A Santa Maria man will appear in court today for a preliminary hearing on felony charges connected to criminal threats he allegedly made against Santa Maria police officers and their families.
Albert Vareles, 34, appeared in court Thursday to set the date for his preliminary hearing, and Friday’s already scheduled but tentative date was confirmed, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Catherine Martin.
Mr. Varelas has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of making criminal threats and stalking.
The complaint filed against him alleges that between Jan. 24 and Feb. 17, he threatened to commit a crime against police officers “which would result in death and great bodily injury,” and that the alleged crime was made “with the specific intent that the statement be taken as a threat.”
His alleged threat against the officers and their families “was so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific as to convey to the victim a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution,” according to the complaint.
“It is further alleged that the said victim was reasonably in sustained fear of his/her safety and the safety of his/her immediate family,” the complaint said.
The complaint alleges that Mr. Varelas backed up his threats in that he “willfully, maliciously and repeatedly” followed and harassed Santa Maria police officers.
The complaint notes that Mr. Varelas already has a prior serious felony conviction on his record, considered his first strike under the three strikes law.
He was arrested on Feb. 18 after the alleged threat came to light the night before, when Santa Maria police received information regarding police officers and their families being threatened on social media posts, Sgt. Daniel Rios said in a police department news brief posted online.
Officers initiated an investigation, and Mr. Varelas was identified as a suspect, Sgt. Rios said. Mr. Varelas’ social media account was also located.
During the initial police investigation, several more social media posts allegedly were made by Mr. Varelas and observed by officers in real time involving further threats against Santa Maria police officers and family members, Sgt. Rios said.
Mr. Varelas’ alleged threats referenced previous police contact and current threats to “kill” officers and family members, Sgt. Rios said.
Further investigation confirmed that Mr. Varelas was allegedly targeting and stalking officers’ homes in the Santa Maria area, Sgt. Rios said.
Officers obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Varelas on suspicion of making criminal threats but were unable to locate him.
The Santa Maria Police Detective Bureau took over the investigation the morning of Feb. 18, and detectives were able to track the suspect to a location in the Orcutt area near Foster Road and Hummel Drive.
At about 2:20 p.m., the detectives, with assistance from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division and the Santa Maria Police Patrol Division, were able to safely locate and arrest Mr. Varelas without incident, police said.
He was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail on the criminal threats warrant, and that’s where he remained Thursday on $200,000 bail.