East County Branch

2016 Staffing
Support Staff49

The District Attorney’s East County branch is located in the City of El Cajon. The branch serves more than 20 communities and covers more than 2,000 square miles. Deputy District Attorney Michele Linley serves as the Division Chief, with Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez serving as Assistant Chief. In 2016, the branch reviewed cases on 2,877 felony defendants and 9,031 misdemeanor defendants. Deputy DAs took 58 felony and 69 misdemeanor defendants to trial, including those tried by the branch’s Gangs, Narcotics, Sex Crimes, Economic Crimes and Family Protection Divisions. Approximately 94 percent of all cases were settled prior to trial, providing a significant cost savings to the public without sacrificing public safety.

1338Because of its location and proximity to Native American reservations and casinos located in East County, the branch often handles cases involving crimes committed on the reservations or arising from casino activities. Our cooperation and partnership with the tribes, their tribal councils, tribal law enforcement, and the Sheriff’s Department has enabled us to successfully investigate and prosecute these cases resulting in increased public safety on the reservations and in the casinos.

Deputy DA’s in the East County branch prosecute a wide variety of felony cases, including homicide, sexual assault, child molestation, property and financial crime, drug offenses and DUI cases. There are specialty units within the branch that exclusively handle domestic violence, gang, narcotics and economic crimes cases. The branch also deals with cases involving drug smuggling across the international border into San Diego County, including large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine coming from Mexico.

Noteworthy cases include:

People v. Mohammed Agab
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Aguilar prosecuted Mohammed Agab, who stabbed his mother to death and attempted to kill his 15-year-old brother. The defendant, who was angry with his mother, waited for her to fall asleep before stabbing her 13 times. His younger brother heard their mother scream and came out of his room, at which point Agab stabbed him several times. The defendant fled from the residence, ditched the knife, and returned to the scene to tell police that the residence had been burglarized. Agab was convicted of first-degree murder and premeditated attempted murder, with a weapon allegation, and an allegation of great bodily injury. He was sentenced to 30 years-to-life in prison.

People v. Darius Watkins
Deputy District Attorney Will Watkins prosecuted Darius Watkins who followed the victim home after an altercation at McDonald’s, and intentionally hit him with his car, causing fatal injuries. The defendant abandoned his car near the scene, and fled. He was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 16 years-to-life in prison.

People v. D’Mare Franklin
Deputy District Attorney Valerie Ryan prosecuted D’Mare Franklin, who fired a gun at a passenger in a vehicle. The defendant and the victim got into a verbal altercation at a La Mesa bar that continued into the parking lot. The victim and his companion left and the defendant chased after the vehicle and fired ten rounds. The vehicle was struck once, but fortunately, no one was injured. The defendant was convicted of premeditated attempted murder, with an allegation that he personally used a firearm. He was sentenced to 20 years-to-life in state prison.

People v. Jonathon Cohen
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Aguilar prosecuted Jonathon Cohen, a serial arsonist, who was set five wildfires in San Diego County. Cal Fire had been investigating this defendant for years, but never located any ignition devices, and no one ever saw the defendant setting a fire. Through circumstantial evidence placing Cohen in the area of each of the fires, investigators were eventually able to connect the defendant to the crimes. It was a difficult case, with a substantial amount of surveillance data relating to the defendant’s location at various times. DDA Aguilar received a Partnership Award from Cal Fire, recognizing his dedication to the investigation and prosecution of a dangerous arsonist.

People v. Sarah Baillee, Tyler Dare, Brian Kish, Cassidy Rowin and Danny Swan
Deputy District Attorneys George Modlin and Elizabeth Renner prosecuted five defendants who assaulted two homeless men on a bicycle path in Santee where the defendants had been drinking. One of the victims suffered a skull fracture and died at the scene and the victim survived his injuries. Four of the defendants pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and one pleaded guilty to assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury. Their sentences ranged from three years to 13 years and eight months in state prison.

North County Branch

2016 Staffing
Support Staff
(Including student workers, victim, advocates, process servers, GLC)

3008The North County Branch of the District Attorney’s Office serves about one third of San Diego County’s population – about one million residents. Ten law enforcement agencies, including five sheriff’s substations, submit crime reports to the North County Branch, for prosecution. In 2016, the branch reviewed over 4,000 felony cases and more than 11,000 misdemeanor cases submitted for criminal prosecution. There are currently 14 active homicide cases.

Noteworthy cases include:

People v. Katherine Ann Heinzel
A former CHP officer, who was driving 90 miles per hour at 2:00 a.m. on Interstate 15, crashed into the car in front of her carrying three passengers. One passenger was killed two others were seriously injured. Heinzel’s blood alcohol level was .12, two hours after the accident. Both vehicles flew off of the freeway and down into a ravine. One of the injured young men came to the defendants’ aid and helped her escape her vehicle just prior to it exploding. In order to get someone to stop, the young man threw a tire onto the freeway to get attention. The other surviving victim was flown to the hospital. In the meantime, the defendant tried to leave the scene. Deputy District Attorneys Aimee McLeod and Jared Coleman presented the case to the jury, obtaining guilty verdicts on all three counts along with true findings on the allegations. The defendant was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison.

People v. Dennis Lam
Defendant Dennis Lam pulled a gun on Target security after he was caught shoplifting. One loss prevention officer ran away when Lam pointed the gun in his direction and shot. At the same time, the other security guard put the defendant into a bear hug and the defendant shot another round before escaping in a black BMW with a female companion. Target security recognized the car from a previous fraudulent transaction two days earlier. After a review of store surveillance footage, the car’s license plate and registered owner is identified as the defendant.

Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe presented the case to a jury, who found Lam guilty of robbery and assault with a firearm. They also found true the allegation that the defendant personally used a firearm in the commission of a robbery.

South Bay Branch

2016 Staffing
Support Staff37

The South Bay Branch of the District Attorney’s Office is located in the City of Chula Vista. It serves the southern portion of San Diego County, prosecuting all misdemeanors and felonies that occur in Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, Bonita, San Ysidro and Coronado. In 2016, the South Bay Branch was led by branch Chief Rachel Cano and Assistant Chief Carlos Varela. Currently, the Chief is Dwain Woodley. The branch includes Deputy District Attorneys from the Gangs, Family Protection, Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking, and the Narcotics divisions. In 2016, the South Bay branch handled approximately 3,876 felony cases and 6,219 misdemeanor cases. Deputy District Attorneys took 48 felony cases and 52 misdemeanor cases to jury trial.

1032The South Bay branch prosecutes handles cases specific to crime in border cities because of its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border. The branch works with the Department of Homeland Security to prosecute cases involving drug smuggling, identity theft and stolen vehicles that occur at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The branch also prosecutes cases from R. J. Donovan State Prison and the county detention facilities in East Mesa. Chris Blaylock, an experienced prosecutor, handled these cases in 2016. As part of an office wide initiative to combat human trafficking, South Bay prosecutors organized panel discussions and trainings on this topic.

The South Bay branch is also heavily involved in the community, which it does through educating youth in the Sweetwater Unified School District. Programs such as the Open Doors to Justice, help South Bay middle and high schools students learn about the criminal justice system. The students meet and learn from attorneys, judges, court staff, and participate in mock court hearings.

Noteworthy cases in 2016 include:

People v. Dibble
In September 2013, defendant John Dibble checked into a motel in Chula Vista. He was asked to leave as a result of a complaint by another motel guest. Determined to get revenge, Dibble went to a nearby gas station to fill beer bottles with gasoline to make Molotov cocktails. He was later seen trying to remove a screen door to a window occupied by the victims. They noticed Dibble had tied a cable around the hotel room door handle and connected it to other door handles of nearby motel rooms, which would have prevented them from being able to open the doors. The defendant had the Molotov cocktails in his pants pockets when contacted by police. The defendant was prosecuted by Deputy DA Ryan Karkenny and was found guilty of three counts of attempted murder. Dibble was sentenced to 42 years-to-life in prison.

People v. Vasquez
In this case, a family of five was staying in a hotel room in San Ysidro in August 2015. At midnight, they heard loud pounding at their door and they saw defendant Henry J. Vasquez trying to break into their hotel room. One of the victims called the hotel manager, who chased the defendant off the premises. The defendant returned and pulled a picket from an outside fence and used it to shatter the front window of the victim’s hotel room. The family hid in the bathroom of the hotel room. The defendant entered the room and began kicking the bathroom door. He yelled “open the door or someone is going to die!” Vasquez kicked a hole in the bathroom door and reached into the bathroom with his hand. One of the victims struck the victim’s hand with a shower pole and the defendant left the room and damaged vehicles in the parking lot until he was arrested by police. Deputy District Attorney Victor Ou successfully prosecuted this case and the Vasquez was convicted of residential burglary and vandalism. He was sentenced to 41 years-to-life in prison.

People v. Orozco
In August 2015, the defendant and the victim gathered with other friends at the victim’s house. Defendant Saul Orozco began to argue with the victim and stabbed him with a kitchen knife. The victim ran away and yelled for help, but Orozco gave chase into a neighbor’s residence, where he continued to stab and kill the victim. Deputy District Attorney Kristina Gill prosecuted this case, obtaining a murder conviction. Orozco is awaiting sentencing.

People v. Philpott
In December 2015, two victims were sitting inside a car in a Chula Vista parking lot. The defendant approached the car and fired three shots into it from about four feet away. The bullets recovered at the crime scene belonged to a revolver recovered at defendant Lonnie Philpott’s residence. Deputy District Attorney Casey French prosecuted this case and obtained an attempted murder conviction. Philpott is scheduled to be sentenced.

People v. Venegas & Antar
Between August 2012 and July 2013, the defendants were involved in a series of 48 residential burglaries throughout San Diego County. Deputy District Attorney Victor Ou pieced together the evidence developed by Investigators. The evidence presented at trial included 300 witnesses and detailed cell phone activity for each of the defendants during every one of the residential burglaries. As a result of the successful prosecution, Miguel Venegas was sentenced to 1,540 years in prison and Sami Antar was sentenced to 22 years in prison.