Did the D.A.’s office accidentally tip off L.A. gang member to witness’ address where two people were later shot?
The court order obtained by a Los Angeles County prosecutor was clear: The gang member was required to stay away from a woman he was charged with assaulting, as well as several members of her family.
The woman was a stranger, police said, and was expected to testify against him. Weeks later, the gang member, Jonathan Quevedo, 34, allegedly opened fire outside her East Hollywood home, wounding two people, including one of her relatives who was named in the protective order.
Quevedo was charged this week with two counts of attempted murder and trying to use force to dissuade witnesses.
Police are investigating whether the prosecutor inadvertently tipped off Quevedo to where the woman lived by including her New Hampshire Avenue address in the protective order.
State law generally prohibits police and lawyers from giving defendants the address or phone number for a victim or witness. The rule is designed to prevent threats or violence against witnesses, who sometimes face deadly retaliation for assisting authorities.
In response to questions from The Times, a district attorney’s office spokeswoman confirmed that one of her department’s prosecutors filed the protective order. A spokesman for the office said the investigation into the matter is ongoing but declined to comment further.
“I am deeply disturbed that two people were shot in an effort to intimidate witnesses from testifying in the prosecution of a dangerous criminal. This is what every prosecutor fears,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said in a statement to the paper. “My office is taking steps to thoroughly evaluate every aspect of the case to ensure that policies and protocols were followed.”
The protective order obtained by The Times did not specify who filled out the form. Court records identify the prosecutor who handled the case on the day the protective order was approved as Deputy Dist. Atty. Giovanni Bartoletti, who joined the district attorney’s office in June. He referred questions to an office spokeswoman.
Quevedo pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the new charges.
Patrick Dixon, a former L. A. County assistant district attorney, said prosecutors make every possible effort to safeguard witnesses — especially in gang cases — recognizing that they are vital to solving crime and convicting defendants.
“We are required to present those witnesses live and identify them, yet still make sure they are protected from harm and make sure this type of tragedy doesn’t happen,” he said. “DNA and video have not changed the fact that eyewitnesses have to testify in trial.”
The case has its roots in an assault that took place March 16 at Los Molcajetes, a Salvadoran restaurant along Temple Street in Westlake, said LAPD Det. Meghan Aguilar, a department spokeswoman.
About 8 p.m., an argument erupted and a man used a cane and telephone to beat the woman, Vanessa Perez, 39, Aguilar said. A second victim, Eldis Pena, 41, was struck with a cane, according to court records.
Surveillance video captured the attack, and an LAPD officer recognized Quevedo — a documented gang member nicknamed Dreamer — as the assailant, according to a motion filed by his defense lawyer.
Police arrested Quevedo at his home April 20, and he was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.
Quevedo pleaded not guilty and was released in May after posting $100,000 bond.
A copy of the order is included in the court file and lists the East Hollywood address but does not specifically say the Perez family lived there. The document also included two other locations — a bus depot in West Hollywood and a store in Malibu. However, the order specified that Quevedo was barred from trying to obtain the addresses or locations of those listed, including the Perez family.
About 5 a.m. on Sept. 19, a car pulled up to the Perez residence, Aguilar said. Quevedo got out and opened fire, the police spokeswoman said.
Aguilar identified one of the shooting victims as Joshua Perez, a 24-year-old relative of one of the victims in the March attack. Joshua Perez was also named in the protective order. The LAPD spokeswoman did not release the name of the other victim. Aguilar said both were expected to survive.
Quevedo was arrested the next day in Pacoima, according to jail records. He’s being held without bail.
His attorney, Deputy Alternate Public Defender Jesus Lopez, declined to comment on the case but said protective orders usually are handed directly to defendants.
Judges typically rely on prosecutors to complete the form, and copies are also given to police.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Ray Jurado, who signed the order, declined to comment. Judicial ethics bar judges from remarking on pending cases.
Laws and policies designed to prevent defendants from learning personal information about victims and witnesses have not eliminated attacks.
A recent nationwide survey by the federal judiciary’s research unit estimated that during a three-year period, witnesses in federal cases were threatened with physical harm 229 times. In nearly 150 instances, a friend or family member of a witness was threatened, and nearly 90 involved physical harm, including murder.
Joshua Ritter, a defense lawyer who previously worked as a prosecutor with the L.A. County district attorney’s office, said prosecutors try to ensure that addresses, phone numbers and other personal information are redacted before a defendant receives court papers.
“When something like this happens, it’s just a disaster,” Ritter said. “This is that nightmare scenario that everyone is trying to avoid.”
In extreme situations, information about witnesses will not be handed over to defense attorneys and instead, a witness is made available for an interview with the defense, Ritter said.
Quevedo has had numerous brushes with the law. In 2003, LAPD officers searched his home and found bags of methamphetamine and four guns, including a sawed-off shotgun, according to court records.
Quevedo later pleaded guilty to possessing methamphetamine for sale and possessing a short-barreled shotgun. He was sentenced to three years and four months in state prison.
In 2009, Quevedo pleaded no contest to unlawfully possessing ammunition and was sentenced to two years in state prison.
3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Dixon and additional details about when Bartoletti joined the district attorney’s office.
This article was originally published at 5 a.m.
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