On Monday, two men who reputedly belonged to a California gang that saw police as “the enemy” and honored the murder of police officers as a badge of pride reportedly smiled and laughed as they were sentenced to life in prison for the 2015 shooting of a Merced police officer.
As the Merced Sun Star reported, Jaime Caudillo and Steven Rincon were convicted in late May, with the jury finding Caudillo guilty of shooting Merced Police Officer Ryan Rasmussen and Rincon guilty of serving as the getaway driver. Rasmussen lost the little finger on his right hand; he has been hired as an investigator with the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.
On February 28, 2015, when Rasmussen stopped their vehicle, Caudillo opened fire, hitting Rasmussen; Officers Brian Rinder and Joseph Opinski returned fire and hit Caudillo. Rincon fled with the car but crashed in an alley, then fled on foot, prompting a ten-hour search before he was found.
On Monday, Rasmussen read an impact statement, stating, “(Caudillo) stripped me of my career.” Rasmussen’s mother Judith commented that neither of the defendants showed remorse; Merced County Judge Carol Ash echoed the same perspective. When Judith Rasmussen stated of the defendants, “I pray that they ask God for forgiveness,” Rincon could be seen laughing.
Caudillo received 50 years and eight months to life; Rincon was sentenced to 80 years to life in prison as this was his third strike. The Merced Sun Star added. “Rincon already was sentenced this summer to more than 50 years to life in prison for the jailhouse murder of Aaron Bonilla, according to court records. Rincon and fellow gang members Reyes Carrillo and Alfonso Martinez attacked Bonilla for ‘a long period of time’ and killed him, authorities said.”
Merced Police Chief Chris Goodwin commented, “We’re glad it’s over. We’re glad it went this way and glad the system worked, the process worked.”
The Merced County website noted in May 2018 a program titled Operation Scrapbook had been successful in reducing the gang activity in the county, writing:
Merced County’s homicide rate had topped 30 per year between 2013 and 2015, much of it gang related, and making the county one of top three deadliest in California. In the aftermath of 2014’s Operation Red Right Hand, which targeted Norteno gang members in Merced County and resulted in more than 50 arrests, gang investigators noted an increase in rival Sureno gang activity, (District Attorney Larry D.) Morse said, which led to Operation Scrapbook.
In a one-year anniversary review of the criminal prosecutions that resulted from the May 10, 2017 sweep of Sureno gang members operating in Merced County and state prisons, Morse noted that 79 defendants were implicated in Operation Scrapbook.
Morse concluded, “Working closely with Sheriff Vern Warnke, the police chiefs and our allied agencies, and utilizing the intelligence gathering capabilities we’ve developed through the VIPER program, we have made significant progress in reducing gang violence in Merced County.”