Opening statements got underway Thursday in the trial of two suspected gang members charged with committing a string of shootings and assaults in Indio.
Christian “Lil’ Downer” Yanez, 22, and Joel Vargas III, 24, are accused in three incidents that Indio police allege occurred Jan. 7 and 14, 2018, when police say they targeted and attacked several male victims to advance the reputation of their street gang.
Both men are charged with multiple counts of assault using a gun, shooting a gun in a negligent manner and shooting a gun from a vehicle, along with several gang- and gun-related sentence-enhancing allegations.
Yanez faces an additional count of assault using a gun and a criminal threats charge.
He is in custody on $1 million bail at the Indio jail, while Vargas previously made $95,000 bail.
On the night of Jan. 7, the pair allegedly arrived at Neil’s Lounge and Bar at 80956 Highway 111 in Indio, and after about five minutes, got into an argument with men associated with a rival Indio street gang, court documents show.
Bar staff broke it up, and the defendants left in a car together, only to return minutes later, when prosecutors say a single gunshot was fired from their car in an area near the bar, according to prosecutors. Court documents fail to specify which defendant is accused of firing the shot.
A week later, on Jan. 14, prosecutors say the pair were involved in two shootings in northern Indio, where the same rival gang operates from.
The first shooting occurred about 9:45 p.m., when Yanez allegedly fired six shots at a man’s car. About 15 minutes later, he and Vargas allegedly struck up a conversation with three juveniles.
“Where you from?” Yanez asked the group, prosecutors said. One of the juveniles answered that they were not gangbangers. After the conversation, Yanez allegedly pistol-whipped one of the minors and shot another.
Vargas’ alleged role in the attacks was not disclosed, but investigators said he was present during each incident.
Officers recovered two firearms during their arrests, “along with evidence linking them to the crimes,” according to the Indio Police Department.
Both men currently face various unconnected gun- and gang-related charges, as well.
Prosecution testimony resumes Friday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.