Pair ordered to stand trial in death of Downey officer

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.

Funeral services set for Downey police officer

DOWNEY — Funeral services for Downey police officer Ricardo (Ricky) Galvez will be held at 9 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 West Temple St., Los Angeles, a police spokesperson said.

Immediately following the funeral, there will be a graveside service with full police honors at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

A Rosary service and viewing for Officer Galvez will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Downey Civic Theatre, 8435 Firestone Blvd. Doors will open at 5 p.m., the spokesperson said.

Galvez was fatally shot in an apparent botched robbery attempt about 11 p.m. Nov. 18 behind the police station, 10911 Brookshire Ave. He was 29 and a five-year veteran of the Downey Police Department.

Two men and a juvenile have been charged with murder in the case.

Steven Knott, 18, and Jeremy Anthony Alvarez, 21, were both being held without bail. They appeared in court here Nov. 24 along with 16-year-old Abel Diaz of Bellflower. Diaz, who will turn 17 at the end of the week, is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Arraignments for the three were postponed to Dec. 17.

Meanwhile, a fund has been established to financially help officer Galvez’s family, composed of his mother, two sisters and a brother in South Gate, where Galvez resided.

Those wishing to help may send checks made out to the Ricardo Galvez Fund to either

Mike Pope, president of the Downey Police Officers Association, 10911 Brookshire Ave., Downey, 90241 or to Downey Federal Credit Union, 8237 Third St., Downey, 90241.

Galvez was raised in South Gate, graduated from Bell Gardens High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marines, serving in Iraq in 2009.

At a news conference about 6:30 a.m. the morning after the shooting, Downey Police Chief Carl Charles described the fatally wounded officer.

“This morning I stand before you with a heavy heart,” Charles said. “It is with great sadness that I report one of Downey’s finest was shot and killed. Ricky … was a tremendous young man, who loved serving the residents of Downey. His smile was infectious, and his professionalism was always on display.”

“Every day, the brave men and women of our Downey Police Department put themselves at personal risk to keep us all safe,” Downey Mayor Luis Marquez said. “We are incredibly sorrowed by the loss of Officer Galvez and our thoughts and prayers are with all who knew and loved him.”

“I am shocked and saddened by the news that Downey Police Officer Ricardo Galvez was shot and killed, U.S Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard said in a statement. “I hope that those who committed this chilling crime will quickly be brought to justice. My deepest sympathies and prayers are with Officer Galvez’s family, friends and co-workers in this difficult time.”

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Downey, called it a sad day for Downey and her Assembly district. “Late last night, in a cowardly, unprovoked attack, we lost Downey police officer Ricky Galvez,” Garcia said. “As a Marine veteran and a dedicated police officer, Ricky Galvez served our community as a selfless public servant and his tragic loss is felt today not only by the city Downey, but by all Californians. My condolences to his family, friends, and coworkers at this difficult time.”

Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau, said Galvez was found dead in his car, shot once. He had just finished his shift and was in plainclothes and in his own unmarked car.

The three suspects, apparently looking for someone to rob, drove into the parking lot and approached the officer’s vehicle, apparently not knowing he was a police officer or for that matter that he was parked behind the police station. For an unknown reason, shots were fired into the vehicle, one of them striking the victim, Corina said.

A nearby Downey police car on patrol heard the shots, saw the suspect vehicle and followed them into the area of Carob Way and Washington Boulevard in Montebello, where the suspects left their vehicle and fled on foot. Alvarez was apprehended running through back yards of homes in the 1000 block of Carob Way while the other two were seen entering a house, Corina said.

SWAT teams from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Montebello Police Department responded and surrounded the house. SWAT team members entered the house and arrested Knott and Diaz without incident, Corina said.