NORWALK — Two reputed gang members were ordered Sept. 27 to stand trial on murder and attempted robbery charges in the killing of a Downey police officer who was shot once in the face while sitting in his BMW in a parking lot near the police station.
Superior Court Judge Roger Ito rejected requests from defense attorneys to dismiss the case against Steven Knott, 20, and his half-brother, Jeremy Anthony Alvarez, 23, who are charged, along with a third defendant, with the Nov. 18, 2015, slaying of Ricardo Galvez.
Prosecutors allege that the half-brothers went on a crime spree that fall that culminated with the officer’s murder.
In testimony shortly before their five-day preliminary hearing came to a close, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Detective Toni Martinez told the judge that the defendants’ mother initially said Knott was at home asleep in his room but later acknowledged receiving a phone call in which he said he had just shot somebody and that the police were chasing him.
Alvarez — the alleged getaway driver — was arrested soon after a wild pursuit that was caught on dash-camera video recorded from the patrol car of a Downey police officer who heard the gunshot in the area of the parking lot and began chasing the suspects.
Knott and Abel Diaz, then 17, were arrested the next morning.
Investigators subsequently recovered a handgun that had allegedly been thrown out of the Nissan Altima while Alvarez was behind the wheel. Prosecutors say ballistics tests determined that the gun had been used to kill Galvez, who had served two tours of duty — one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan — in the Marine Corps prior to becoming a police officer.
DNA testing and fingerprint analysis linked Knott to the weapon, according to stipulations agreed to by the prosecution and the defense at the preliminary hearing.
In emotional testimony Sept. 25, Downey police Lt. Brian Baker said he walked out to the parking lot to investigate what might have happened after speaking on the phone with Officer Justin Prentice, who had chased the light-colored Altima to Montebello.
Baker said he did not initially recognize Galvez or his car, and only realized that the victim was his colleague after looking through the vehicle’s windshield.
“That’s when I recognized it was Ricky. When I recognized him, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Baker said of the 29-year-old former Marine, who had been on the police force for five years.
“Sorry,” Baker said at one point as he grew emotional recounting the details of the discovery of Galvez’s body.
Baker said he saw the BMW running and noticed a bullet hole in the driver’s side window, then directed a sergeant to break the passenger window of the locked car. The sergeant determined that the officer was dead, and a check of the vehicle’s registration confirmed the car belonged to Galvez, Baker said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Biddle testified that the suspects’ attempt to rob Galvan “wasn’t completed. They didn’t get anything inside the car. The gun went off and they fled.”
When he was shown a still photo from surveillance camera footage in the parking lot, Diaz subsequently admitted that he and Knott had approached the BMW — one from each side — while Alvarez remained inside the Nissan Altima, Biddle testified.
Diaz subsequently was tape-recorded in jailhouse conversations in which he admitted being involved in the crime and saying that the three formulated a plan to rob Galvez, according to the sheriff’s sergeant. Diaz said he and Knott were wearing masks made of pieces of cloth over their faces, the sheriff’s sergeant testified.
Under cross-examination, Biddle said Diaz claimed the gun allegedly wielded by Knott had gone off accidentally.
The judge ordered the siblings to remain jailed without bail while awaiting arraignment Oct. 12 at the Norwalk courthouse.
Diaz, now 18, is awaiting a hearing in a juvenile court to determine if he should be tried as a juvenile.
The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation that Galvez was murdered during the commission of an attempted robbery, but Los Angeles County prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Knott and Alvarez. Diaz could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The three are also charged with robbing another man earlier the same day, and Knott and Alvarez are additionally charged with two other robberies the same day. The half-siblings are charged along with Alvarez’s girlfriend, Rebecca Ann Ustrell, 29, with the attempted murder of a man in Montebello on Oct. 18, 2015.
Knott is also charged with one count of shooting at an inhabited dwelling in September 2015.