidth issues that these bigger financial white collar stories aren't being fully addressed.


Like this comment
Posted by Ernesto Villareal
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Vic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Good points all on the issue of white collar crimes, however the vast majority of those cases are investigated and prosecuted at the state and federal level. Although municipal police departments may be involved in those cases, their primary responsibility is to respond to and address the immediate activity that threatens public safety. That would certainly fall into the categories of robbery, sexual assaults, domestic violence, weapons offenses, crimes against children, etc. That is what local police departments are generally equipped, staffed, and trained to do. It is also the criminal activity that draws the majority of their resources, along with a myriad of property crimes and quality of life issues.

Being that this is an article about local street crime, I think our expectations of what local police agencies are capable of accomplishing should be tempered a bit. Especially since most agencies, including the Palo Alto force, is operating with 15-20% less officers than they staffed just a few years ago.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 29, 2011 at 11:52 pm

The point that we were making is that *lack* of solid stories from local publications on local white collar crime. I think in part it is due to the ease of reporting street crime, as well as budget issues & perhaps comfort zones of the local publications that make reporting street crime much more common than the reporting of white collar crime.

BTW, Ernesto, I flagged your comment. Your comment reminds me of the gang problems that were common in your area. The way you write reminds me of the violence that was more common in your neighborhood in the past. How sad.


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Posted by Vic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2011 at 1:20 am

The media's tendency to cover street crime at greater lengths is due to a much higher frequency rate, the immediate impact, violent nature of the crimes, and the obvious need to get the word out so people can be more aware. White collar crime can indeed have a major impact on people's lives, and those responsible should be prosecuted and held accountable. However, they are not going to be the criminals shooting and killing someone on the street for their car or wallet, or paralyzing neighborhoods with drugs and gang activity. For those reasons, it is paramount that municipal police department's priorities have to focus on street crimes.

As for the prior so-called "gang" activity that took place in our Ventura neighborhood, I'm afraid it paled in comparison to the widespread gang activity that has existed in East Palo Alto for many decades now. To suggest otherwise with all due respect sounds a bit silly. You only have to look at the apartment rental rates historically to figure that out. I can appreciate the efforts to deflect some of the criticism and issues that people have to cope with in East Palo Alto, but you have to keep it somewhat real.


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Posted by Show-Me-The-Numbers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2011 at 8:03 am

This Weekly article's headline claims that "crime is on the rise", and then provides no evidence of that fact--just a list of crimes that occurred this year in Palo Alto.

What about some real data .. like the property/violent crimes from last year compared to the year-to-date numbers? This would give us some idea of how much crime is trending in this community. The never-ending lack of transparency from the Palo Alto Police is clearly aided-and-abetted by the Weekly.

Maybe it's time to consider poor reporting as some sort of a "crime".


Like this comment
Posted by chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 30, 2011 at 11:11 am

chrisc is a registered user.

I agree with Show-Me-The-Numbers about wanting some statistics, graphs, or something showing the rise in crime that I'm quite sure is the case -- having lived here 30 years. However, I do not agree that the PA Weekly does a poor job of reporting. This is a free paper -- it's not the New York Times, which has its own set of problems with regard to unbiased reporting. The PA Weekly/Online reproters do a fantastic job and have won many awards for journalism. In my opinion, our PA Weekly/Online is way better than most free papers. (The film reviews are also as good if not better than Merc and Chronicle.)


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2011 at 11:13 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

Sorry, Vic- you didn't get what I meant - I apologize for not being clear. This was my point to Ernesto: that his comment reminded me of when his area had gang problems. I wasn't comparing his area to EPA at all. My point was that his violent comment was in line w/gang thinking & it reminded me of when there were gangs in the Ventura area (which there still are). In fact, some of the hotspots in that area are among owned homes & have been problematic for quite awhile. Stanford people I know new to the area often comment on it as well.

I'd be thrilled if this publication did an in-depth story of a local white collar crime so that readers would have a sense of how it all plays out, including the after affects on non-participants & innocent "bystanders".

I also don't deflect the points about problems in EPA - I point out other facts & other aspects of reality. It's naive to not acknowledge that the media slant is part of how EPA is viewed.

With the prison-gang connections, gang issues will just continue, and that includes not just gang on gang crime & street crimes against innocents, but also drug dealing to non-residents who use drugs. Outsiders still come to EPA to buy drugs so it's still a problem.

Given the current economy & the concentration of wealth in parts of the peninsula, I can't imagine street crime rates will go down any time soon, unfortunately. And speaking of unfortunate, I had to be at Stanford Shopping Center on Christmas Eve. As festive as it was, there was no sign of a poor economy. No wonder thieves are active there.


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