On today’s podcast we present Parts Two and Three of Mongol, our exclusive new Crime Story series written and read by Molly Miller that tells the story of the tragic killing of a police officer and the complex search for truth and justice in the aftermath of his death. You can find all of the previously published parts of the series here.
The shot rang out.
Chaos erupted. Medics swarmed the porch. The SWAT team invaded the home in full force – rifles raised. Arturo Martinez screamed and clutched his bleeding arm. David Martinez fell to his knees and dropped the shotgun on the carpet. Shocked and confused he shouted “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was the cops. I thought you were the Mongols!” David’s sister and his mother shrieked in the living room – guttural shouts of piercing terror. Awoken by the deafening discord, ten-year-old David Jr. ran out of his bedroom in his pajamas. Sandra emerged from her room and pulled David Jr. back to her bed. Before the door closed, David Jr. caught a glimpse of his father as he was dragged outside by SWAT officers into the dark night, illuminated by the flash of red and blue lights. The rest of the SWAT team searched the home. The only illicit material found was a small baggie of meth and one stolen firearm. This was not the score they were looking for.
Outside, SWAT paramedic Jim Moss tended to Shaun Diamond. His lips tightened as he observed the damage: Diamond had sustained a shot in the back of the head that severed his spinal cord, carotid artery, and jaw. The extent of the trauma was indescribable, even for Moss, who had been a rescue paramedic for 14 years. Diamond’s airway had no recognizable anatomy, only bloodied carnage. But he still had a pulse – albeit a weak one. Moss and his partner loaded Diamond into the ambulance and drove off towards Huntington Memorial Hospital, sirens blaring as they left the active crime scene behind them. David Martinez watched the ambulance leave from the back of a cop car. Hands restrained in cold metal cuffs, he fought the overwhelming panic bred by helplessness in the face of crisis. For four hours David watched the SWAT team ransack his family’s home. He begged officers to tell him if his father was okay. He asked why they targeted his house. He worried about his kids. And repeatedly David stated that he hadn’t realized it was the cops at his door. He thought it was the Mongols.
As the dead of night gave way to dawn, Detective Ray Lugo arrived on the scene. A short, bald-headed man, Lugo was admired for his persistence. A mother of a homicide victim whose case was worked by Lugo once said, “God sent Ray because he never quits.” That relentless pursuit of justice was why Lugo had been assigned to this case, one that was now the top priority of LAPD because it involved the shooting of an officer. Lugo immediately took hold of the situation. For a rock solid case he needed a confession. He needed Martinez to state that he knew police were on his porch and that he shot his gun intending to kill.
Early in the morning David was taken to the Montebello police station where he was placed in a stark holding tank with several other Mongols. Their conversation was recorded by a hidden mic and a camera that was concealed in the janitor’s closet opposite the tank. After listening to Martinez’s conversations with the Mongols, Detective Lugo was certain that Martinez shot the gun. But it wasn’t clear that he knew he was firing at an officer. Martinez’s story was consistent: He was worried about his father, concerned about his kids, and he thought the intruders were rival gang members, not police. As the Mongols continued to talk, Martinez overheard a familiar voice echoing through the air vent. It was his friend, Raul, another alleged member of the Mongols, who had also been the subject of a search warrant that night and was currently being held in a neighboring holding tank. The two shouted back and forth, relaying the events of the evening, and finding a brief solace in their companionship.
Later in the morning, Detective Lugo received a somber phone call: Officer Shaun Diamond was dead. The stakes of the operation had now dramatically increased. This was a potential capital punishment case. Desperate for more incriminating statements, Lugo interrogated David Martinez, but his story didn’t change.
With no explicit confession from Martinez, Lugo called Officer Leo Noyola, the leading expert in Perkins operations. During a Perkins operation, undercover agents infiltrate cells and/or holding tanks in order to elicit information from defendants. The interactions are recorded on audio and video surveillance and their use is admissible in a court of law. Perkins Operations are controversial because they can be performed without reading the defendant their Miranda Rights so long as the defendant hasn’t been arraigned. But experts like Leo Noyola stand by the procedures, claiming they are highly effective. At least when the operations are done right. And this one would be. Noyola was meticulous.
The clock was ticking. Martinez would be arraigned and assigned counsel in the next 24 hours, at which point they could no longer enact a Perkins operation. If the mission to elicit a confession was going to work, it had to be done quickly. Unable to keep Martinez in the Montebello holding cell, Noyola and Lugo spun together a Perkins operation – one that would take place during Martinez’ transit from Montebello to the LA county jail the next day. As Lugo and Noyola plotted their next move, Martinez was having a brief conversation with a lawyer – a friend of one of Martinez’s sisters who stopped by after hearing the family was in trouble. The attorney wasn’t an expert in criminal law but he told Martinez one thing: do NOT talk to anyone – even the other inmates could be informants.
Noyola’s plan commenced the following day around noon.
Officers loaded Martinez into a transport vehicle and made a series of stops along a circuitous route to the LA county jail. Upon each stop they gained a new “inmate,” an undercover agent wearing a body wire. On the third stop, Noyola himself entered the operation, determined to extract the information that the less experienced officers had failed to obtain. Upon arriving at the jail Noyola worked on Martinez in the holding cell. He used gang slang, talked about tattoos and encouraged Martinez to talk about the Mongols. A police informant (known as AV) also entered the holding cell dressed as an inmate and attempted to cajole David into bragging about shooting a cop. Martinez got quiet. After two hours Martinez turned to Noyola and said, “I’m not sayin nothin’. I think there might be informants.” Noyola was pissed. He called off the operation and Martinez was taken to his cell.
Martinez was exhausted, and distraught but he was clear headed enough to know one thing.
He needed a lawyer.