Albert Varelas, 34, is accused of making threats against Santa Maria police and their families
A Santa Maria man pleaded not guilty Tuesday for the second time to felony charges that he made criminal threats against the lives of Santa Maria police officers and their families and stalked them.
Albert Varelas, 34, already pleaded not guilty after his initial arraignment following his arrest on Feb. 18. Since then, a preliminary hearing judge found that prosecutors presented enough evidence against him that the case should proceed to trial.
Defendants are given a second chance to enter a plea after their preliminary hearing.
“Mr. Varelas was arraigned on the Information (called a complaint before a preliminary hearing) … and in California a defendant has a right to a trial within 60 days of the arraignment on an Information unless the defendant waives time,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott E. Donahue said.
“Mr. Varelas did not waive time, and consequently a trial will need to commence no longer than 60 days from today, and the judge wants to ensure we have enough time to set a trial date if needed.”
Mr. Varelas is due back in court on April 6 to set a trial date.
That might not be necessary — at least not yet — because the defendant is challenging the preliminary hearing judge’s ruling that he should stand trial.
He filed a motion for a different judge than the one who presided at his preliminary hearing to review the hearing transcripts “and make a determination whether there was sufficient evidence presented …” Prosecutor Donahue said.
A hearing on that motion was set for April 19.
“Once the judge hears that motion and if that judge also feels enough evidence (was) presented at the preliminary examination, then the case would proceed to trial if the parties do not reach an agreement,” the prosecutor said.
On the other hand, the reviewing judge could grant the defense motion as to some or all of the charges.
“We would then proceed with prosecution on the remaining charges, if any, or we could dismiss the entire case and refile it,” according to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lara Clinton.
“Either side could request the Court of Appeal review the decision on the … motion by filing a writ of mandate,” she said.
The complaint filed against Mr. Varelas 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,” the complaint said.
“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.
Detectives tracked him down and arrested him without incident.