■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez and Kyle Selby / Reporters of The Valley Chronicle
A moment of victory was shared between the families of Raul Garcia, Nicholas Males and Daniel Ramirez last week, after the family members of each homicide victim made their voices heard last Tuesday night.
On March 28, the Hemet City Council unanimously authorized Police Chief Dave Brown “to offer monetary rewards of up to $10,000 for Crime Tips in certain criminal case investigations.” A couple hours prior to the meeting, the same family members of victims — particularly unsolved homicides — rallied at the intersection of State Street and Florida Avenue to bring awareness and garner community support for their cause.
Their signs read “Too many broken families, not enough answers,” “Where’s the Measure U $ going?” “Why wait til 2018? They need HELP!” among others. Police Chief Brown contacted Joe Males, father of victim Nicholas “Nick” Males, also present at the rally, a few weeks prior to the March 28 meeting to let him know that the monetary reward request was going to be on the agenda.
The three families—the Garcias, the Maleses, and the Ramirezes – joined forces just before the City Council meeting that night, preceded by numerous visits before Hemet city officials in the past, with one mutual goal: achieving justice for their loved ones. While rally attendance mainly involved family members and members of the media, including ABC News, many vehicles honked to show their support.
Daniel Ramirez, 25, was shot and killed on Nov. 4, and his family didn’t receive the grave news until five days later. Ever since, his mother, Corinna Moreno-Ramirez, has led the crusade for “Homicide Families Seeking Justice,” challenging both the city and the Police Department, questioning their lack of progress in homicide investigations over the past three years. Moreno-Ramirez and family organized the rally, inviting the public and other families of homicide victims to speak out for the people they have lost.
Raul “Ruly” Garcia was 19 when he was found dead nearly two years ago, early Saturday Nov. 28, 2015, with gunshots to his chest.
Nicholas “Nick” Males, a 28-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was stabbed to death last year, June 19 on Father’s Day, after being caught in the middle of a parking lot brawl at Elite Bar and Lounge, which has since permanently closed its doors.
Raul’s girlfriend of six years, Aby Davila, and Nick’s father, Joe Males, started speaking at City Council meetings in February, and have since been supportive of the homicide families’ initiative. They, along with their families, were present beside Moreno-Ramirez, waving posters and donning T-shirts emblazoned with their loved ones’ faces.
“It is not safe on the streets. It isn’t even safe for the cops,” voiced Nicole Otto, a member of the Ramirez family, at the rally. “There was an incident a few nights back on Hamilton and the cops were outnumbered.”
Every family member that spoke on behalf of the victims expressed not only their gratitude to the men and women of our police department commending their effort, but also concern about the department’s lack of investigators.
Just prior to the council’s approval of the reward at the March 28 meeting, the family members spoke to council during the communications from the public, pleading yet again, for the council to do something.
“Think about all the hurt that we have,” said Males to the council. “I have no ill feelings toward anyone of you, any officer here, anyone. Because I know it wasn’t your fault. I know it wasn’t you that did this to my son, but you have that capability of helping him or helping find the person that did this to him. You have that capability and this reward will help a lot because the way this world is right now – the way it is all about money. It is all about wanting to have everything in life and this will get somebody to open their eyes and come forward and say ‘hey, I want that money.’ It will do good for everybody.
“I don’t want to have to be coming up here every other week. I don’t want to have to be out in the streets trying to get justice for my son,” implored Males. “I want this to get resolved. You have a job. I had a job to do. I ran my business for 20 years and did my job and if I did not fulfill what I told my clients I would do, they would get rid of me and tell me, ‘you are gone.’ You have a job. This is your city, if you really think about it. You can run this city. You have the potential to get these cases solved if you just apply what you have and what you have been given. So we just ask you to please do something – just help us. That’s all we ask for – is help.”
Originally, back in November, Moreno-Ramirez wanted to offer a reward for information pertaining to her son’s murder. Initially, she was to negotiate a deal with then-mayor Bonnie Wright, to match an amount she would accumulate through donations and fundraisers, to which – according to Moreno-Ramirez, Wright agreed. Brown and Wright disputed Moreno-Ramirez’ recollection.
“I know you Council members didn’t have anything to do with my son’s murder, but yes, I do hold you guys responsible,” said Moreno-Ramirez. “I’m tired of coming here. I want closure as soon as I can get closure.” Upon hearing of the reward announcement, Moreno-Ramirez said it was by her ability to step out and keep faith that this “favor” was finally sent from God.
Police Chief Brown also gave an update later in the meeting regarding the department as the city prepares its FY 17/18 budget giving more good news. The department’s strategic plan originally called for hiring additional investigators in year two. However, in response to the pleas for more investigators, Brown stated that the department planned to hire two investigators in year one rather than wait an additional year.
“We want you to know that we hear you,” stated Brown. As he continued, he listed the challenges and accomplishments faced by the department. One of the challenges is competing with other departments that are hiring and went on to state, “the net gain, which unfortunately is our reality — of experienced police officers hired since Measure U passed November 8, 2016 — is zero. That should be concerning to all of us.”
Brown’s goal is to hire 40 police officers in four years. Other challenges are retention, rapid growth pertaining to the culture shift and depth of the crime issue faced by the city. The accomplishments listed were the 2013 Quality of Life Survey, 2014 Strategic Plan, Measure U Immediate Action Plan, and the Measure U Citizen Oversight Committee.
Also mentioned during Chief Brown’s update were the short-term and long-term priorities. Short term priorities include establishing the Special Operations Bureau, to hire 20 lateral officers, reduce violent crime by 20 percent, reduce nuisance crime by 50 percent, provide leadership in facilitating homeless solutions and conduct a follow-up Quality of Life Survey.
Brown stated the long-term priorities are to achieve a staffing goal of 1.2 officers per 1000 residents, reduce violent crime by 50 percent, reduce nuisance crime by 80 percent, reach 80 percent neighborhood/shopping safety approval rating and become the safest city in the region.
On the morning of March 28, the Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce held a pinning ceremony for new Hemet Police Department Officer Luis Reyes, who comes to the department from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Officer Reyes, a Hemet resident, served in the United States Army for nine years and 17 years in the California National Guard.