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How the case against Dodger Stadium beating suspect unraveled

LAPD chief says investigators may have been overselling their findings in the attack on Bryan Stow, but it's his job to see through that. Source calls witness IDs of Giovanni Ramirez 'weak.'

July 24, 2011|By Joel Rubin, Jack Leonard and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announces the charges filed against Sanchez and Norwood.See full story
Accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Chief Charlie… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

On a Sunday afternoon in late May, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck stood before a horde of television cameras in the sprawling parking lot at Dodger Stadium. His voice wavering with emotion, Beck told a riveted city he was confident his detectives had caught one of the men responsible for the beating of a San Francisco Giants fan in that same lot weeks before.

"This was a very difficult investigation, with a lot of moving pieces," Beck said. "But this is a significant, significant break and one that will lead to a successful investigation I'm sure."

Photos: Suspects in Bryan Stow beating charged

But already, doubts had begun to grow in the minds of prosecutors and some in the LAPD.

The case against the suspect, Giovanni Ramirez, hinged entirely on eyewitness identifications and circumstantial evidence. There was no hard evidence that placed the 31-year-old gang member at the stadium that day, let alone proved he committed the assault. Before arresting Ramirez, detectives had tried to find some definitive link and had come up empty.

In the weeks that followed, police continued to search for a phone record, a clip from stadium surveillance cameras, a credit card transaction — anything — that would make their case. Still, they found nothing.

The unraveling of the case against Ramirez reached its dramatic, if inevitable, end last week when two other men were arrested and charged with the assault on Bryan Stow, who remains hospitalized and has brain damage.

At another, very different news conference Friday, Beck once again went before the cameras to publicly announce that his department had exonerated Ramirez. "I want to tell the world Giovanni Ramirez is no longer a suspect in this case," he said.

When you arrest the right person, things fall into place very quickly.... This one just hung out there,” Beck said.
In an interview after the news conference, Beck said: "When you arrest the right person, things fall into place very quickly.... This one just hung out there."

Police have released few details about how they came to charge the new suspects, Marvin Norwood, 30, and Louie Sanchez, 29.

But law enforcement sources, who requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said the new suspects surfaced after detectives came to believe that Ramirez was not the assailant and returned to the hundreds of clues and tips that had come in from the public.

The detectives noticed that several people who had been sitting in the same section of the stadium during the opening day game had reported seeing a pair of very aggressive, belligerent fans seated nearby, the law enforcement official said. From interviews with the people, detectives were able to narrow down the area and then pulled together a list of possible suspects from ticket sales records. Norwood and Sanchez jumped out as prime suspects.

Detectives learned that Dorene Sanchez, Norwood's wife or long-term partner and Louie Sanchez's sister, had attended the game with them. She fit the description of the woman witnesses saw driving the car the men jumped into after the attack.

The source said Norwood and Sanchez have implicated each other to detectives and added that police are confident Dorene Sanchez was the driver. Criminal charges against her are pending, Beck said Friday.

Prosecutors allege that Norwood and Louie Sanchez "did cut and disable the tongue, and put out an eye and slit the nose, ear and lip" of Stow, according to district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

While Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the abrupt change of course in the case demonstrates the LAPD's commitment to pursuing the truth even if it means taking some public relations lumps in doing so, the case has exposed the department to difficult questions about how investigators came to focus so intently on Ramirez and remained so for so long.

It was a difficult case from the start.

The attack on Stow occurred at night in a poorly lighted parking lot. With too few police and security personnel on hand to adequately patrol the huge canvas of pavement, there was only a group of other fans on hand to witness the attack. No one recorded a license plate of the car the men jumped into. Afterward, investigators were chagrined to find that the two attackers had left no fingerprints or blood samples or other samples of their DNA that might help identify them.

Attention on the case was intense. With national and international media covering the beating, Villaraigosa, Beck and other city leaders were eager to prove that such lawlessness would be punished and that it was safe to attend games at one of baseball's most storied venues.

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