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Charges today in Calif. cop killing

By Sean Webby   
Mercury News

CHP and San Mateo County Sheriff's officers helped patrol the streets of East Palo Alto Monday, while many of the city's police were given time off to grieve for officer Richard May, who was shot and killed Saturday.

Others in the department were setting up a public memorial service scheduled for noon Thursday at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

And San Mateo County prosecutors were planning to charge Alberto Alvarez with the killing at an arraignment scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today in Redwood City.

The parolee and reputed gang member, suspected of shooting the officer multiple times as a 16-year-old Explorer Scout looked on, is expected to face a charge of murder with the special circumstance of killing a law enforcement officer. That would mean either life without parole or execution, if convicted.

Alvarez, 23, has refused to talk to investigators, officials said. The sheriff's office denied media requests to interview Alvarez.

Prosecutors said any decision to seek the death penalty would be a months-long process.

``We are trying 30 murders right now, but when you kill a judge, a DA, a police officer, it eats away at the core of the safety for every one of us,'' said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Monday outside the police office, a shrine to officer May was growing. Dozens of flower bouquets lay around burning candles, a cup of coffee, some photographs of the officer and a small, typewritten note from Cesar Chavez Elementary students that said ``You gave the ultimate sacrifice for your country.'' The shrine was crowded around a centerpiece -- a crumpled press release that described what is alleged to have happened Saturday evening.

May was responding to a fight at a local taqueria a block from the police department when he recognized a man police have identified as Alvarez, also known as a gang member nicknamed ``Pooh'' -- apparently after the bear in the children's story.

Court records show Alvarez was convicted of two felonies in 2004: possession of marijuana and possession of a concealed weapon. He served 16 months in prison for those charges, records said. He was also convicted of several misdemeanors, including resisting arrest and carrying a loaded handgun.

East Palo Alto police and the sheriff's office, who are jointly investigating the homicide, said they have not yet determined the complete sequence of what happened Saturday, nor would they discuss how many shots were fired.

May approached the suspect and they fought. May apparently left baton marks on the suspect. May was shot in the fight and fell to the ground, but at some point he shot and wounded Alvarez, according to police. The suspect tried to flee then turned back and shot the officer in the head as he lay on the ground, sources said.

Residents scared
``He executed this man,'' said East Palo Alto Lt. Tom Alipio, the head of the city's investigative unit. ``I don't know how much more cold-blooded you can get.''

Then Alvarez fled, police said. After a huge all-night dragnet that had officers watching locations as far flung as Modesto and Hayward, the suspect was caught huddled in the back of a white Chrysler Sunday morning as it was leaving Sacramento Street -- one block from the shooting.

The driver, who was arrested but not identified, may face charges at an arraignment today, prosecutors said.

Alvarez is, investigators said, a member of the Sacramento -- or ``Sac'' -- Street Gang -- which police allege is a drug gang that has been behind violence in the city since before the early 1990 crack wars left more than 40 dead in one year.

Sacramento Street -- a cul-de-sac within sight of the police department and the street where May was gunned down -- was quiet Monday.

Residents approached by a reporter Monday were openly frustrated and scared of the gang. One woman, taking her daughter inside from the car, paused for a long time when asked whether the gang was a problem and then described nights of gunfire, drug dealing and other problems in recent months.

``It's scary,'' she said. ``We don't know what to do.''

Police said they have ``plans'' for Sacramento Street but would not elaborate. Sheriff Don Horsley said he wanted to call a meeting with local law enforcement officials to address the problems there and elsewhere.

Horsley and other law enforcement agencies said the shooting highlighted the need for a new push to deal with a spike in gang activity from San Francisco to San Jose.

Year-round effort
Horsley said much of past gang suppression has been seasonal -- like a Drug Enforcement Agency-led operation in the summer that netted 45 arrests in East Palo Alto.

But he said he hoped to help create a year-round anti-gang effort.

Of Sac Street, Horsley said: ``We need to focus on that gang.''

 San Jose Mercury News (http://www.mercurynews.com/)

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