Updated at the bottom: Prosecutors allege the suspects cut Stow's tongue. A notably defensive Antonio Villaraigosa was unusually short on words at a press conference this hour with Chief Charlie Beck. First posted at 6:45 pm Thursday.
Looks like Giovanni Ramirez was right, and LAPD investigators were wrong: Police have been insisting they had jailed the right guy for the brutal beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow on Opening Day. But Ramirez, and his familial alibis, said he didn't even like baseball, and was nowhere near Dodger Stadium the night of the infamous attack.
Now, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Ramirez has been exonerated for good.
A “law enforcement source familiar with the case” tells reporters that two different men have been arrested for the crime, and that police “have concluded the suspect they took into custody in May was not responsible.”
Ever since the dramatic SWAT take-down of Ramirez and his East L.A. housemates in May, the case has unraveled into nothing more than a couple witnesses saying they recognized the suspect from that night. Police also found it suspicious that Ramirez, a parolee, inked a whole bunch of new tattoos on his neck directly after the Stow suspects were sketched and mounted on billboards throughout the city.
From a June 3 LA Weekly post:
It was widely speculated on TV news yesterday that Ramirez passed two lie detector tests that he volunteered to take — one for his attorneys and one for the LAPD. But no one has confirmed that.
His lawyers say the Varrio Nuevo Estrada gang member who's reportedly wanted in Nevada for an attempted murder was taking care of his 10-year-old daughter at her home during the time of the game.
Cops have indicated that witnesses fingered the 31-year-old in a lineup, and his looks include some similarities to a police artist's sketch of one of three suspects wanted for the beating that put Stow in a coma.
But realistically, how many random Cholos throughout Los Angeles could be matched to these composites:
As soon as the Times broke the news of the new arrests, KNX news radio called up Ramirez' attorney, Anthony Brooklier, who had only gotten wind moments before. Ramirez, who's serving time for violating parole, is still in the dark, for all his attorney knows.
Brooklier couldn't help but act smug: He had been insisting his client was innocent all along. But that's what lawyers do — even for indisputable serial killers — and, on the other end, the LAPD is forced to maintain a united front of absolute confidence.
On May 26, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Ramirez “is, and was, and has been, our primary suspect,” and that he, as chief of police, was personally “as sure as you need to be” of Ramirez' guilt.
However, sometimes the want for a big heroic arrest and happy return to peace overshadows a slow, judicial process — especially in high-profile cases like this one.
The investigation was quietly, finally, transferred to the department's Robbery-Homicide Division in June. The Weekly was told up to 15 detectives were working the case full time, but they'd never admit it directly.
And this latest development won't do anything to ease suspicion in response to similarly sudden LAPD revelations of the future, in which no real clues are revealed to support their public reassurances. Perhaps so as not to cloud the investigation, but also perhaps because the clues are cloudy themselves.
Update No. 1: Whose idea was it to hold the riveting televised press conference that went global on May 22 at Dodger Stadium in which Beck claimed the LAPD had its man?
As numerous City Hall insiders began pointing out within hours of the dual arrests of two new suspects, the highly staged and unusual press conference had all the trappings of a Villaraigosa photo op — and was out of character for Beck. The mayor stood within a foot or two of Beck, looking severe and worried on camera.
Now, Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff Matt Szabo is publicly declaring that the mayor's office wants answers about how the events of the past two months unfolded.
But Szabo himself — a former press secretary whose background is in PR and political campaigns — is frequently criticized for over-promoting and over-dramatizing events at City Hall in order to keep Villaraigosa in camera shots and in the news.
Although Villaraigosa began praising LAPD in the last few hours, Szabo was declaring to the Los Angeles Times “Obviously, we're going to need to get an explanation.”
LAPD watchers today are suggesting that the public will also begin asking Villaraigosa and Szabo for an explanation of their actions leading up to May 22. The key question being: was Beck forced into a corner for political gain?
Update No. 2: Louie Sanchez, 29, and Marvin Norwood, 30 are the new, suspected Stow beaters, according to City News Service. CNS cites the Times in reporting that 31-year-old Dorene Sanchez, sister of Louie and partner of Norwood, apparently, was also collared — on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact.
Reports originally indicated the alleged beaters fled with the help of a female getaway driver.
The men were jailed in lieu of half a million bail. Cops recommended “suspicion of committing mayhem” charges.
Update No. 3: TMZ has learned that two of the new suspects are known bad guys. Norwood was arrested in San Bernardino County five times and was convicted of spousal abuse and DUI and drug charges.
Sanchez has been arrested nine times in San Bernardino County, and was convicted on spousal abuse and firearms violations. He has been arrested by three police departments in three cities, TMZ says.
Update No. 4: At a news conference today Ramirez's mom chimed in. And if you ask us it sounds like she's priming the media for a possible lawsuit against the LAPD.
Here's what Soledad Gonzalez said, in part:
That was very (upsetting) for me and stressful especially in the kind of job that I have that people, customers and coworkers would point to me, `Oh that's the mother of Giovanni Ramirez, oh yes,' you know?' So I got very depressed but I thought I believe in God and I said well I know my son is innocent.
I got very upset because they (police) did something wrong. If you don't have any proof, why did you put the picture of him in public and say, `He is the suspect. He is the first primary suspect?' No. That's wrong. There is a big, big mistake they made.
Update No. 5: Luis Carrillo, an attorney known for suing the LAPD, often on behalf of Latino clients, tells the Weekly Ramirez might have a case if wants to take the department to civil court.
“In my opinion this was another example of an LAPD rush to judgment,” he says, “which happens too often here unfortunately.”
“As far as a civil suit I don't know enough facts. But he may have a civil suit for the initial part, where he was held without charges when there really was no probable cause to arrest him for the beating of the Giants fan.”
Carrillo says it would be a “tricky” case, however, because Ramirez was on parole and quickly “violated” back to jail when officers found a gun in a home where he was staying. While that might have been a weak case for a prosecutor — Ramirez says it wasn't his gun, and it wasn't his place — parole officers don't have a high burden of proof.
But another opening for a possible civil case might surround Chief Beck's words. He announced to the world in May that Ramirez “is and was and has been our primary suspect.''
“I'm as sure as you need to be,” he said.
If he's already slam dunking, saying he's guilty, that might be defamation because he's accusing him of a serious crime that was not proven.
Was Ramirez profiled because he looks like a typical cholo?
“There's elements of racial profiling here,” Carrillo says. “Because he's Latino, because he's an alleged gang member, because he has a criminal record, it must be him.”
“Round up the usual suspects.”
Update No. 6: Beck and Villaraigosa held a press conference moments ago that drastically contrasted with the one in May. No photos of the two suspects were displayed, as Villaraigosa and Beck chose to do at the first incorrect announcement two months ago that they'd arrested the right man.
Beck asked the media not to publish photos of the two new suspects in order to protect the ongoing investigation, and said that the new case “cannot be tried in the press.”
He said District Attorney Steve Cooley has already filed charges — another dramatic contrast to two months ago — and that LAPD detectives had interviewed some 850 people.
Beck also alluded to, but did not directly address, the criticism that City Hall and the LAPD had embarrassingly jumped the gun with a splashy press conference in May.
Today's press conference announcing the exoneration of Ramirez “is about character, this is about the character of this police department even when it reflects badly on us to do the right thing,” Beck said.
Beck also said that arresting a suspect requires a significantly lower burden of proof than prosecuting one, and that the burden of proof was met in the initial arrest of Ramirez.
Just as Beck was explaining that he did not intend to give out any details of the new case, Villaraigosa abruptly broke in on the chief. Villaraigosa sounded strained and defensive, declaring that he had tried to be transparent and open about the Bryan Stow case.
“Let me be absolutely clear, we said then that the investigation was ongoing, and we continued to follow every lead,” Villaraigosa said.
Villaraigosa did not respond to criticism that he and Beck jumped the gun. Instead, Villaraigosa, looking grim, argued, “The process worked. One individual has been exonerated.”
The mayor concluded somewhat abruptly.
He praised the LAPD for putting “their heart, their sweat into this effort. Every single one of us were appalled by happened to Bryan Stow.” Then he announced he would take no more questions in English and switched to the Spanish-language media.
Update No. 8: In the criminal complaint against the two male suspects accused of mayhem in the Stow case, prosecutors alleged they “did cut and disable the tongue, and put out an eye and slit [Stow's] nose, ear and lip.”
Meanwhile Dorene Sanchez was released on $50,000 bail Friday and was scheduled to appear in court Aug. 19.
-With reporting and writing from Jill Stewart and Dennis Romero. City News Service copy contributed to this story.