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4 Held in Killing of Man Stabbed at Club

Arrests: Suspected gang members may face hate penalty in Riverside attack outside gay bar.

June 21, 2002|JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four reputed Riverside gang members were arrested Thursday on suspicion of murdering a man and assaulting a second earlier this month because the victims were gay.

"The only motive for the attack was hatred. Not robbery, not anything else," Riverside Police Chief Russell Leach said in announcing the arrests.

Moreno Valley resident Jeffery Owens, 40, died of multiple stab wounds to the back on June 5, six hours after he had been stabbed outside Menagerie, a downtown Riverside nightclub popular with gay men.

Owens was trying to come to the defense of his friend Michael Bussee, 48, who said he was punched in the face and stabbed as he chatted with friends in the parking lot.

"You want some trouble ... fag, here it is," one attacker yelled at Owens before jabbing a knife into him, police said.

Viviano Cruz Martin, 25; Miguel Angel Ramos, 28; and Ramin Meza Rabago, 18, were held on counts of murder and participation in a criminal street gang--crimes that could carry enhanced penalties if they are judged to be hate crimes. Dorian Lee Gutierrez, 18, was arrested on the same charges, and an additional charge of attempted murder for attacking Bussee.

Friends and acquaintances of the victims were among those who expressed satisfaction, and relief, after announcement of the arrests.

"I have been screaming with happiness all day," said Philip Bailey, a bartender at Menagerie.

Bussee, a family and marriage counselor, said he learned of the arrests in a phone call from his mother. Trembling visibly, Bussee stood Thursday afternoon in the parking lot where the attacks occurred, next to a memorial shrine of flowers, photographs and chalk engravings on the sidewalk.

"I've been shaking for two weeks. It's been very weird thinking there were people out there who did this," he said. "There's a feeling of relief. I'm happy, but I'm still scared....I'm really, really grateful for the way the Police Department handled this. They were just wonderful."

Bussee's sentiments were echoed by other community members and even police, who have worked hard to restore trust in the city since the 1998 fatal shooting by white officers of Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old black woman.

"This one feels good," said Lt. John Wallace, a department spokesman. As part of a series of changes following the Miller case, police officers have undergone two years of hate-crime training.

There were 45 reported hate crimes in Riverside in 2001, up from 38 the year before.

That includes 10 crimes against people of Middle Eastern descent after Sept. 11, Wallace said, and five against people because of their sexual orientation.

Chief Leach said evidence indicated the attack had been planned in advance.

He said an outpouring of tips from the community, combined with aggressive police work, led to Thursday's arrests. Police are seeking other witnesses and other possible suspects.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Corrado said she expected to file formal charges late Thursday or early today. Arraignment is expected this afternoon. The men could face life in prison without parole if a jury finds them guilty of murder as a hate crime.

Bussee said he has been visiting the attack site every day, removing dead flowers and sprucing up the shrine. "It's kind of like visiting a grave site," he said.

He said he was proud of the outpouring of support from residents of all kinds from this diverse city, the state's 11th largest.

"It shocked the whole community, not just the gay community," Bussee said. "We had 500 people at a vigil, people with babies in strollers, elderly people, people of color. And the police were there, too. That was very moving to me."

But he said he was not surprised.

"I would have expected nothing less from Riverside," said Bussee, who was born and raised here.

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