INVESTIGATION: Allegations Arise That Some Domestic Violence Cases Take Backseat In Riverside County

"Politically motivated" is what Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach says of accusations that his office is reluctant to take some domestic violence cases.

Sources inside the Riverside County District Attorney's Office contend that under the leadership of Paul Zellerbach, the agency is compromising domestic violence victims in a drive to slash caseloads, limit jury trials and chalk up easy wins.

But Zellerbach fired back that such allegations are "politically motivated." He told City News Service his office is meeting its public safety obligations and doing so more efficiently than under his predecessor.

The ramifications of the district attorney's approach to case management has come into focus in the aftermath of the slaying of Kathryn Rose Sanchez, a 34-year-old mother of three killed in her Riverside apartment on June 15, 2012.

Sanchez was stabbed and strangled by 36-year-old Antonio Carreon Jr., who immediately took his own life by lying in front of an approaching train, according to police.

Carreon had a history of domestic violence and was alleged to have assaulted Sanchez on multiple occasions, spawning a police investigation that ended without any charges being filed.

Some career agency employees wonder why.

Sources who have served under three -- and in a few cases, four -- district attorneys contend that the way the Sanchez case was handled reflects a top-down change in values at the D.A.'s office that has resulted in a dismissive attitude toward domestic violence cases.

"Our district attorney has established a culture where victims of domestic violence are not important," according to a veteran Riverside County prosecutor, who spoke to City News Service on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

"That's clear in the statistics and in the filing decision in this case," the prosecutor said. "There have been orders, straight from the top, to maximize conviction rates regardless of the effect on victims of crime."

The prosecutor maintained that the order of the day in the D.A.'s Office is to dispose of cases with an eye to attaining easy wins, even if it means giving defendants "sweetheart deals," or rejecting -- on dubious grounds -- cases submitted by law enforcement.

"And you end up with tragic situations like this, where the woman is dead, and her children have been orphaned," he said.

A Riverside Police Department investigation into Sanchez's domestic violence allegations was completed before the murder-suicide. But the case was closed and no charges were filed in what remains a murky decision-making process. Police say the D.A.'s Riverside domestic violence unit decided not to proceed; the D.A.'s Office maintains that investigators never submitted the Carreon case for formal review.

Two former Los Angeles County prosecutors consulted by CNS for their assessment of the handling of the case said that, based on the police report alone, there appeared to have been sufficient grounds to file felony charges against Carreon in December 2011.

"Under Rod Pacheco and my first boss, Grover Trask, we had a deep commitment to victims of domestic violence," according to the deputy district attorney who spoke anonymously. "We knew they were the toughest cases. But we were OK with that because we understood that it's the tough ones where you prove you're a real prosecutor. Grover and Rod expected us to fight hard for victims. That standard doesn't exist under Paul Zellerbach."

Zellerbach said any suggestion he would seek to curtail the prosecution of domestic violence cases or other crimes to lengthen his office's win column is "personally offensive" and "makes absolutely no sense."

"The emphasis here is on trying to achieve justice and fairness and at the same time protect the public," he told CNS. "To say I'm soft on a particular kind of crime -- what's the basis for that?

"If the facts are there and we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then I want that case prosecuted. That's the standard. The standard doesn't change."


Zellerbach said the decision of what case disposition is best ultimately rests with a supervising prosecutor, who should not seek summary resolution merely because a case is rife with challenges.

"I'm setting the tone of this office, and I don't believe in shying away from difficult cases," Zellerbach said. "For 22 years, I was a tough, kick-ass prosecutor. My supervisors know what my feelings and beliefs are. ... Whether you're talking about domestic violence cases, homicides or other cases, the message I've espoused is, take it to trial if you can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt."

But a D.A.'s office employee, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said she and colleagues have witnessed the opposite of a "tough" posture by prosecutors handling domestic violence cases in the last two years.

"It's gotten to where we're just doing plea agreements now," the woman said. "Good felony cases are being pled down to misdemeanors. The perpetrators are not being made to feel the consequences of their actions.

"When we allow these guys to slide by, it's like a 'go' signal. We're telling them, 'You can get away with it.' For the victims, it's another injury. It hurts because you can see the effect it has on the victims. We're so perplexed."

According to data supplied by the D.A.'s Office, misdemeanor and felony domestic violence filings countywide changed little from 2010 to 2011, totaling around 2,600 the first year and 2,400 the second.

Zellerbach said the numbers belie claims the agency has taken a careless or negligent attitude toward that category of crime.  He could not immediately explain, however, why domestic violence trials in the Riverside metropolitan area had nose-dived.

According to data, there were 53 domestic violence trials in 2010 in the Riverside metro area -- the last year of Pacheco's term -- and 20 in 2011, the first year of Zellerbach's term. That's a 62 percent drop, even while the number of domestic-violence filings in the metro area declined only 12 percent.

The District Attorney's Office was unable to provide trial figures from 2010, 2011 or 2012 for either its Southwest Division on Murrieta or the agency's Desert Division in Indio. Year-end 2012 data for the Riverside metropolitan area was also unavailable, according to D.A.'s Office spokesman John Hall.

In neighboring San Bernardino County, the number of domestic violence trials countywide increased from 24 in 2010 to 27 in 2011.

The drop-off in DV trial activity in Riverside correlates with a general rise in pretrial settlements under Zellerbach, who told CNS that resolving every case by jury is a needless commitment of resources with sometimes bad results.

"Under my predecessor, they would rather try it and lose it," the D.A. said. "It's more beneficial, in my opinion, to take a plea and get something than take it to trial and lose everything. ... Whether you're gaining a conviction at trial or through a plea agreement, you're holding the person accountable for his conduct. Isn't that better than him walking scot-free?"


Zellerbach, whose emphasis on conservative budgeting has earned him praise from county administrators and whose efforts to improve relations with the defense Bar since taking office have elevated his status in some circles, does not enjoy the support of many line prosecutors. The 250-member Riverside County Deputy District Attorneys' Association did not endorse him when he ran against incumbent Rod Pacheco in 2010.

In his 2010 challenge, Zellerbach said Riverside County residents were "not getting their money's worth" because the D.A.'s Office was overloading the docket with criminal hearings, resulting in a raft of cases being dismissed for lack of court space and unmet speedy trial guarantees, putting defendants back on the street and increasing risks to public safety.

He said the wheels of justice are turning more efficiently now, thanks to the annual number of criminal jury trials going from 1,000 -- the average under Pacheco -- to an estimated 600 last year.

According to the District Attorney's Office, no cases were dismissed for lack of court space in 2011 or 2012. By contrast, between 2007 and 2010, 274 felony and misdemeanor cases were dismissed countywide.

Zellerbach said he was "distressed" that employees of his office would air their concerns to the media.

"Why weren't these concerns brought to me first? I have an open-door policy. I'm a big believer of trying to keep things in-house," he said. "The fact that they went to the press leads me to conclude this was politically motivated."

The D.A. said he was not familiar with the Sanchez case but felt certain the manager of the Riverside domestic violence unit, Vince Fabrizio, was doing a "very good job."

Zellerbach also insisted that there are no issues bedeviling relations between the D.A.'s office and the Riverside Police Department.

"This shouldn't be a pissing contest where one calls out the other for not doing something," he said. "We work hand-in-hand."

The D.A. bristled at claims that the agency has failed victims of domestic violence, noting that since taking office two years ago, he's increased funding for the Family Justice Centers in Riverside and Murrieta, where domestic violence victims can seek assistance, such as with filing restraining orders. He said he's also dedicated funds for the Family Justice Center that opened this month in Indio.

No one has yet declared plans to oppose Zellerbach in the June 2014 election, though the former Superior Court judge told CNS rumors are rampant that someone in the office intends to challenge him.

The sources who spoke to CNS said they were not motivated by a desire to see the D.A. unseated.

Jason EHS '99 January 31, 2013 at 05:58 PM
D.A's make me sick. Theyll do anything to stay out of trial. They use big legal terms that the average person dont understand to scare them into a quick plea agreement. My 2 nieces were molested as young children by there father, the D.A. scared him into taking a plea and got him only 7 years...7 years! Tell me, where is the justice? 2 innocent children's lives are forever ruined and this creep only gets 7 years? And the public defenders...or public preteders as i call them, allow it. Do yourself a favor if youre ever arrested for something you didnt do, keep your mouth shut, dont take any deals. Plea not guilty. Youll walk
Patterson January 31, 2013 at 09:47 PM
Pacheco probably used force or blackmail to get his former co-worker to lie...I remember you Pacheco! Don't mess with us! I know what you and your cousin are all about...I Promise!
Patterson January 31, 2013 at 09:49 PM
Your alright Zellerbach...just watch them Hatfields!
We-Women February 01, 2013 at 01:51 AM
It’s not just the D.A. and yes you can find published articles on the poor and different in Divorce cases with women who suffered from Domestic Violence. But it’s not just the D.A. It’s our family law courts. Commissioner Robert W. Nagby believes so strongly in the 50/50 joint legal, joint physical custody because it worked so well in his personal life, that he has ordered 50/50 even when there had been Domestic Violence. Because the abuser completed their court ordered “Anger management classes” and paid their fines. In my own personal life, my ex-husband has been arrested (3) THREE times and he was plea bargained EVERY SINGLE TIME!! 2002, 2008, & 2010, And yes this is RIVERSIDE COUNTY. Now I’m in a custody battle over our younger children. Not to mention the financial harassment I’ve suffer because his lawyer told him to do it. F.Y.I. If you think you are going to leave your abuser, make sure you have money for a lawyer, because there is no real help out there for you. I went to the Family Justice Center in Murrieta, and in Riverside. The Attorneys I saw there were Hacks that don’t really help you much at all. And they don't care what you have been through.
John Lloyd February 01, 2013 at 06:38 AM
It sounds like the ADA's that were on the Pacheco team are trying their best to create an issue where none should be. Politics in situations like this just suck. The family has gone through enough, without making it seem like the County blew off the issue. Stop using the families to promote your political agenda.
Chris Hyland February 01, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Patterson how can you say "your alright Zellerbach" regarding criminal acts?. Show us what legal actions Zellerbach has taken regarding criminal complaints from citizens who have been traumatized by threats? Opinion is - if he does or has taken action regarding criminal acts or arrests they appear to be one sided. In other words many of us feel he caters to those who are beneficial to his actions and not those who have been criminally threatened or attacked. Wonder how he feels when his office or local law enforcment takes no action regarding someone's report as to their being threatened or subjected to bodily harm and IT HAPPENS. I have been told by several people regarding the Police response of which they state the police never got back to them with a report or actions being taken. I am told their response always seems to be "Oh, we checked and there was no criminal action that can be taken against the person or persons; therefore, there is nothing we can do". Oh, what can law enforcement take action on even if you have evidence and they have the audacity to say they can do nothing. Really and we pay to be protected by the Police and District Attorney and they cannot do anything until we are brutally harmed. Oh well - will justice ever prevail?????????
Patterson February 01, 2013 at 10:56 PM
For way too long under Grover Trask and Rod Pacheco's reign that was the plan...to destroy as many families as possible, take the kids, put the parents in jail with fines for life. You see...when people are seperated from their loved ones and under pressure they don't even stop tp think or see what is really going on in their town.
Patterson February 01, 2013 at 11:00 PM
The morons that worked under Pacheco in his day still do work for him...because they still fear him...and his cronies.
Roberto February 02, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Rail Road County is run by the District Attorney's Office. In Lake Elsinore, the LEAP's project that never was cost the Stake Holders 10 million Dollars, and 8 million dollar minor league ball stadium cost mushroomed to 35 million dollars, White collar crimes is protected in Rail Road County while the Judges fear the DA and go along with the manufacture of fake charges against poor defendents so they can pad their tough on crime image. Nothing will ever change and jury duty is a waste of time in this judge shopping county.
jill smith February 03, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Thank god Grover Trask is gone, he made sure his Buddy Pacheco replaced him, gee I wonder why. Thank God there both gone . GOOD RIDDANCE!
Patterson February 03, 2013 at 01:54 AM
I hear ya Roberto... everywhere between San Diego and Barstow has it's own little money making scheme, on top of the pension crisis throughout California. Where I live, here in La Sierra the people of our parents generation saw that they had given too much control to the government...not necessarily the Feds, but the County and State thru the Finance and Securities Department. Because our parents were becoming aware of this and the harm being done to the Earth the "Age of Innovation" and "Go Green" projects were created. Of course these projects were mostly "Trade Secrets" of the elders thru local Corporations, everything was hush-hush and all the responsible parties ended up taking these secrets to there graves, some under suspicious circumstances. It was all planed by the long timers in the Counsel, etc...they stole it all and to this day are collecting. The families of these people are now for the most part either homeless or unaware.
jlh February 05, 2013 at 12:22 PM
this is pitiful..especially the way defendants are pushed into corner with over zealous prosec/da to take plea threatening trial sen- tencing knowing all along their debates with public defenders are corrupt. Who do you trust when truly innocent, victim herself insists accident then d/a attacks "victim" for being hostile?
KELLY D. DIVINE February 20, 2013 at 09:36 AM
I was a victim of Domestic Violence.The DAs office did file charges against the person that assalted me.My attacker pled out and was sentenced to 18 months for Corporol Spousal Abuse.I think this was a fair sentence and I believe the DAs office handled this particular case with honor and were extremely diligent in getting to the TRUTH. I was actually very impressed with the fact that the DA wanted the truth, they represent the State and people of California and that is how it should be. I was treated with respect,kindness and compassion.The DAs investigator was aggressive and very professional while gathering the facts of this case.He too was interested only in the truth of the matter. I do not believe the DAs office turns away from Domestic Abuse cases, I do believe the decision of which case they handle is done by looking at the greater picture of each case and we the public are not privy to all the information that is infront of them.The Riverside Co. DAs office under Paul Zellerbach earned my respect and I am grateful his office represents our community and our state.Thank you, Kelly Divine.
Chris Hyland February 20, 2013 at 05:39 PM
K ELLY DARLENE are you a Catholic because if you are ----- make an appointment to confess your sins it sounds like you work in the DA's office and are trying to make him look like he does his job....HAAAAAAAAAAAA! Well, I can tell you that Zellerbach does not earn my respect or that of many others. Go to the story on the Patch of January 30, 2013 title INVESTIGATION and see what many of his employees think. Do you wonder how certain people get away without being criminally charged - it's called in my opinion CATERING based on .....................
KELLY D. DIVINE March 07, 2013 at 04:43 PM
No Henry I dont work for the DAs office, I operate heavy equipment. I just shared my experience having been a victim of Domestic Violence.I wanted to give credit where credit is due.The DAs Office handled the case I was involved with professionally and they were aggressive throughout the entire process, I know certain cases appear to be obvious that charges should be filed, however there are alot of factors in each case that the public isnt made aware of..Domestic Violence is very different from most other crimes becausr it can be complex.As for the employess that supposedely spoke against Mr. Zellerbach, lets call a spade a spade,media lies to sell their papers. I am being honest woth you and telling you Mr.Zellerbach and the DAs Office he oversees was aggressive and professional in regards to the Domestic Violence case I was involved with.Thank you,Kelly Divine
Patricia C. Amburgey March 16, 2013 at 11:24 PM
In 1992 my cousin Terese Stewart, was murdered in her own home in Temecula,CA. The Riverside county first called it a suicide even though it was proved later to be a homicide. Terese's, mother Mary Stewart, has hired Attorneys and PI. to no avail. She fought a 16 year battle with the DA office. She did all the investivage work herself and spent thousands of dollars to prove who the real killer is .Mary, was told that if she didn't back off that they would charge her with Terese's murder...Why is law enforcement protecting this animal that killed Terese? Many of us have taken this up again to try and get justice for Terese, just 29yrs old at the time of her murder. Mary Stewart, is my cousin. She has just about given up on getting justice for her daughter. Many friends and relatives have contacted Paul Zellerbach, in hopes he will reopen this cold case file with no results from his office. I am beginning to think he is as corrupt as the DA he replaced.. If you read her web-site it will clearly convince you that John Wesley, or John Cronin, which ever the name he is corrently using killed her for gain.. He startes out conning you out of get rich quick scams. If anyone reading this has had any dealings with John, please contact me at pcsamigo@yahoo.com.. Here is Terese's web site created by her mother http/www.murdermislabaled suicide. Please anyone with information contact me at my email address..
Patricia C. Amburgey March 16, 2013 at 11:33 PM
I typed the letter above about the murder of Terese Stewart in 1992. I clicked on her link after posting and must have typed it wrong. Here is the correct address Murder Mislabeled Suicide
A B C In Serious need of help June 26, 2013 at 01:23 PM
Why do they not take requested restraining orders seriously. I requested one in Riverside Family Law Court, and since the other party had an attorney, all of my documentation of continued harrassment to myself and others, as well as continued alcohol abuse, it was denied. This person is violent, and the court would not let me provide documentation. What is the point of documenting anything if it is not going to be allowed anyway? I guess I have to end up as a statistic on the evening news. It seems to be a pattern here in Riverside County. What happened to justice? Why do the bad guys keep getting away with it? Is this what our world has come to? The government is so set on being politcally correct that people have to continue to be harrassed bullied and threatened?
Roberto June 27, 2013 at 11:05 AM
So sad, we the taxpayers of Riverside County pay for Prosecutors to fabricate charges, lie & overcharge non-violent offenders and let the violent offenders run amok. Hopefully, Paul Zellerbach will make these lazy prosecutors perform their jobs or terminate them
Keith J. Walker January 07, 2014 at 02:14 AM
You should ask Zellerbach about Rawah Algaoun, Thierry Lemaitre Ahlam Algaouni and Montaser Algaouni and his relationship with E. Toby Bowler
Keith J. Walker January 07, 2014 at 02:19 AM
I will say that there are women out there who are actually suffering at the hands of their domestic abusers. It is sickening to see that there are women who lie to police and other to get their ex's into trouble. Despite not having a single thread of evidence against the alleged abuser the DA's office pursue them when they should be pursuing those that actually abuse their spouses or significant others. Watch for the facts that will reveal the special favors done to portray what I say here, and all int he name of covering up crimes committed, bribery and kickbacks.
Roberto January 08, 2014 at 12:37 AM
How about if we ask Paul Zellerbach why he doesn't fire Hestrin and his Prosecutor Union cohorts for running around, fabricating lies instead of going out and prosecuting real criminal?


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