By Shea Johnson
VICTORVILLE, Calif. — Despite yet unanswered questions of who fired the gun and whether it was explicitly aimed at a San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy as he conducted a traffic stop, a judge ruled on Wednesday there was sufficient evidence to order three men to stand trial for attempted murder of a peace officer.
Judge Steve Malone said during a preliminary hearing that there was probable cause each of the men were knowingly involved in what sheriff's officials earlier called "a brazen attack" on the night of Feb. 2.
Shawn Munoz, 31, Bernard Corella, 34, and Jesus Armando Soto, 34, are next scheduled to appear at the Victorville courthouse March 4 for a trial arraignment, Malone said.
According to testimony heard Wednesday, Sheriff's Deputy Eric Rose was returning to a vehicle he had pulled over for making an unsafe turn into a liquor store parking lot on the northwest side of the Hesperia Road and Green Tree Boulevard intersection.
Rose testified he noticed a Chrysler 300 traveling northbound on Hesperia Road "at a very slow speed for that road." Rose said the rear driver-side window, where Soto allegedly sat, was rolled approximately halfway down and a dark object could be seen inside.
"I heard between three and four (of) what I recognized as gunshots," Rose said. "I recall looking for cover and realized I was in an exposed area."
After the shots were fired, the Chrysler accelerated down Hesperia Road and then slowed again to 5 to 10 mph. That is when Rose said he fired four rounds in return.
Defense attorneys sought to debunk the theory that the back-seat passenger fired the .45 caliber handgun and hinted that the shots were aimed upward or away from the deputy. Rose, who was not struck, testified he did not hear any bullets whiz by nor did he hear glass breaking from the shop behind him.
Referencing statements provided by Corella and Soto, their attorneys said Munoz was the perpetrator while he sat in the front passenger seat. If true, his window faced east and away from Rose, they said.
Investigators located the Chrysler later that night at a home in the 13800 block of Apple Creek Drive. They say they located a bullet casing in the car and one on Hesperia Road — both of which appeared to match the live rounds inside a .45 caliber handgun found in the house
Sheriff's detective Taylor Long testified that "depending on exactly where the gun was," the location of the casing found in the car could be consistent with a gun being fired from the front passenger seat.
Munoz' attorney, Sara Jewett, suggested the incident was spontaneous, saying there was "no intent to kill Deputy Rose."
But Deputy District Attorney Mari Braun called gang detail Deputy William Hogan to testify — one of five sheriff's officials called to the stand during the hearing — in order to lay the foundation of Munoz's gang background. His documented involvement with a subset of the South Fontana gang, including a years-earlier admission and several identifying tattoos, made it clear the shooting was to further his status, Hogan said. One tattoo across his chest reads "shoot to kill" with inked bullet holes below it, according to Hogan.
Braun said while only circumstantial evidence existed to show Munoz actually fired the shots, "we know that shots were fired at an officer. It's clear all the individuals were acting in association or aiding and abetting."
Judge Malone, in handing down his ruling, said it was unlikely that Corella would be unaware of what either of his passengers were doing.
"It seems improbable that a driver would simply be driving along," he said, "without any idea of what's going on."
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