Police chase

Pursuit — Santa Rosa and Healdsburg police clear the roundabout downtown after a pursuit ended at the intersection on Nov. 13

2019 was an eventful year for Healdsburg’s police force.

The HPD and its partnering agencies dealt with a range of crimes and incidents this year, as well as the continued use of products aimed at opioid use.

The department began the year by receiving a grant through the Harm Reduction Task Force in January, which provided the city with 24 Narcan kits. At the time of the grant, the kits were expected to last two years. Officers began carrying Narcan in May 2018, and used the nasal spray twice (once in October 2018 and again in November 2018).

During its annual report to the Healdsburg City Council in February, the police department reported that it had stocked fentanyl detection strips at the department, in order to help drug users be sure their drugs are not laced with fentanyl. The strips are available for free on a no-questions-asked basis and were provided to the department for free. In February, Police Chief Kevin Burke said that the department is trying to emphasize safety, rather than punishment. 

A body was found in Foss Creek near the 800 block of Healdsburg Avenue on Feb. 18. At the time of publication, the body has not been identified. Sgt. Luis Rodriguez, one of the responding officers, said that there were no signs of trauma on the body and that the death did not appear suspicious.

One of the larger events of the past year was the case of March 27 death of Ivan Torres. On March 27 at approximately 7:10 p.m., the HPD received a report of a possible stabbing at the Canyon Run Apartments. When officers arrived at the scene they found Torres, 25, lying on the ground with a stab wound to his torso. While en route to the hospital, Torres was pronounced dead. 

Torres’ brother, Moses Torres, 18, was initially arrested on suspicious of murder. During his April 10 arraignment, Moses entered a plea of not guilty. The preliminary hearing for Moses’ murder charge began on July 15 when the court heard from four witnesses, as well as video from the police interview with Moses while in custody. 

The Tribune’s reporting recounted some of the witness testimony from Alycia Bennett, who, along with witness Jesse Moreno, were present at the fight:

“According to Bennett, around 5:45 to 6 p.m., she heard someone knocking on the door.

Moreno answered the door for Ivan Torres, whom the couple also knew through Moses, and wanted to speak with Moreno outside … Bennett said she watched through the window as Moreno followed Ivan outside. When she saw Ivan take off his hat, she became concerned about what was going on and went out the door.

‘Something was off when I saw Ivan take off his hat,’ she said.

When she turned the corner of the building to see what was happening, she saw Ivan Torres hit Moreno.

Bennett became more emotional during the next part of the testimony. Though the court asked her if she needed a moment, she declined and continued.

She said she got between the two to break up the fight. Moses and Angelo had followed behind her.

She put her hand on Moreno’s chest and stretched her other arm out to Ivan. Moreno was backing up but Bennett said Ivan ‘was right in my face.’

She stated she told Moreno, ‘let’s just go’ repeatedly.

Then, according to Bennett, Ivan threatened her, saying, ‘Get the (expletive) out of the way or I’m going to hit you, too.’

She then saw Ivan reach into his pocket area. Bennett and Moreno both testified that Ivan was known to carry a screwdriver, presumably as a weapon. Moses also told the police about the screwdriver and where it was usually stored during his interview.

Moses Torres then stepped in and, according to Bennett, struck Ivan with what looked like a punch.

She said Ivan did not hit Moses back, but kept standing and walking. It was only when he pulled up his shirt that Bennett saw the blood from a stab wound. Moses’ father had come out at that point and Ivan told him, ‘Look what your son did to me,’ while holding up his shirt.”

During the continued preliminary hearing on July 25, the murder charge was dropped. Judge Dana Beenink Simonds said that there was not enough evidence to support probable cause for the charge, and that she found there was no malice either through expression or implied which is a requirement in the law’s definition of murder.

When Simonds found a jury trial to be warranted on the manslaughter charge, she pointed to the threshold of whether Moses reacted properly or went too far as the main reason. She said there was not enough in front of her to determine whether a claim to self defense was legally perfect.

On Dec. 17, Moses entered a plea of guilty/nolo contendere of involuntary manslaughter and carrying a concealed dirk or dagger as part of a plea bargain. Charges of voluntary manslaughter and personally using a deadly weapon were both dismissed. Moses was sentenced to 60 months probation (until Dec. 17, 2024).

The mystery of the missing hammer came to a head in the middle of April, when the city of Healdsburg announced that the 6-foot-tall hammer head had been found. The head, along with its 21-foot-long wooden handle, was stolen in October 2018. It was found, sans handle, on the Sonoma County property of an unnamed individual who asked Santa Rosa-based attorney Izaak Schwaiger to mediate the artwork’s return on their behalf. The Healdsburg Unified School District volunteered to donate the wood to recreate the hammer’s handle to sculptor Doug Unkrey.

A series of acid barrel drops left the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office looking for suspects in June. An acid barrel filled with Hexafluorozirconic acid (used in metal washing to reduce corrosion) was found on June 4 off of Kinley Drive, and a second one with the same kind of acid was found on Old Redwood Highway near Eastside Road on June 6.

The first drum had a label on it, the second did not, but since the two shared the same pH level, it was assumed that the drums were related.

The case was then handed over to county district attorney investigator Mark Azzouni’s office.

According to district attorney media spokesperson Brian Staebell, “Azzouni contacted the company who manufactured the product whose label ‘Parker Amchen’ was on the drums. However, ‘Henkel’ purchased Parker Amchem over 25 years ago.”

The product listed on the label has not been manufactured by them for at least 15 years, and the serial number on the label is not in their database, Staebell said. The company checked their archives and did not have any further information.

On Sept. 18, Sonoma Court Judge Barbara Phelan sentenced Healdsburg resident Courtney Michael Rudin, 75, to 36 months of supervised probation and 60 days in county jail after he was found guilty in a jury trial of the August vehicular manslaughter of Sebastopol cyclist Amy Suyama. The incident occured on Sept. 10, 2016, when Rudin was driving southbound on Eastside Road.

The year ended with a car chase when a pursuit that began in Santa Rosa led Santa Rosa police on a pursuit down Trenton Road to Eastside Road, down Old Redwood Highway, eventually ending at the downtown roundabout. Santa Rosa police had attempted to stop Ethan William Blaser, 19, of Santa Rosa, on Nov. 13 after he was suspected to be involved in a Nov. 9 Santa Rosa shooting. At the time of the chase, Blaser was arrested on his possible involvement, as well as the pursuit.

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