2017 Staffing
Support Staff9

The District Attorney’s Gangs Division prosecutes the most serious gang crimes committed in San Diego County. This division is a vertical prosecution unit which combines Deputy District Attorneys with District Attorney Investigators to handle the uncommon and dangerous issues that arise in gang prosecutions. Led by Division Chief Frank Jackson and Assistant Chief Robert Hickey, the division’s staff is some of the finest in the nation.

Gun-BulletsLast year, the Gangs Division continued to work with local, state, and federal law enforcement through numerous gang task forces. Some of San Diego’s most violent gangs have been crippled through prosecuting and imprisoning their most violent members on armed assaults, robberies, shootings, and murder convictions. As a result, San Diego gang homicide rates are below average for the last two decades and below that of most major metropolitan cities.

Another area of gang suppression is the Border Crimes Task Force, which was founded in 2009 through a federal grant. Along with federal and state law enforcement, the task force investigates and prosecutes violent crime including murders, kidnappings, robberies and drug trafficking associated with major Mexican drug cartels. This task force coordinates efforts of law enforcement and prosecution to effectively reduce the gang and cartel crime in San Diego.

While there are hundreds of success stories in this division, the ongoing seriousness of gang violence in San Diego is reflected by the kinds of cases and defendants prosecuted in 2017.

Major cases included:

People v. Luis Ruiz 
An innocent victim was walking to a bus stop in the South Bay area when gang member Luis Ruiz approached him issuing gang challenges, asked for money, then punched the victim. The victim ran away but came back with two friends to challenge Ruiz for what he had done. Ruiz immediately shot the first victim, who survived, and shot and killed a second victim. Only an hour later, Ruiz hid in bushes before jumping out to get a young woman’s attention. When she turned to see what he wanted, Ruiz shot her in the chest several times at close range, killing her. Deputy District Attorney Matthew Williams convicted Ruiz, who pleaded guilty to both murders and the attempted murder, and received a sentence of two terms of life without the possibility of parole.

People v. Dionte Simpson
Defendant Dionte Simpson was a leader in a gang violence retaliation killing in the City of San Diego. Just days after one of Simpson’s fellow gang members was murdered, he and three gang members set out hunting for rivals to shot and kill. Finding a rival, the group opened fire, shot the victim numerous times, bringing him to the ground. Simpson exited the car with an AK-47, and executed the wounded man at point blank range. Simpson’s case went to a jury trial after his three companions pleaded guilty. Deputy District Attorney Chris Lawson convicted Simpson of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder with gang and gun allegations. He was sentenced to 50 years-to-life in prison.

Operation Emero
Deputy District Attorneys Sophia Roach and Kristie Nikoletich led a multi-agency wiretap operation, investigating a notorious prison gang’s influence in the streets of East County and South Bay. Incarcerated prison gang members were using facility phones, email, mail and contraband cell phones to communicate with associates that were tasked with extorting victims and selling drugs to collect money on behalf of incarcerated members. This investigation involved thousands of recorded conversations and voluminous written communication detailing the gang’s operations and criminal activities. To date, 17of 19 charged gang members and associates have pleaded guilty to felony crimes committed on the streets on behalf of the prison gang.

People v. Jose Sarmiento
North County gang member Jose Sarmiento was out for revenge against an Escondido man for failing to deliver a gun after Sarmiento had given him cash. He found his target walking down the street with a friend. Sarmiento opened fire at both men, shooting ten times from only 20 feet away. Both victims were hit with multiple gunshots and one died from his wounds. At trial, Deputy District Attorney Ted Minahan convicted Sarmiento of murder and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

People v. Orlandous Jackett
In retaliation for a perceived disrespect from a rival, San Diego gang member, Orlandous Jackett, went hunting in rival territory where he came upon the victim, a teenager who was innocently wearing a red Chicago Bulls hat and red shorts. Jackett fired at least six shots and hit the victim five times, leaving him dead. During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Chris Lawson convicted Jackett for the senseless murder, including gang and gun allegations. Jackett was sentenced to multiple life terms in prison.

People v. Juan Garcia
While an innocent father was parked outside a public library waiting to pick-up his young daughter in the City of San Diego, he noticed Juan Garcia arguing with a woman. Garcia saw that the victim was on the phone and, presumably thinking he was calling the police, ran towards him yelling and brandishing a large knife. Garcia reached into the car and stabbed the victim in the leg, forcing him out of the car. Once the victim was out the door, Garcia stole his car. Deputy District Attorney John Dunlap tried the case before a jury and obtained a conviction for carjacking, assault with a deadly weapon and allegations for prior acts of violence. Garcia was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

People v. Ryan Valdez, Tyler Dean and Kevin Garcia
Ryan Valdez, Tyler Dean and Kevin Garcia are members of a Fallbrook gang that defines itself largely as a racist gang with a hate for African-Americans. All three gang members beat, stabbed and killed the victim for no other reason than that he was African-American. They stabbed the victim, who was in Fallbrook visiting family, more than ten times. Following a trial in Vista, DDA Christine Bannon convicted the three defendants of murder and gang allegations. Valdez, Dean and Garcia all face life in prison.

People v. Vincent Pederson
Vincent Pederson had a dispute with a Lakeside neo-Nazi over theft of motorcycles and related back and forth threats. Pederson went to the victim’s home and challenged him with a firearm. The belligerent victim yelled, “Go ahead and shoot!” Pederson fired once into his chest, killing him. Deputy District Attorney Kristian Trocha tried and convicted Pederson before a jury in El Cajon and he now faces 40 years-to-life in prison.