A former state Senate security officer offered a graphic account Monday of a drug- and alcohol-fueled gun battle at his suburban Sacramento home in which one person was shot to death in the street.
Gerardo Lopez, who served as a Senate sergeant at arms, said two armed men burst into his home, their faces covered by shirts and waving guns. “All you could see was their eyes,” Lopez told a Superior Court jury in recounting the December 2012 shootout.
The blood from his back wound “was like a faucet.” He got back through the front door and collapsed at the foot of the stairs, saying he feared that “I was going to die in front of my kids.”
The gun battle in which some 20 shots were fired has drawn attention in the Capitol because of its links to the state Senate and its hiring and personnel practices. It was not clear who fired the fatal bullet.
One of the guns was “huge to me. I saw the barrel pointing at me,” he said. One masked man, he added, grabbed his silver chain “and snatched it from my neck” while yelling and waving a gun, while another took money at gunpoint.
“My heart went into my throat and I started fearing for my life.” Lopez acknowledged that he had been drinking and consuming marijuana earlier in the evening, but “I was sober at that point. That sobered me up real quick.”
The shootout followed a night of partying at a bar and Lopez’s Greenhaven home that turned sour after one of those present, Frank Trevizo, complained that someone had taken a $100 from him, according to Lopez.
“He said, ‘What happened to my hundred-dollar bill?’” Lopez testified. “His demeanor went from friendly to a scowl on his face,” and he pulled out a gun, Lopez testified.
Prosecutors contend Trevizo called the two men to Lopez’s house to help him recover the $100. During the melee, the assailants left, taking one of the guests, a woman, with them as Lopez ran upstairs to his room and grabbed his 9mm hand gun. He then went to his front door, opened it and stepped outside.
“It was dark out there. I opened the door, took three or four steps,” he said. “Then I see sparks – boom, boom, boom.” He said he was being fired upon, and he ran for cover near his garage. He said he emptied the 10-round magazine in his gun, and was hit twice, once in the front and once in the back. The blood from his back wound “was like a faucet,” and with the help of a cousin he got back through the front door and collapsed at the foot of the stairs near his living room.
He said he feared that “I was going to die in front of my kids.”
The defense noted that several shots had been fired at Trevizo’s truck as it sped away, and pointed out apparent inconsistencies in what Lopez told investigators shortly after the shootings and his later testimony.
Trevizo and Francisco Merjil are charged with robbery and kidnapping. Trevizo, a previously convicted felon, also is accused of illegally possessing a firearm. A third suspect, Thomas Ordonaz, pleaded no contest on July 25 and awaits sentencing.
The kidnapping charge stems from the alleged abduction of Jessica Agualla, a friend of Lopez who was present at the home the night of the gun fight.
Merjil’s brother, Joseph, was killed in the exchange of shots in the residential cul de sac about seven miles south of the Capitol. Three people were injured.
Police say Trevizo, angry when he noticed he was missing a $100 bill, called the Merjil brothers and Ordonaz to come help him recover the money.
Lopez’s mother is Dina Hidalgo, the state Senate’s ranking personnel manager and is expected to be among those testify at the trial. Lopez’ wife, Jennifer Delao, also works in the Senate.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, fired Lopez this spring when he learned that he had used drugs. A week later, Tony Beard resigned from his job as chief sergeant at arms, a position he held since 1980, after he admitted that he knew about the test results but did not tell the Senate leader.
Lopez testified Monday that he had not disclosed his marijuana use – he had a medical marijuana card – because to do so could jeopardize his Senate position.
“I work for a political environment, and I’m an at-will employee,” he said, meaning he was not subject to civil service protections and could be fired without cause.
Lopez, who police and prosecutors say was the victim of a home invasion robbery, has not been charged in connection with the case.
The Senate has hired an outside law firm to investigate its hiring practices.