A man who is living in the country illegally and has known gang ties was arrested Friday in the fatal shooting of a police officer during a traffic stop in Stanislaus County, Calif., authorities said.
Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32, who had two prior arrests for drunken driving, was arrested in the death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh, 33, at a house in the Lamont area as he was trying to flee to his native Mexico, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said at a news conference Friday.
The suspect’s 25-year-old brother, Adrian Virgen, and a co-worker, 27-year-old Erik Razo Quiroz, both of whom were also in the country illegally, were arrested Thursday on felony charges that they interfered with the investigation, authorities said.
Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 59, Erasmo Villegas, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, were also arrested for aiding and abetting, authorities said. The three were in the home where Arriaga was arrested.
Authorities have probable cause to believe Arriaga was under the influence of alcohol when Singh stopped him early Wednesday in Newman, Christianson said. The motive in the shooting is not clear.
Arriaga’s previous brushes with the law and his subsequent release by law enforcement prompted angry comments from the sheriff about Senate Bill 54, the state’s so-called sanctuary law, which provides expanded protection for immigrants who have entered the country illegally. The law, which took effect in January, prohibits state and local police agencies from notifying federal officials in many cases when immigrants potentially subject to deportation are about to be released from custody.
“This is a criminal illegal alien with prior criminal activity that should have been reported to ICE,” Christianson said. “Law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws, and that led to the encounter with Officer Singh. I’m suggesting that the outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited or had their hands tied because of political interference.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not provide information about Arriaga’s background and his immigration status because ICE’s public affairs officers are out for the government shutdown.
About 1 a.m. Wednesday, Singh was tipped off about an intoxicated man in a silver pickup, authorities said. The officer radioed that he was pulling over a vehicle at Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue. Minutes later, he called out “shots fired” over the radio, authorities said.
“It was a gunfight,” Christianson told reporters Thursday. “Cpl. Singh absolutely tried to defend himself and stop this credible threat.”
The officers who responded found Singh had been shot while the motorist he stopped had fled. Singh was taken to a hospital, where he died.
Singh’s younger brother, Reggie Singh, who broke down at Friday’s news conference, thanked law enforcement officials for working “days and nights” to make the arrests.
“I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Singh said, holding his hand to his chest. “I was waiting for this to happen.”
Arriaga, who has been in the country for several years, had worked in the labor industry, Christianson said. The suspect also has known gang affiliations, claiming to be a “sureno,” or “southerner,” a California gang with strong ties to the Mexican mafia, authorities said.
“Why are we providing sanctuary for criminals, gang members,” Christianson said. “It’s a conversation we need to have.”
Kern County sheriff’s officials learned Friday that Arriaga was believed to be inside a residence on Brooks Lane, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said in a separate news conference. As SWAT teams circled the house and prepared to enter, Arriaga exited with his hands up and surrendered to officers.
Several people are believed to have helped Arriaga get to Kern County, Youngblood said, adding that authorities believe “more arrests may come.”
Youngblood called the suspect’s immigration status “secondary,” but he added that it’s “extremely important that we get there and confirm whether the person had a right to be in this country or not.”
The sheriff has previously called for “anti-sanctuary” policies on immigration.
“When you tie our hands and don’t allow us to work with our federal partners and communicate with our federal partners about people that commit crimes and are in this country illegally, we’re going to have incidences like this,” Youngblood said Friday. “Not just on police officers, but on the public that we serve and protect.”
Arriaga’s arrest comes nearly a week after a partial federal government shutdown prompted largely by a funding dispute between President Donald Trump and the House of Representatives over funding for a border wall. Trump has made stepped-up enforcement on illegal immigration one of his administration’s top priorities.
On Thursday, the president tweeted about the Stanislaus County case: “Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!”
As Arriaga was transported to Stanislaus County, he was placed in Singh’s handcuffs, authorities said.
“They’re on that guy for his trip home,” Youngblood said.
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