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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Latino Cop Killed by Cops, Family Wants Answers

1-31-2012 California:

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – A Latino police killed by a fellow police officer while on duty is being denied a police funeral. Many police officers also have not been wearing the black band over their badge customary when a police officer is killed.

Albert Covarrubias Jr., who was at the end of his shift at a DUI check point, was under investigation for having sex with a 17-year-old girl. The 29-year-old was killed by a fellow officer, who happened to be his best friend on the force and best man at his wedding, after he resisted arrest.

Police have disclosed few details about the Covarrubias case, leaving residents to wonder why police felt compelled to make the arrest while the four-year veteran was on duty and how it could have ended with a bullet in the officer's chest.

Covarrubias' family wants answers, too.

"What happened to procedure?" asked his father, Alberto Covarrubias Sr. "Why did they go to arrest him in the field? If it was so urgent why didn't they just say there was a family emergency and he had to come to the station?"

Chief Danny R. Macagni did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, nor did City Manager Rick Hayden or City Attorney Gilbert Trujillo.

At a news conference the day after the shooting, neither Macagni nor his top deputies were wearing the black bands across their badges that are customary after an officer is killed.

"Events unfolded very rapidly," he said. "It was very clear to the investigators that he knew what was going to happen. I cannot divulge why we know that. The information that we had we knew we could not let him get in the car and drive somewhere.

"But we did not expect him to react the way he did," he added.

Covarrubias, a 2000 graduate of Santa Maria High School, always wanted to be a cop. His classmates said he was a funny and charming guy. He had recently remarried — a woman with whom his father said "he just clicked" — 13 months after his first wife committed suicide during their divorce proceedings.

He once was heralded as employee of the month in the department of 105 for nabbing an ATM robber, his father said. Last fall, he was named to the motorcycle unit. "My son was proud to be a cop," he said. "He was a good cop. Now they're dragging his name through the mud."

Everyone has the same question: Why did police try to arrest Covarrubias while he was armed with his service pistol and aware about the investigation?

"I'm concerned about what's happening and it goes beyond the shooting of an officer. It reflects on the management of the police department," said Toru Miyoshi, who formerly served on both the city council and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

"They could have waited for a more controlled situation. A DUI checkpoint does not just put the accused at risk but it puts the public at risk as well," Miyoshi said.

It's unclear for how long Covarrubias and the girl carried on a sexual relationship, but she confided to an adult described as a "mother figure" on Thursday — Covarrubias' birthday — that the two "were dating." The woman called police, the retired officers said. The girl is reportedly a member of the department's Police Explorer program for young people interested in law enforcement careers.

Police decided to set up a sting to arrest Covarrubias on sexual misconduct charges. In California, the age of consent is 18 unless the two people are within three years of each other in age.

Before the DUI checkpoint started, the lieutenant in charge was told that the Explorer Scout was going to be called away to do a "pretext call," the name for setup calls designed to get suspects to confess with investigators listening in, both retired officers said.

For reasons unknown, the commanding officer told all of the officers at the checkpoint, including Covarrubias, that the girl would be called away for an investigation, they said.

The officers, who have more than six decades of experience between them, independently described what happened that night.

Covarrubias panicked when he heard the commanding officer's announcement about the pretext call, the officers said. He texted the girl, asking if she had spoken to investigators.

Investigators proceeded with their plan, sending the "mother figure" to fetch the girl and tell her there was a family emergency. Covarrubias saw the girl leave and became frantic.

"As soon as she gets pulled out he starts texting her again," said one of the retired officers. "He started texting stuff like 'I'm not going to jail' and 'I'd rather kill myself' and that type of stuff."

Soon the girl called Covarrubias' cell phone and, though he knew she was part of an investigation, he acknowledged their sexual relationship, the former officers said. After hanging up he sent a text saying that he hoped the call wasn't set up by the department.

Sometime around 1 a.m., two sergeants — one of them the officer's cousin — arrived to take Covarrubias into custody.

Covarrubias backed up and, according to police, tried to draw his gun as the sergeants wrestled him to the ground. Police at the scene told the retired officers that Covarrubias fired four times, but not at anything or anyone.

Then, he pointed his pistol at his best man, Officer Matt Kline, the retired officers said. Kline fired his weapon, fatally wounding his friend.

Santa Maria, nestled between oak-studded hills and cooled by the Pacific 10 miles away, is a mixture of 1950s California and the kind of stucco-clad, cookie-cutter development seen elsewhere. Over the years, Latinos have increasingly moved in.

It's easy to see their influence — they now comprise 70 percent of the city's 100,000 residents. A new drug store sits around the corner from Clinicas Naturistas. And a throw-back hamburger stand on the main drag serves menudo, a Mexican stew, on weekends.

Killings are uncommon; the city averages less than a half-dozen homicides a year, mostly gang-related. But the recent spate of violence has some city officials worried.

"We're in tough times trying to get business and people to settle here," said Mike Cordero, a City Council member who served 30 years on the Santa Maria police force.

The department denied Covarrubias a police funeral, said his father, who then opted not to bury his son in the uniform he loved.

"What happened to the brotherhood?" the father asked. "This is all stewing inside of me. I should have my son here, not be planning his funeral." ..Source.. by FoxNews


SMPD officer suspected of sex crimes shot dead by colleagues after resisting arrest

1-29-2012 California:

‘The definition of a sad day’

In what Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni called “the definition of a sad day,” an on-duty police officer accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl was shot and killed early Saturday morning by a fellow Santa Maria policeman.

The shooting erupted after two of the dead officer’s colleagues tried to arrest him. The accused officer allegedly resisted arrest and fired his handgun, prompting another officer to return the fatal shot.

The officer who was killed was a four-year member of the Santa Maria Police Department with no major disciplinary issues during his tenure, Macagni said during a press conference Saturday afternoon at the Santa Maria Police Station.

“We aggressively investigated this as quickly as we could,” Macagni said. “Who would ever have expected this type of outcome?”

The deadly shooting occurred about 1:20 a.m. Saturday at McElhaney Avenue and Broadway as police were breaking down a DUI checkpoint they had conducted since Friday evening.

Police supervisors were sent to arrest the officer, who was working at the DUI checkpoint, but he put up a physical fight, Macagni said, and a scuffle ensued.

“He chose to resist, to remove his weapon ... and fire his weapon,” the chief said.

Other officers, including the policeman who fired the fatal shot, came to the aid of the two supervisors making the arrest, Macagni said.

The accused officer was shot once in the chest and was taken to Marian Medical Center for emergency surgery, where he died. No one else was injured.

The police chief did not release the name of either officer involved because family members were still being notified, but he said that information will eventually be made public.

The officer who fired the fatal shot was an eight- or nine-year veteran, Macagni said. As is routine in police-involved shootings, that officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of internal and external investigations.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the shooting.

About seven officers were on scene clearing up the checkpoint when the shooting happened, and there was very little traffic in the area at the time.

Police were made aware Thursday of some minor misconduct on the part of the accused officer, Macagni said, but explained it wasn’t even serious enough to suspend the officer. Instead, police initiated an investigation, and then the new information came to light.

According to Macagni, information surfaced shortly before the shooting that necessitated the immediate arrest of the officer who was suspected of having an illegal sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

“It was not only compelling, it was egregious and needed to be dealt with immediately,” the police chief said.

“There is some witness intimidation involved,” Macagni added, but declined to reveal further details about the alleged crimes.

It’s devastating when police officers must take any life, Macagni said. While Saturday was a tragic day for law enforcement, he said, illegal activity on the part of public servants can’t be tolerated.

“My officers don’t take that lightly. I don’t take that lightly. It’s tragic anytime it happens.”

He said that while typically the Santa Maria department might call in another agency to handle the arrest of one of its own, it was urgent that the accused officer be arrested immediately to preserve public safety.

“Who do you call at 1 a.m.?” he asked.

“If you violate the law, I don’t care if you’re wearing a uniform or not,” he said. “The protocol is, as soon as you identify enough information to proceed with a criminal investigation, a criminal arrest, you do so.”

The accused officer won’t be honored the way a fallen member of law enforcement usually is, Macagni said, because “that would be totally hypocritical on my part.”

Late Saturday morning, Broadway remained cordoned off with yellow police tape in the area of the shooting.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department knelt down in a patch of grass outside a stretch of businesses, gathering physical evidence. Several police officers stood watch.

Curious bystanders stood close to the tape, gazing at the scene.

By Saturday night, a small memorial made of a balloon and religious candle had been placed in the area as vehicles once again drove along Broadway.

Drew Sugars, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said the agency conducts investigations for other law enforcement departments when it is asked to do so.

He said that while he had no comment right now on the incident, the Sheriff’s Department will eventually submit its findings to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Saturday’s shooting has struck a nerve with many in the community, including Santa Maria resident Pedro Reyes.

Reyes, vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group, showed up to the press conference Saturday afternoon to express his concern about the safety of Santa Maria residents.

After the conference, Reyes said he finds it troublesome that a police officer entrusted with public safety was committing crimes.

“At the end of the day, they are a liability to the city,” he said.

In addition, he wondered if the accused officer’s life could have been spared with other arrest tactics.

“How well trained are they to respond to these crises?” Reyes asked.

Santa Maria has recently been the site of numerous officer-involved shootings.

On May 4, Santa Maria police fired at Andrew Wittke, striking him once and wounding him, after he pointed a gun at them. He pleaded guilty in September to charges of brandishing a firearm at a person in a motor vehicle and exhibiting a gun in the presence of a police officer.

The county District Attorney’s Office determined that police used reasonable force.

In early December, Santa Maria police shot and killed 24-year-old Samyr Ceballos, a documented Santa Maria gang member, after Ceballos reportedly confronted them with a gun.

One officer suffered a hand wound and another was shot in the leg by bullets from other officers’ guns during the flurry of gunfire. Both are recovering, and that event remains under investigation. ..Source.. by Samantha Yale Scroggin


Grandfather questions details of incident

2-1-2012 California:

Family: Covarrubias dreamed of police career

Vicente R. Soto, grandfather of the Santa Maria police officer who was shot and killed over the weekend by a fellow officer, remembers his grandson not as a gun-wielding sex offender, but as a little boy riding with him in a truck towing hay bales.

Even then, the grandfather said in an interview Tuesday, Alberto Covarrubias Jr. had dreams of being a police officer.

Covarrubias, a four-year veteran of the Santa Maria Police Department, was fatally shot early Saturday morning by a fellow officer while supervising officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

He was on-duty and breaking down a DUI checkpoint at the intersection of East McElhaney Avenue and Broadway at about 1 a.m. when the incident occurred.

Soto continued, speaking in Spanish as his daughter, who asked not to be identified, translated.

The hay was too heavy, Soto said, so a California Highway Patrol officer pulled him over.

Young Alberto spoke to the officer.

"He said, ‘you know, I want to be a police officer like you'," Soto recalled.

The officer did not give Soto a ticket, and instead followed his truck home to ensure no hay fell out of the trailer.

"That was the beginning of when he wanted to be a police officer," Soto said.

Covarrubias's family has taken issue with the fact that he was arrested while on duty and in the public eye.

They want the community to hear about the man who was passionate about protecting the public as a police officer, and who loved his stepchildren and other family members.

"Because Albert was killed, he cannot defend himself," said Soto's daughter.

Covarrubias, 29, had recently become a motorcycle officer, according to family members.

He and Officer Matthew Kline, who has been widely reported but not officially confirmed as the officer who fired the shot that killed Covarrubias, were best friends, family members said.

Kline served as the best man in Covarrubias's recent wedding.

The marriage was his second, and he was a stepfather to his first wife's children, family members said. His first wife reportedly committed suicide during divorce proceedings.

Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni and other police administrators did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The department has said nothing publicly about the incident since a press conference Saturday, at which Macagni described the events leading up to Covarrubias's fatal shooting.

But family members say they don't have faith in Macagni's account.

"We don't know what's going on. We weren't there," the daughter said. Soto added, "his only witnesses are the police themselves."

Soto said he is especially devastated that his grandson was killed by his close friend, and dissolved into tears while talking about it.

"He says, how do you expect him to feel?" his daughter translated.

Soto said he urged Covarrubias not to be a police officer because the job was too dangerous, but his grandson responded that he wanted to do good work in the community.

"And he did. He was very well-respected," said Soto's daughter.

She said the family doesn't understand why police attempted to arrest Covarrubias while he was working, rather than calling him back to the station.

He would have complied if summoned to the station, the daughter said.

She said she doesn't know anything about Covarrubias's alleged relationship with the 17-year-old girl, adding "we've just been concentrating on what happened to him." ..Source.. by Samantha Yale

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