Suspect, 5 others arrested in police officer’s killing
Sheriff cites state’s sanctuary law as factor in slaying
A day laborer with gang affiliations and past arrests for drunken driving, who was in the country illegally, was captured outside Bakersfield in the high-profile killing of a Stanislaus County police officer, officials announced Friday.
But while the arrest of Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32, ended a statewide manhunt in Wednesday’s killing of Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh, revelations about the suspect’s immigration status and criminal history reignited criticism of California’s sanctuary state policy.
At a news conference Friday, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson echoed President Trump’s calls for stricter border security as he railed against the state’s sanctuary law. The policy, pushed by Democrats and signed in 2017 as SB54, prohibits local law enforcement from notifying or sharing detained immigrants’ information with federal immigration agents, when they are not accused of serious criminal charges.
Christianson, a Republican, has been a vocal critic of the policy and met with President Trump at the White House in May to speak out about the bill. The sheriff appears in a YouTube video posted by the White House seated beside Trump during the meeting.
On Friday, the sheriff said, “The last thing in the world I want to do is politicize the death of officer Singh.” He then used the case to criticize California’s law and suggested it led to the deadly encounter.
“We were prohibited — law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws and that led to the encounter with officer Singh,” Christianson said at Friday’s news conference. “The outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited, or had their hands tied because of political interference.”
Christianson never said when Arriaga was arrested, but records show — and officials confirmed — that he was picked up for a DUI in Madera County on June 5, 2014 — years before the state’s sanctuary law prohibited local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
It was unclear Friday whether officials in Madera County knew of Arriaga’s immigration status or alerted immigration authorities.
It was in Madera County that Chowchilla police arrested Arriaga on a speeding violation on June 5, 2014, and found he was driving with a blood alcohol level of more than .08 percent and without a license, Chowchilla Police Chief David Riviere said Friday. At the time, Arriaga also had a warrant out for his arrest for driving unlicensed and having no insurance, Riviere told The Chronicle.
“As far as immigration status, I can tell you we do not ask those questions. We have no reason to,” Riviere said. “He was stopped for a traffic violation and found to be DUI.”
It also remained unclear Friday whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had ever encountered, arrested or deported Arriaga. Because of the government shutdown, ICE officials were unavailable Friday for comment on the case.
Christianson said he did not know if Arriaga had ever been deported.
“We’re not here to enforce federal immigration law — that’s not our job,” Christianson said at the news conference. “But law enforcement should be able to turn people over to ICE who are gang members who victimize and exploit others.”
The sheriff ’s comments came a day after Trump seized on the killing in his fight over border security and demanded Congress fund a U.S.-Mexico wall. The fight has been at the center of the government shutdown that began on Dec. 22.
“There is right now a full scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police officer during a traffic stop,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!”
Supporters of California’s policy pushed back on Christianson’s pointed statements Friday, underscoring that the law was written to encourage cooperation between law enforcement and immigrants, who may be reluctant to come forward if they are crime victims.
“This situation is more about what this person’s state of mind was and how he got into this situation, and it has less to do with the fact that he’s not a citizen,” said Bill Hing, a San Francisco immigration attorney and University of San Francisco law professor.
Arriaga — a day laborer who worked at miscellaneous farms and dairies around the central valley — surrendered early Friday outside a house surrounded by SWAT officers on the 8200 block of Brooks Lane just south of Bakersfield in the town of Lamont (Kern County), officials said. Authorities said he was fleeing to his native Mexico when he was captured.
Arriaga allegedly shot Singh — a 33-year-old husband and father of a 5-month-old boy — during a DUI stop around 1 a.m. Wednesday in Newman. Singh, too, immigrated to the United States, but he came legally from Fiji to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a police officer.
Singh’s younger brother Reggie and other family members stood alongside the Stanislaus County sheriff ’s officials at Friday’s news conference.
“Ronil Singh was my older brother. Yes, he’s not coming back, but there’s a lot of people out there that miss him and a lot of law enforcement people that I don’t know, who worked days and nights to make this happen,” Reggie Singh said through tears. “I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said six people were in the home when Arriaga was arrested including some children. Deputies arrested three Bakersfield residents there on suspicion of aiding and abetting Arriaga. They are Bernabe Madrigal Casteneda, 59, Erasmo Villegas, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff ’s Department additionally arrested Arriaga’s brother, 25-year-old Adrian Virgen, and a co-worker, Erik Razo Quiroz, 27, on suspicion of aiding Arriaga’s attempted escape from the country.
“They intentionally lied to us,” Christianson said of of the latter two suspects. “They tried to divert us off the investigation. They misled us. They provided information that was false all in an attempt to protect their brother.”
Arriaga was a known associate of the Sureño street gang, Christianson said, and was pictured on one of his various Facebook pages posing with a gun and machete.
Deputies brought Singh’s handcuffs down to Kern County to place on Arriaga before he was transported to jail in Stanislaus County.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and slain police Cpl. Ronil Singh’s family members hold a news conference.
Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh was gunned down during a traffic stop early Wednesday.