Sanctuary Law May Be Tied To Woman's Death In Cathedral City

In late January I was contacted by a source about what they described as a horrific example of how sanctuary policies intended to protect illegal immigrants do not protect the rest of the law-abiding public.

I was directed to a case from January 13th, 2019. At about 4:46 PM an officer from the Cathedral City Police Department rolled up on a call of a public disturbance in the parking lot of Big 5 Sporting Goods at 31033 Date Palm Drive. I had been told a man shot and killed a woman then a cop shot and killed the man. I was told the man was an illegal immigrant who should have been deported as far back as 2009. I began doing some research and found out the man was the boyfriend of the girl he allegedly shot (keep in mind I only have this person’s word on the story and I have yet to verify the information).

I found a press release from the Cathedral City Police Department which gave more detail about the incident but didn’t reveal the names of those involved and nothing about immigration or citizenship status. A call to the Mexican consulate yielded nothing. I found out the Riverside County Sheriff’s department was investigating because the case was also an officer-involved shooting (OIS). It’s very common for a sheriff’s agency to investigate uses of force at a smaller department.

I submitted a number of public records requests to both the Cathedral City Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Expectedly, I received denials based on the fact that the investigations were ongoing – the Cathedral City PD was investigating the shooting death of the woman while the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was investigating the OIS. My focus changed when I was able to confirm the man who allegedly shot the woman was, in fact, in the country illegally. Within a few days I was provided the man’s identity and information about his criminal history in Riverside County.

Roberto Tapia Criminal History:

  • June 2, 2009 – PC 12303 Possession of Destructive Device / Conviction / 36mos. Probation, 8 days jail
  • December 26, 2012 – PC 69 Resist Officer w/ force / Conviction / 36 mos. Probation, 10 days jail
  • March 11, 2014 – VC 23152 / DUI / Conviction / 36 mos. Probation, fine
  • May 19, 2016 – PC 243(e)(1) / Spousal Battery / Conviction / 36 mos. Probation, 45 days jail *Condition of probation – Firearm Restriction
  • November 30, 2016 – Probation Violation / Probation Reinstated / 9 days jail
  • November 30, 2016 – PC 273.5 (F)(2) / Domestic Violence / Conviction PC 236 / False Imprisonment / Felony / Conviction / 36mos. Probation, 90 days jail

The California Sanctuary Law didn’t pass until 2014 and prior to that, agencies were within their rights to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents by notifying them when an illegal immigrant is in custody, especially in the event of a violent crime. As you can see from Tapia’s rap sheet he committed several violent offenses which qualified him for removal proceedings (deportation). So, why wasn’t ICE notified about Tapia’s existence?

To find an answer I sent another records request to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to find out about the circumstances around Tapia’s arrest history. Here’s their email reply:

Good Afternoon Mr. Gregory,
Thank you for your interest in former Riverside County Inmate Mr. Tapia-Gutierrez. After researching Mr. Tapia-Gutierrez’s past arrests in Riverside County, each adhered to Department policy and applicable California laws which were in place at that time.
Media Information Bureau

You notice the no-answer answer? So, now I know there’s more to this than I thought.

In my interviews with sources inside and outside the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department I was told that the previous sheriff, Stan Sniff, had a policy of not cooperating with Immigration officials. One source told me, “The sheriff said we were never to call ICE agents about an illegal immigrant in custody, regardless of how bad they were, but if they (agents) show up with the proper paperwork then go ahead and cooperate.”

Around this time I got a text from someone who wanted to meet me in person, they claimed to have valuable information. A week later I found myself at an off-the-beaten-path diner in the desert with an unnamed source. The source produced a tablet and told me what I was about to see was a one-time only opportunity.

It appears I’m watching a recording from a dashcam – I see a police SUV pull into a parking lot (there’s no sound) – From the left, a woman emerges from between two cars and collapses on the pavement. A man (presumably Roberto Tapia) walks out into the open holding a hand gun. He raises the gun several times and tries to fire, but it appears the gun jams, multiple times. The officer is shooting at Tapia; you can see the rounds ricochet on the pavement and at times go through the windshield. Tapia appears not only defiant but hell bent on killing the officer.

Warning: Video contains graphic content

Eventually, Tapia, hit by gunfire, falls to the pavement but keeps aiming his gun at the officer and attempts to fire his weapon. Even as Tapia lies there he rolls over and tries to fire the gun. A few minutes later Tapia is motionless and the officer continues to stay by his vehicle, gun aimed at Tapia, until back up arrives.

I was told the woman died from a single gunshot which penetrated her heart – in essence, she bled to death on the scene. Tapia was pronounced dead at a hospital.

When the source explains what had just happened I sat there expressionless, horrified in knowing I just saw an innocent woman die from a gunshot wound, and even more disturbing, the man shot the woman in front of the officer.

My research continues; I ask Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for additional records, again I’m denied because they deemed my request to voluminous. This is usually an indicator that an agency doesn’t want to cooperate or is afraid the documents will expose something negative. I am granted access to read some benign documents at their office during business hours. This is one of many rejection letters:

A week later, I was able to acquire a copy of the dashcam video along with officer Borrego’s audio track from his bodycam. When you hear the sounds of gunfire, and the constant pleas from Officer Borrego for Tapia to drop his gun, it was pretty evident Tapia had no desire to survive the altercation.

I met with Sheriff Bianco and he was very candid and visibly frustrated with the history of this case. Bianco said the previous administration dropped the ball on the Tapia case. Bianco said with confidence that had he been sheriff in 2009 Tapia would have been deported.

I decided to reach out to Cathedral City Police Chief Travis Walker. Walker told me he had seen the dashcam video and the incident was very disturbing because he may very well have lost an officer that day. Walker praised the actions of the officer, later identified as Jesus Borrego, a 10-year veteran of the department. Walker told me considering the actions of Tapia, Borrego acted heroically.

Bianco and Cathedral City Police Chief Travis Walker both say the sanctuary policies in California are negatively impacting public safety, adding that it’s a sad day when laws passed to protect criminal aliens stomp all over the laws intended to protect law-abiding citizens.

I asked both of them, “Would the woman be alive today if Tapia had been deported years ago?”

Chief Walker: “I don’t have a crystal ball…but we would not have responded to this homicide on January 13, 2019 – the system failed this woman”

Sheriff Bianco: “Tapia should not have been in this country. If I had been sheriff Tapia would have been deported”

Sheriff Bianco told me he intends on fighting back by working to overturn California’s sanctuary law and he plans to do everything within the law to cooperate with immigration officials.

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