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Man to stand trial in Santa Cruz wharf gang shooting

Man to stand trial in Santa Cruz wharf gang shooting

SANTA CRUZ — A 23-year-old Santa Cruz man will stand to face criminal charges at trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Christian Meza-Reyes is charged with gang-related attempted murder for allegedly shooting a 17-year-old teen nearly a year ago on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Earlier, Meza-Reyes’ former four co-defendants in the case each pleaded to lesser charges in plea deals with the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office.

According to testimony in a three-day preliminary hearing, Meza-Reyes and a group of friends and associates were drinking and socializing at the end of the wharf after an earlier fundraiser party for a friend who had died. Two vehicles — one allegedly including Meza-Reyes as a passenger — were leaving the wharf shortly after midnight, according to testimony and wharf surveillance videos shared at the hearing. The driver of the other vehicle, including at least three occupants, noticed several individuals with a Jaguar SUV parked on the wharf near a kayak rental kiosk and did a U-turn so as to pass the other group three times. Allegedly, the vehicle with Meza-Reyes as a passenger joined the first car on its final pass, when the two vehicles stopped just past the Jaguar.

The Jaguar group asked why the vehicles had stopped and its allegedly masked occupants were “mean mugging” them, a Santa Cruz police officer testified. In return, the Jaguar’s passengers were asked if they “belonged” on the wharf and where they were from, officer Trevor Kendall testified, per his interview with the victims. The Jaguar’s occupants drove from the wharf in a hail of bullets, with at least 13 casings later found at the scene by police, according to testimony. One of the vehicle’s teenage occupants was shot in the leg, according to testimony.

Under questioning by defense attorney Roland Soltesz, Santa Cruz police detective Dave Rosell confirmed that wharf surveillance video footage of the shooting does not identify who fired a gun during the shooting.

Also charged in the case were co-defendants Angel Paulina Cabrera, 24, and Said Paredes-Cazares, 24, both of Santa Cruz; and Ivan Cholico, 24, of Watsonville. The three each pleaded no contest to reduced charges on Aug. 31. Joseph Ibarra, 21, of Live Oak, followed suit with a similar deal Sept. 6, pleading to reduced charges of felony exhibiting a deadly weapon, plus a criminal enhancement for gang-related conduct. Ibarra was sentenced to time already served, plus two years of formal supervised probation, and was released from custody.

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As part of his plea deal, Ibarra testified to his role in the shooting and his suspicion that the Jaguar’s occupants were members of a rival gang trespassing on his gang’s territory. Ibarra admitted to leading the initial attack on the Jaguar, armed with a screwdriver. He also testified to seeing Meza-Reyes with a gray handgun with an attached scope earlier in the evening. Ibarra said he heard gunshots and turned to see Meza-Reyes standing outside the car he was riding in, holding his two hands clasped together as though gripping a gun. Ibarra and Meza-Reyes are believed to be associates of or members of the same gang, but part of different local affiliates, according to testimony from Santa Cruz County Anti-Crime Team gang taskforce’s officer Kyle Score.

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Cabrera, who pleaded to unlawful public fighting and gang involvement, faces a suspended one-year prison sentence, plus two years of probation, according to court documents. Paredes-Cazares, who pleaded to being an after-the-fact accessory to a felony related to gang activity, faces a sentence of time served, plus two years probation. Cholico, who pleaded to gang-related assault with great bodily injury and unlawful public fighting, is expected to avoid a prison term through time served in county jail, with his sentencing delayed until next year in order for him to accrue additional custody credits.

Meza-Reyes is scheduled to return to court before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Denine Guy for arraignment on the information Oct. 2.