Albert White was a patrol deputy with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station when he was one of several officers who responded to a call Nov. 28, 2017, in the 21300 block of Bottletree Lane.
He was searching a Newhall apartment complex’s parking lot and noticed something amiss: A windshield sunshade was spread out in the back seat of a vehicle.
A closer look at the shade’s divot revealed someone behind it wearing clothes that matched the description from the report White was there to investigate — a man tried to carjack a woman at gunpoint nearby, minutes earlier.
Both sides told slightly different versions of what happened next, as attorneys made opening arguments Thursday morning in the trial of a man accused of shooting at a family in Northridge and then shooting White in the neck four days later in Newhall.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall said deputies’ detailed accounts, witnesses’ identifications and firearm ballistics prove Monolito Guerra, who appeared in the Downtown Los Angeles courtroom in a wheelchair because of injuries he sustained in the shooting, committed both crimes.
“We’re really here to discuss two specific dates in November of 2017,” Siddall said.
On Nov. 24, he said, Guerra threatened a family of four that was heading north on Lindley Avenue in Northridge and then pulled out a chrome revolver and fired two shots, one leaving a shell fragment in the back seat of the victim’s car, which ultimately was traced back to a gun found on Guerra four days later, Siddall said.
Guerra’s motivation in the second shooting, Siddall said, was to evade capture as a “fugitive from justice.” Guerra was paroled a month prior to the shooting on Bottletree Lane after serving two years for a pair of felony evading arrest and assault with a deadly weapon convictions, according to previous reports in The Signal.
“The defendant had overtly committed a crime. He was a felon, and his motivation was to escape justice,” Siddall said, describing the prosecution’s version of events the evening of Nov. 28 in the parking lot where Guerra allegedly fired four rounds at law enforcement, before being wounded multiple times in a return volley by deputies who were backing up White.
Assistant Public Defender Tony McAuley said the jury must rely on testimony from a group of law enforcement officers sworn to protect each other because there was no body-cam footage at the time, and that White’s actions call into question his integrity and should give jurors reasonable doubt in Siddall’s case.
McAuley said the prosecution couldn’t prove that Guerra — who was taken into custody after being treated for injuries he sustained in the shooting, and photographed by the gun used in the shooting that had four spent shells — drew his firearm on any of the deputies “or that he ever took a shot at any of them.”
“There are a number of charges, all of which have issues that should create reasonable doubt,” McAuley said, claiming the prosecution was piecing together two separate unrelated cases, questioning whether law enforcement officers biased a witness in the first shooting in how they showed a suspect-photo array known as a six-pack, and why White didn’t call for backup earlier.
He called the 14 charges facing his client “quantity over quality.”
“You will see that the prosecution hopes that you will connect these dots in order to create an assumption,” McAuley said, “that he’s suspected of committing many different incidents of crimes, not any of which can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore you should not convict.”
A September 2019 report from the District Attorney’s Office, which investigated the shooting in addition to Homicide Bureau Detective Scott Matlock, found the lethal force used by White, as well as Deputies Benjamin Sanchez, Tanner Sanchez and Robert Garcia, was “legally justified in self-defense … and the defense of others to stop the ongoing deadly threat posed by Guerra.”
As White, who was promoted last summer and transferred to the Detective Bureau in Altadena, began to recount the night of the shooting, Guerra appeared to become distressed and emotional, and spoke to McAuley, who requested the testimony adjourn early for lunch, after which the trial resumed.
Guerra, who’s been in Sheriff’s Department custody since the shooting in lieu of $5.75 million bail, is facing four counts of attempted murder, five counts of assault with a firearm, one count of shooting at an inhabited dwelling, battery on a peace officer, a felony weapons charge, resisting an officer and domestic violence.
The trial is expected to continue Friday in Department 111 of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.