37-year-old Luis Mendez was sentenced to 15 years in state prison for beating up his girlfriend who is eight-months pregnant. Mendez was found guilty by a jury of Corporal Injury to Spouse/Cohabitant/Child’s Parent, Assault By Means Likely to Produce Great Bodily Injury and Dissuading a Witness from Reporting a Crime.
24-year-old Jessica Pacheco was sentenced to 3 years in state prison for Corporal Injury to Spouse or Cohabitant.
29-year-old Alaa Jbara of Rialto and his brother 28-year-old Baja Jbara of Fontana were each sentenced to 12 years in state prison for an incident in which both men assaulted Alaa Jbara’s wife after she said she wanted to leave the house.
Deputy District Attorney
"The family went into hiding, terrified that he was going to kill them and then himself."
What inspired you to go into this field?
In 1988, after returning from maternity leave, I was assigned as an issuing deputy in the Rancho Cucamonga office. One day, one of the police agency liaisons brought me a box of cases to review that was labelled “DV rejects”. The box was full of reports regarding domestic violence incidents where the victim stated to the officer that no prosecution was desired. Many of the reports involved serious injuries. Also disturbing to me was the repeat customers: cases where the police had gone to the same couples’ homes again and again. The expectation was that I would just reject the cases. One day I was coming into the office and I saw a woman who had her arm in a cast and two black eyes and she was struggling to sign the “drop charges” form that our office used to have; a victim would sign the form to indicate that no prosecution was desired and in most instances, charges would not be filed. I remember thinking that there was a problem with this approach to domestic violence in our community. Then I was sent to training on Domestic Violence Prosecution put on by the California District Attorneys Association. I learned about “evidence based” prosecution: how to put on a case when the victim does not want to participate in the prosecution.
One of the keynote speakers at the training was a survivor of domestic violence. As she told her story, I thought back to an experience that I had when I was in college and law school. A very good friend of mine was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend. At first none of her group of friends knew what was going on. We thought that they were wrapped up in each other. Then we noticed that he would never let her be alone with any of us and that he would listen on the telephone when we called her. As time passed we would see her less and less. When she came to my bridal shower, we were horrified by the changes in her. She was extremely thin, jumpy, and timid. But she did not confide in any of us the nightmare that she was living. It was not until two years later, that late one rainy night, I got a call from her begging me to come and pick her up at a phone booth. When I got there, I found her bruised and battered. I took her home with me and the hell really started. Her boyfriend didn’t know where I lived but through a ruse, he found out from my younger brother. He bombarded her with pleas for her to return to the relationship. When his promises of “it would never happen again, I’ll get counseling, I love you” didn’t work, he started threatening her.
He also began to hassle me, tried to get me fired at the law firm where I worked, all in an effort to convince her to go back to him. She went back because she didn’t want him to continue to cause problems for me and others who were trying to help her. It was another two years before she finally left him. I saw the impact that the violence had on her, influencing her personality, confidence, and future relationships. I knew that my experience could help me understand why a domestic violence victim would recant and/or minimize during testimony and why a victim would not want to participate in prosecution. I could understand what was going on behind the scene that causes these behaviors that so exasperate prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
For those who may not know, what are some of the types of crimes that you see in the Family Violence Unit?
In the Family Violence Unit, we handle Partner Abuse/Domestic Violence, Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse, Sexual and Physical Abuse of Children. There are a wide range of cases that fall into our purview. The unit handles felonies of violence or the threat of violence ranging from Corporal Injury to a Spouse, Cohabitant, or Child to Stalking and Murder. We do cases that do not involve violence to a person such as vandalism and theft from an elder or dependent adult.
What are some of the challenges you face when dealing with the types of crimes you see in the Family Violence Unit?
The greatest challenge in most Family Violence Unit cases is the reluctant witness. Most of the victims and defendants have some kind of relationship. In a domestic violence case, they may be married, live together or share children. In the Elder Abuse cases, the defendant may be the victim’s son or daughter and the victim’s caregiver. In the Child Abuse cases, the defendant is often the victim’s parent or other older relative, such as an uncle or aunt. The victims will often have feelings for the defendant and have mixed emotions about cooperating with the prosecution. They want the violence or other behaviors to stop but they are reluctant to see the defendant go to jail. They want the defendant to be held accountable, but are often financially dependent on that person and concerned about how they will support themselves and their children if the defendant is incarcerated. Many of them feel shame and embarrassment at what has happened to them.
Is there a particular case you tried that stands out? Stays with you? One you’ll never forget? One you would like to forget?
A case that will always stay with me is People v. Gabriel Hernandez. Mr. Hernandez beat up the mother of his child, Myra Carrillo. She bailed him out of jail and initially continued her relationship with him. Mr. Hernandez tried to convince her not to cooperate with the prosecution. Ms. Carrillo decided to move in with her family members and reported to our advocate that Mr. Hernandez had been harassing her. At the next pretrial, I asked the judge to remind the defendant of the “no contact” order and to advise him that his bail would be revoked and he would be remanded into custody if he continued the contact. Less than two weeks later, Myra was dead, killed by the defendant as she was moving her belongings from the apartment they had shared. There were no eyewitnesses, and the only witness that placed the defendant near the scene was the victim’s teenage nephew who was late arriving at the apartment because he had been playing video games. He saw the defendant on the stairs walking from the apartment and asked where Myra was. The defendant said that she was inside the apartment. The nephew did not get an answer and jimmied the lock with his Kaiser card. He went in the residence and found his toddler cousin screaming in his crib and his aunt on the floor dead. But there was a complication with using the nephew as a witness: he had committed a residential robbery with Mr. Hernandez in Pomona. As soon as Mr. Hernandez got a chance, he called Pomona Police Department and gave up Myra’s nephew. The nephew was arrested and sent to the Youth Authority. I decided to go forward with the original Corporal Injury to Cohabitant case; it was a three strike case and the penalty he was facing was 25 to life. The jurors were not told that Myra was dead; all they knew was that she was not going to testify. I put on the case using her statement to the police officer, the 911 call, and the photographs. Mr. Hernandez was convicted and received 25 to life. His shenanigans in Pomona also came back to haunt him: he was convicted of the residential robbery there as well and received a consecutive 50 years to life.
I learned that I will always ask the Court to remand a defendant into custody if he or she is violating a “no contact” order. This case resulted in a published decision that upheld Evidence Code Section 1370.
The Family Violence Unit was initially created to maximize all available resources through a team-centered approach. How does collaboration factor into ensuring that you are successful in the courtroom and that ultimately justice is served?
The team-centered approach of the Family Violence Unit has many benefits. Our lawyers, advocates, and investigators are cross-trained in the three disciplines on which we focus. If one of us is unavailable to handle a case, the lawyer that steps in to cover it is trained and prepared to handle the special issues that arise in our cases. Another benefit is that we recognize when there are cross-discipline issues in our cases. For example, many times batterers will have underage girlfriends. Batterers want to exercise power and control of their partners and an underage teenage girl lacks the life experience to resist this control. A 16 year old victim may be reluctant to testify that the 23 year old father of her baby hit her but she will admit that he is the father of her child. Her statement would support a successful prosecution for unlawful sexual intercourse, with the enhancement of great bodily injury.
As a Deputy DA in the FVU, what has been your biggest success so far?
I feel that the greatest successes that I have had in the Family Violence Unit have been the changes that my victims and defendants have been able to make in their lives. Shortly after we started the Domestic Violence Unit in Chino, there was a case that Marbi Burnette and I handled where the victim had an opportunity for a new job but was embarrassed and ashamed to start the job with the facial injuries that she had suffered at the defendant’s hands. We talked to a Victim-Witness advocate and were able to help her get special make-up that would cover the injuries. Some years later, I was training new staff and volunteers at the House of Ruth. At the end of my presentation, a woman stood up and said “I want to thank you for helping me to get away from my abuser.” She told everyone about Marbi and me helping her to get the make-up so that she could start her job and have the financial means to leave the violent relationship. I was happy to see that she was doing well and gratified that she chose to help other women who were in violent relationships.
I came to the office one day and found a beautiful plant had been delivered for me, from one of my defendants! He wrote me a wonderful thank you card. This man’s father had died unexpectedly. He was left to run the family business. As pressures mounted, he started to use drugs. When his wife tried to talk to him about his drug use, he blew up at her and beat her up. After he bailed out, I received a frantic call from his brother. He told me that he was very worried about his brother, that he had received a disturbing call from him saying that he had nothing left to live for. A visit to where the defendant was living revealed that he had made an altar with pictures of his wife and children. The family went into hiding, terrified that he was going to kill them and then himself. I got the judge and the police department involved and the defendant was very quickly back in custody. The defendant did a year in county jail, followed by a year in a residential drug treatment program. When he sent me the plant, he had graduated from the program, had been sober for over two years, had re-established his business and reconciled with his wife. He thanked me for saving his life.