Man is charged with making threats against Santa Maria police
A Santa Maria man is challenging a judge’s ruling that he should stand trial on felony charges of making criminal threats and stalking against Santa Maria police officers and their families.
Albert Varelas appeared in court on March 16 for further arraignment, at which time the defense filed a motion for a different judge than the judge who presided at his preliminary hearing to review the hearing transcripts “and make a determination whether there was sufficient evidence presented …” Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott E. Donahue told the News-Press.
Mr. Varelas is scheduled to return to court on March 28 to set a date for his motion to be heard, the prosecutor said.
“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,” Prosecutor Donahue 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.
A second preliminary hearing would be scheduled. “Either side could request the Court of Appeal review the decision on the … motion by filing a writ of mandate,” she said.
Mr. Varelas pleaded not guilty to felony charges of making criminal threats and stalking at his initial arraignment.
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.