Those arrested for the death of Newman Police Cprl. Ronil Singh are: (left to right) Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32, his brother, Adrian Virgen, 25; and co-worker Erik Razo Quiroz, 32. Photo: Stanislaus County Sheriff
MODESTO, Calif. (KTVU) - The suspect accused of killing a California police officer the day after Christmas was arrested on Friday, along with his brother, co-worker and three other alleged accomplices, capping a two-day manhunt and providing a platform for the Stanislaus County Sheriff to rip into California's sanctuary laws.
Those identified in connection with the shooting death of 33-year-old Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh are: Gustavo Perez Arriaga, who turned 32 on Friday; his brother, Adrian Virgen, 25; and co-worker Erik Razo Quiroz, 32. All are undocumented, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said at a Friday news conference in Modesto, Calif.
Early Wednesday morning, Singh, a narcotics officer with the canine unit, was shot to death outside a market when he pulled over a driver suspected of drunk driving. That man, now identified as Arriaga, took off and was at large until his capture Friday morning. Why Arriaga allegedly shot Singh is unclear, but the sheriff said that Arriaga had two prior DUIs and had been living in the country illegally for several years.
Arriaga is the lone gunman, taken into custody in Singh's handcuffs on a homicide charge in Bakersfield, Calif., where he had been trying to flee to Mexico, the sheriff said. Christianson also said that Arriaga, who worked on dairy farms, was a Sureno gang member and has several aliases and social media accounts. Arriaga was under surveillance for at least 24 hours, Christianson said, adding that hundreds of tips came in leading to his whereabouts in neighbhoring Kern County, about 200 miles away from the shooting.
Arriaga's brother and co-worker were arrested because they "intentionally lied to us and misled us," Christianson said. They each face a charge of being accessories after the fact to a felony.
Meanwhile, Kern Couny Sheriff Donny Youngblood held a separate news conference on Friday, announcing that three others had also been arrested, also for allegedly helping Arriaga, who was taken into custody without incident on the 8200 block of Brooks Lane in Bakersfield by the SWAT team.
Youngblood said that Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 59, Erasmo Villegas, 36 and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, all of Bakersfield, were arrested on charges of aiding and abetting. Their legal status was not made public. Youngblood called Arriaga's immigration status “secondary” but he has called for "anti-sanctuary” policies in the past.
A spokesman for ICE did not return emails and calls to KTVU on Friday, as the Department of Homeland Security, along with other federal agencies, are shuttered as part of the partial federal shutdown over the issue of funding a $5-billion border wall between the United States and Mexico.
At the news conference, Christianson took time to address the immigration debate, showing his frustration that his department was not allowed to share information with federal immigration officials.
"We should have been allowed to report him to ICE," Christianson said. "But because of sanctuary laws we could not."
Christianson said that if Arriaga hadn't been in the country, "the outcome could have been different. Why are we providing sanctuary for criminals? For gang members?"
California's sanctuary law limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, although it includes more than 800 exceptions for violent crimes and felonies. It also bars police from asking people about their citizenship status.
A call by the San Francisco Chronicle to the Madera County District Attorney showed that Arriaga was arrested in 2014 on a DUI charge, three years before California's sanctuary law prohibited local police from cooperating with ICE.
Former state Sen. Kevin de Leon, the Democrat who wrote the legislation, said it's unfair to blame the law for the officer's death. De Leon said that law enforcement could have apprehended Arriaga previously, especially for his alleged gang affiliations and possibly for his other active warrants.
"He should've been in the physical custody of law enforcement," de Leon said. To blame the law "is highly irresponsible."
In the past, Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the law last year, has said the law strikes a balance between protecting families while ensuring consequences for serious criminals.
A federal judge upheld the law earlier this year in the face of a challenge from the Trump administration. On Thursday, President Donald Trump referenced Singh's killing and tweeted: "Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!"
Aside from politics, news of the arrests capped an intense search, conducted by local, state and federal agencies, and brought relief to many in the community.
"Deputy Singh came to this country to be a police officer and was loved by all," said Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, who lives nearby and used to be a police officer. "As a retired police officer I find this tragic situation unacceptable. I am pleased a suspect is in custody and will watch our wheels of justice turn."
Singh's friend, Harinder Singh Toor, president of a construction company, posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. Toor told KTVU that once he posted that, a flood of tips about the suspect came in, including pictures and the fact that the suspect was in Bakersfield, heading for the border. Toor also shared a photo sent to him by a law enforcement source of the moment the suspect was arrested.
Singh was an "American patriot," Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson said earlier this week, adding that the corporal was also an immigrant, but one who came legally. "He came to America with one purpose, and that was to serve this country."
Singh was the first officer to die in the line of duty, in a Newman, a police department with 12 sworn officers.
Singh drove more than two hours each way to attend the police academy in Yuba City, Richardson said. He joined the Merced County sheriff's office as a reserve officer and worked as an animal control officer in Turlock before being hired by the Newman force in 2011. English was Singh's third language and he had a thick accent but took speech classes to improve his communication.
Singh is survived by his wife, Anamika, and their 5-month-old son.
His younger brother, Reggie Singh, attended the news conference on Friday, and cried emotionally at the podium, profusely thanking police for the arrests.
"Bear with me, this is not easy for me," the younger Singh said through tears. "He's not coming back."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.