A Santa Maria man has pleaded not guilty to felony charges alleging he made criminal threats against Santa Maria police officers and their families, and stalked them at their homes.
Albert Varelas, 34, appeared in court Wednesday for arraignment where he entered not guilty pleas to charges of making criminal threats and stalking, Deputy District Attorney Catherine Martin said. His case was continued to March 2 to set a date for his preliminary hearing. A tentative date for the hearing was scheduled for the next day, March 3.
The complaint filed against Mr. Varelas alleges that between Jan. 24 and Feb. 17, he threatened to commit a crime “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.”
According to the complaint, his alleged threat against police 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.
“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 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 over the weekend after the alleged threat came to light Friday night, 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 Saturday.
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, he said.
Officers obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Varelas on suspicion of making criminal threats but were unable to locate him.
That changed about 7:30 a.m. Saturday when the Santa Maria Police Detective Bureau took over the investigation.
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. Saturday, Santa Maria police 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 he is being held there on $250,000 bail.
Anyone with information related to this investigation is encouraged to contact SMPD Detective Eduardo Servin at 805-928-3781, ext. 1362, or the SMPD Communications Center at 805-928 -3781, ext. 2277.