A state Senate security officer, whose residence was the scene of a night of drinking and drug use that ended in gunfire and a death, was accompanied during police questioning by a lawyer for a politically connected lobbying firm who said he was a “family friend,” court records show.
Gerardo Lopez, who was fired from his post as a sergeant at arms in the Senate after it was disclosed that he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana, was wounded in the exchange of shots outside his suburban Sacramento house about 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2012.
Lopez was not charged. Police said he was the victim of a home invasion robbery and allowed to defend his family. He told police he emptied his Glock pistol during the gun battle.
The sergeants, as they are known in the Capitol, provide security for legislators. Lopez is the son of Dina Hidalgo, the chief human resources staff person for the Senate. Hidalgo recently returned from leave. Lopez’ wife, Jennifer Delao, also works in the Senate.
Charged in the shooting are Frank Trevizo and Francisco Merjil. A third suspect, Thomas Ordonaz, pleaded no contest to robbery charges on July 25 and awaits sentencing. Trevizo has a criminal record that dates back to 1997. In October 2005, he was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
Merjil’s brother, Joseph, was killed in the exchange of shots in the residential cul de sac about seven miles south of the Capitol. His body was in the street, outside Lopez’ residence.
The trial, which was scheduled to start this week in Sacramento County Superior Court, has been delayed at least until next week.
Police interviewed Lopez at a South Sacramento police station on Jan. 3, 2013. He was accompanied by Che J. Salinas, a registered lobbyist and former aide to three state Senators, including former President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.
In an interview with Capital Weekly, Salinas confirmed that he was present at the questioning of Lopez.
During a preliminary hearing in September, Ryan Bullard, a Sacramento Police Department detective, testified that Salinas “was there as a family friend but he also happened to be an attorney.” He gave no further explanation of his presence.
Salinas is a lobbyist with the law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, which lists some three dozen lobbying clients, including AT&T, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Intel Corp., Oracle America and Toyota Motor North America.
Chet Templeton, a lawyer for Merjil, said in an interview that the defense attempted to question Salinas, but “he refused to speak with us.”
The suspects had been at Lopez’s house after a night at a bar in south Sacramento. Police say Trevizo was angry when he noticed he was missing a $100 bill. He called the Merjil brothers and Ordonaz to help recover the money.
Authorities say the four men robbed Lopez and a friend, Jessica Agualla, and then kidnapped her. When the gunfire erupted, Lopez, Merjil and Agualla were injured.
Trevizo is charged on three counts of robbery, one count of kidnapping, and on one count of illegally possessing a firearm as a previously convicted felon. Merjil also being tried on the same charges as Trevizo, except the firearms count.
Ed’s Note: Updates 7th graf with start of trial delayed until next week.