A young man admitted in Juvenile Court Friday that he was involved in the slaying 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 just over three years ago.
The defendant — who was initially charged as an adult and later sent to juvenile court — admitted one count each of murder and attempted robbery involving the Nov. 18, 2015, killing of Ricardo Galvez, along with a robbery count involving another man the same day.
He was less than two weeks shy of his 17th birthday at the time of the crime and is now 20. He faces a maximum confinement in a state juvenile facility until he is 25, according to Deputy District Attorneys Michael Blake and Mary Murray.
He was initially charged along with two other men, Steven Knott, now 21, and Jeremy Anthony Alvarez, now 24, who are awaiting trial in connection with the killing. But a voter-approved state ballot measure resulted in his case being transferred to juvenile court, where his case wound up being handled.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty against Knott and Alvarez, who are half-brothers. They were ordered to stand trial last year after a five-day hearing before Superior Court Judge Roger Ito in Norwalk.
Alvarez — the alleged getaway driver — was arrested 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 the teenager were arrested the next morning.
Investigators subsequently recovered a handgun that was allegedly 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 last year’s preliminary hearing.
In emotional testimony during the hearing last year, 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.
The lieutenant 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.
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, the teenager subsequently admitted that he and Knott had approached the BMW — one from each side — while Alvarez remained inside the Nissan Altima, Biddle testified.
The teenager 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. The teen 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 the teenager claimed the gun allegedly wielded by Knott had gone off accidentally.
Knott and Alvarez are also charged with three other robberies the same day. The half-siblings and Alvarez’s girlfriend, Rebecca Ustrell, 31, are also charged 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.