In what police describe as a turning point in East Palo Alto's crime-solving efforts, the department on Friday, Nov. 6, announced the arrest of one man and a warrant for another in connection with two separate homicides.
Police Chief Albert Pardini at a press conference identified the men as Antonio Sotelo-Moreno, 25, of East Palo Alto, and Warren Morrison Jr., 23, of Stockton.
Pardini was flanked by Don O'Keefe of the U.S. Marshal Service, Northern District of California; John Warren, chief inspector for the San Mateo County District Attorney's office; East Palo Alto Criminal Investigations Division Commander Jerry Alcarez; and East Palo Alto Operations Bureau Commander Jeff Liu.
Sotelo-Moreno was arrested in Apatzingan, Michoacan, Mexico, on Oct. 30, for the Aug. 17, 2014, shooting of four people near Purdue Street at around 11:35 p.m. Police found the four victims while investigating an alert from the city's ShotSpotter gunfire detection system.
Two 18-year-old Hispanic men and a 20-year-old Hispanic woman were transported to Stanford Hospital with non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. The fourth victim, 18-year-old Nazario Barajas, died at the scene.
Police arrested one suspect, Herson Cruz, 23, of Menlo Park, on Dec. 29, 2014, after a lengthy investigation by the East Palo Alto Criminal Investigations Division and the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. Cruz was picked up after an off-duty officer saw him at Starbucks in East Palo Alto, Pardini said.
Sotelo-Moreno evaded police, fleeing to Mexico shortly after the crimes. Police enlisted assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service to locate and arrest Sotelo-Moreno. Mexican authorities apprehended him acting on information from the U.S. Marshals Service Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force. Liu said little information can be released regarding the case at this time, but the case appears gang-related.
A U.S. citizen, Sotelo-Moreno was quickly transported back to the Bay Area on Nov. 4 and booked into the San Mateo County Jail. He faces one count of homicide, three counts of attempted homicide, and one count each of negligent discharge of a firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to appear in San Mateo County Superior Court on Nov. 12, Pardini said.
O'Keefe said the U.S. Marshals has worked with the city before, and it continues to work closely with East Palo Alto on select cases.
In Morrison's case, police and the DA's office identified the Stockton resident as being connected with the Oct. 25, 2015, death of Jarmal Magee, 31, an East Palo Alto resident, who was gunned down at approximately 9:30 p.m. Police responded to the 300 block of Wisteria Drive after receiving numerous 911 calls reporting multiple gunshots followed by someone screaming.
Officers found Magee suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was treated at the scene and transported to a local hospital, where he died. Police and the DA's office identified Morrison, who allegedly had an argument with Magee sometime prior to the shooting. There is no evidence that the incident was gang-related, Alcarez said. Police are still seeking witnesses.
A $5 million warrant is out for Morrison's arrest. He has not yet been located, police said, but he is believed to still be somewhere in the community.
"He is considered to be armed and dangerous. Do not approach this individual," Pardini said. Anyone who sees Morrison should call 911 or the police dispatch center at 650-321-1112.
These two cases represent a new chapter for East Palo Alto's law enforcement and highlight how police can successfully bring serious and violent crime cases to a close with the community's help, Pardini said. Residents' willingness to come forward enabled investigators to identify the alleged killers.
The arrest marks a turning point, Alcarez said.
"I think the community is tired of burying these young men."
Pardini said the most significant change since he began leading the department a year ago has been outreach to the community. He walks the precincts with his officers twice a week, and people are now approaching them with tips about crimes. As a result, calls to dispatch are up 4.5 percent in the past six months, Pardini said.
And "calls to the tip line are now up 70 percent," he added.
The "snitch mentality," in which people felt that talking to the police was a violation of the code or to be feared, is being broken down thanks to outreach and because people are tired of crime, he said. Victims and witnesses understand they will be protected through the Witness Protection Program, he added.
The department is also assessing 20 cold cases. Pardini has hired a part-time cold-case investigator, Michael Stasko, who led a 30-person homicide detail for the San Francisco Police Department. Stasko's position is being funded through a grant that will expire at the end of the fiscal year, but the department will keep looking for other sources of funding.
East Palo Alto has had four homicides so far this year compared to five for all of 2014, Pardini said. One of the four cases, the one involving Morrison, has been concluded; the other three are still actively being investigated, he said.
Between 2009-2013, the city experienced 35 homicides. It has solved 12 of them, or 34.3 percent, he said.
The department has 36 sworn-officer positions, including Pardini's, with three still unfilled. Staff for those positions are in the process of being trained. He expects to reinstitute specialized divisions, such as traffic and gangs, sometime in the spring.
At quarterly town hall meetings, the department conducts a PowerPoint presentation to educate parents on how to keep their kids out of gangs. Liu said that has led to several arrests. In one case, three juveniles involved in bullying were arrested for various other crimes, including burglary and carjacking.
The department is encouraging the community to continue to help them solve crimes. Anyone with information regarding these or other cases or with information regarding Morrison's whereabouts is asked to contact the department at 650-321-1112, anonymously by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by text or voicemail to 650-409-6792.