On today’s podcast we present, in its entirety, 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.
It was the summer of 2019, and David Martinez was on trial for the murder of Pomona Police Officer Sean Diamond. The case was one of the first that Crime Story covered and at the outset it appeared simple: a coldblooded gang member had killed a cop. This tragedy fit the silent film that plays on the wall of the American subconscious. The good guys had fought the bad guys and the bad had left a bloody mark. Now the court would balance the scales. Justice would be served. But as my Crime Story colleagues and I watched the case unspool, we realized that our binary paradigm was eroding. We came to understand that this trial was part of a much larger story, one that informed how Deputy District Attorneys — on behalf of the People of California — framed their entire argument. Our research into th e events leading to the raid on David Martinez’s home offered us valuable context for what drove the prosecution’s strategy in pursuing this case. In the Deputy District Attorney’s presentation, this wasn’t just a case of a police officer being killed in the line of duty; this was an assassination committed as part of a gang’s war on law enforcement. Prosecutors sought to depict David Martinez as the embodiment of the battle between the Mongols Motorcycle Club and the federal government. The Mongols Motorcycle Club was founded in 1969 in Montebello, CA by a brotherhood of Latinx men who had been excluded from the Hells Angels. They called themselves “outlaws” and “one-percenters” – referring to a comment by the American Motorcyclist Association that 99% of motorcyclists were law abiding citizens, implying that one percent were not. Since those early days, the Mongols have grown in number. They now have chapters in nineteen states, stretching as far east as New York. They’ve also grown in criminal operations, having been convicted of illicit drug trafficking, money laundering, robbery, extortion, firearms violations, and murder — crimes that have been exposed by undercover ATF agents who infiltrated the club. The most notable of these undercover missions was Operation Black Rain, an ATF sting that resulted in the arrest of over 60 Mongols including then-Mongols president, Ruben Cavazos. Cavazos subsequently plead guilty to charges of racketeering and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. After his incarceration, Mongols Club members voted for his removal from office in 2008. The current president of the Mongols Motorcycle Club is David Santillan, a man who claims that the organization has changed its code of conduct to exclude drug abusers and criminals. ATF officials view Santillan’s public declarations about the club cleaning house as hollow words; they continue to treat the Mongols as a serious threat. In 2014, prosecutors even attempted to strip the Mongols of their trademarked logo (a Genghis Khan-like figure wearing sunglasses and riding a motorcycle). When interviewed, Santillan expressed that removal of the logo would be devastating to the club. Talking to reporters he said, “the patch is like a ring in a marriage, it symbolizes our loyalty and commitment.” Ultimately, the Mongols retained rights to their emblem under free-speech laws, but the ATF continued to pursue other means of eliminating the Mongols brotherhood. In 2014, local Los Angeles and Riverside County officials were also concerned about the Mongols’ illicit activities. Investigators feared that the Mongols were forcibly recruiting members of newer motorcycle clubs and compelling them to pay dues. In addition, law enforcement was busy attempting to curb the escalating violence between the Mongols, the Hells Angels and the sport bike club, G-Zer Tribe. Tensions were high after two incidents in which Mongols members were shot at or pushed off their bikes on freeways by other bikers, leaving one member killed, one paralyzed and several others wounded. Now officers feared that the Mongols were poised to retaliate. It was in the context of these parallel federal and local investigations that seven search warrants were served to suspected gang members’ residences on October 28, 2014 as part of a multi-agency operation to crack down on illicit club activities. One of those residences was the home of David Martinez.
We all know there are two sides to every story. But in this story, there are two sides to a single door. It’s the wooden front door of the Martinez residence in San Gabriel, California. On one side of the door, a police officer was killed. On the other side, a man’s life changed forever. Outside of the door, on the evening of October 28, 2014, forty-five-year-old Pomona Police Officer Shaun Diamond was called to take part in a SWAT operation. Diamond was known as a devoted officer and a family man. At a young age, Diamond passed up opportunities to go to college to become an officer and provide for his daughter, Margo. Later, he gave his kidney to save his son, Kelly’s life when he was in need of a transplant. Now, on the force for 16 years, fellow officers described Diamond as “cuddly as a porcupine” but compassionate toward the community he served.” San Gabriel was outside of the Pomona Police jurisdiction, but it was common for the squad to assist neighboring cities when larger operations required more manpower. Diamond’s team was tasked with serving a search warrant to a house inhabited by David Martinez, an alleged member of the Mongols Motorcycle Club. The operation was considered high-risk due to the Mongols’ association with a wide range of criminal activities including the use of illegal firearms, meth trafficking, robbery, assault, and murder. Prior to arriving at the house, Diamond and his fellow officers set up traffic cones representing the Martinez home and property lines in the SWAT office parking lot. Under the glow of street lamps, the officer’s feet pounded the pavement, executing practice runs for maximum efficiency. When the movements were drilled into their bones, the squad packed up and headed to their target location. Upon reaching the Martinez home, several officers rammed the padlocked gate that led to the backyard of the property while others announced their presence and approached the front porch. Corporal Richard Aguiar and Officer Diamond breached the outer metal security door of the home with a push-pull device called a “ripram.” Diamond turned to discard the device as someone inside the home opened the inner, wooden door. Suddenly, a shot rang out and Diamond was hit in the back of the neck. The brutal injury killed him a few hours later.
Inside the door on the evening of October 28, 2014, thirty-six-year-old termite inspector David Martinez was working on inspection reports in the study. He had gotten a late start on the paperwork because he had spent the day helping his parents clean and operate the family laundromat. The last customer hadn’t left until 11 pm. Martinez lived in a two bedroom, Spanish style, stucco home with his parents, his sister, Brenda, who has Down syndrome, his wife, Sandra, and their two young children, Alyssa and David Jr. The living arrangement hadn’t always been this cramped. In the past, Sandra and Martinez resided in their own house with their children. But after a motorcycle accident kept Martinez from working for several months, financial strain brought the family back under the same roof. Martinez didn’t mind – it made it easier to help his aging parents.
At 3 am, Martinez finished his reports. He climbed into bed with Sandra and was just about to fall asleep when he heard a banging noise that rattled the whole house. Martinez grabbed the shotgun that he kept by the side of his bed and ran to the living room where his parents and sister slept. Here the banging was even louder and the family’s four dogs were barking. Martinez saw his father, Arturo, by the door. He called out for his dad to wait, but Arturo had already turned the knob. The door opened to reveal the barrel of a gun pointed inside the home. Martinez aimed his shotgun.
In a split second a shot rang out. Arturo Martinez grabbed his arm and screamed, “they shot me! They shot me!”
Outside, Shaun Diamond fell to the ground, blood spilling from his head onto the porch.
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.
At David Martinez’s arraignment, he peered through the shining bars of the defendant holding dock and squinted at the occupants of the fluorescent-lit courtroom. Below the judge’s bench, bun-headed clerks typed furiously on their computers and in the gallery attorneys communed with anxious family members who wiped tears away with their shirtsleeves. The air buzzed with the hushed tones of dozens of different conversations each regarding a different case. But of all those cases, few if any bore the weight of the circumstances now looming over David. When it came time for Martinez to address the court, he stood before the judge in his jail-issued orange scrubs. The judge read the official charges brought against him: capital murder with the special circumstance of murder of a police offier engaged in his duties.
If convicted David Martinez could face the death penalty.
After his arraignment, the court referred Martinez to the public defender’s office which appointed Brady Sullivan as his counsel. Tall and thin, with steely grey hair, Sullivan was a passionate, senior trial attorney with a reputation for winning difficult cases. But he was also looking forward to retirement. Martinez would be his last big case, the culmination of his years as defense counsel.
Although Sullivan had legal clout, he wasn’t one for excessive showmanship. He wore classic suits, well fitted and meticulously pressed. His legal binders were plain but fastidiously organized and when it came to the media he eschewed the spotlight preferring to focus on his cases. In contrast, the Deputy DA ultimately assigned to the case was the attorney equivalent of a high school starting quarterback. Jack Garden was a robust man and a confident prosecutor. He greeted members of the press by name and was followed by a swarm of clerks who carried his files.
While Sullivan began assembling his case, Martinez communicated with his parents, Arturo and Guadelupe. The couple was adamant: David didn’t shoot Shaun Diamond. They believed Arutro had been shot by an officer and that David wasn’t even in the living room when it happened. Guadelupe told her son she was certain Shaun Diamond was killed by friendly fire, maybe an over-eager SWAT officer standing behind him. The coroner’s report showed that Diamond was shot in the back of the neck. How could David shoot a man in the back when he was standing in front of him?
Although the police told David that he shot officer Diamond, David was starting to have his doubts. It seemed possible that his parents were right. Maybe the shot he fired didn’t hit anyone. Maybe he wasn’t responsible for a man’s death at all.
As the details of the horrific incident swarmed in David’s mind he faced another nightmare in his living situation. Martinez had been assigned to a block that housed several other members of the Mongols. In order to prevent gang wars, the inmates were sometimes placed with members of their own gang. Usually this wasn’t a problem, but it was for Martinez, who claimed he was no longer associated with the Mongols. Now the members in his bloc were restless, concerned that he was going to rat out “mother” – the name for the Montebello chapter of the club that included the Mongols’ president, secretary, treasurer and the sergeant at arms. Martinez didn’t have much intel on the organization but the Mongols in his cell block suspected Martinez knew names and that was enough. They threatened to stab David should he open his mouth.
When Sandra came to visit Martinez in jail, he put on a brave face, assuring her that Sullivan was going to get him out. The act did little to ease Sandra’s mind. She informed him that his father was doing well after having surgery to repair the bullet wound on his arm. But their children were gone, taken by The Department of Family and Children’s Services. She didn’t know when she would get to hold Alyssa or David Jr. again.
While the Martinez family unraveled in the wake of the incident, the city of Pomona cried out for its fallen son. Businesses in downtown Pomona closed shop to pay respect to Shaun Diamond and blue ribbons were tied to every tree and lamppost in his honor. A mile-long police motorcade drove through Pomona, watched by the citizens of the town who held signs showing their support for the Diamond family.
Over six thousand police officers, government officials and members of the public attended Shaun Diamond’s funeral which was held at an arena in Ontario. The path to the location was marked by flags at half mast, barely fluttering in the lukewarm autumn air. Inside, the blare of a bagpipe announced the arrival of Diamond’s casket, carried by officers in uniform. Each of their dress blues nicely ironed, all of their tie pins immaculately shined. Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris sat near the family at the front of the expansive crowd offering their profound condolences and gratitude for Diamond’s service. Detective Lugo attended the proceedings, paying his respects to the fallen officer. When he spoke with members of the Pomona Police Department, love and support radiated from their ranks, but underneath a righteous anger brewed: outrage aimed at the man who killed Shaun Diamond.
As funeral proceedings carried on in Ontario, Sullivan was hard at work on David’s case, sorting through discovery sent from the DA’s office. Their evidence contained several details that fundamentally shaped his understanding of the case. First, all SWAT members serving the search warrant the evening of the incident were carrying rifles loaded with beanbag shot. Beanbag shot is considered “less lethal ammunition” — it’s meant to incapacitate the target. Beanbag shot would not cleanly go through Shaun Diamond’s neck. That kind of brutal damage was consistent with a shotgun slug.
Second, police found a shotgun slug casing inside the Martinez living room, meaning that the shot that killed Shaun Diamond was fired from inside the house.
It was clear to Sullivan that only one person shot a gun that night: his client, David Martinez.
Tensions sparked when Brady Sullivan presented Martinez with the evidence that he had shot Shaun Diamond. After speaking with his family, David was now convinced that the police had lied to him about the shooting. He believed Shaun Diamond’s death was never his fault. He was just the scapegoat taking the blame for the police firing on their own. Sullivan tried to reason with his client: he still had a strong self defense case even if Martinez shot an officer. But Martinez didn’t want a self defense case. He wanted to be absolved of Shaun Diamond’s death entirely. The interactions between client and attorney became increasingly contentious. Their friction fueled emotional outbursts, raised voices and impassioned arguments. Ultimately the men arrived at an impasse.
Martinez wouldn’t budge on his version of the story and Sullivan wouldn’t change his strategy.
Incensed by Sullivan’s refusal to accept their narrative, David and the Martinez family turned their back on the public defender. They pooled resources and hired private attorney Edward Esqueda. The lawyer appeared to be a Godsend. His law office was located near the Martinez home in San Gabriel, he spoke perfect Spanish, and he commanded a room with his charming smile. Most importantly, Esqueda agreed with the family that David didn’t shoot Shaun Diamond; the officer’s death was an accident caused by friendly fire. Esqueda told the family that the whole situation was a police cover-up and he was certain that they would win in court.
The community of San Gabriel united behind the Martinez family. Fundraisers were held to contribute to legal expenses, which initially amounted to $60,000 and were constantly growing with Esqueda’s long hours. Supporters and relatives gathered for BBQs in the park and Martinez’ niece, Pricilla, took to social media to expose what she considered to be the LAPD’s self-serving lies. Then, after more than a month apart, Sandra finally regained custody of Alyssa and David Jr. allowing the tight family to rally together and to lift Martinez’ spirits. Morale was high. Maybe that’s why the Martinez family overlooked Edward Esqueda’s spotty legal history.
According to the California State Bar public records, Esqueda faced private reproval in 2001 for failure to respond to client inquiries, failure to promptly release a client file, and failure to keep a client informed of significant developments. In 2011 he was suspended by the State Bar for 90 days after misusing a client trust account for over $85,000 in personal and business expenses. Then in 2012, Esqueda was placed on probation by the State Bar and forced to pay a former client $7,500 after his efforts to negotiate a settlement were judged as insufficient and he failed to return unearned legal fees. Legal message boards were filled with complaints from former clients about Esqueda’s disrespectful attitude and incompetence, but Martinez himself was too distracted to investigate his lawyer’s past. He had to focus on the gut-wrenching task at hand: his preliminary hearing.
On the day of the hearing, Esqueda took charge in the courtroom with practiced bravado. Martinez’ parents, Guadelupe and Arturo, were called to testify in addition to the medical examiner and Shaun Diamond’s partner, Richard Aguiar who was part of the SWAT team operation. Deputy DA Jack Garden painted a straightforward picture — Martinez was a gang member who saw the officers and took his shot. The slug went straight through Arturo’s arm and blew through Shaun Diamond’s neck. While Martinez’s parents maintained that their son didn’t shoot the fallen officer they both testified that they heard the police announce themselves on the night of the incident. The medical examiner testified that during the autopsy he found several metal fragments in Diamond’s brutalized airway suggesting that the injury came from a shotgun. And Richard Aguiar testified that upon entering the Martinez household he heard David yell “I’m sorry. I thought you were the Mongols.” When Esqueda cross-examined the witnesses he floundered. He challenged Richard Aguiar about his training, insinuating that Diamond’s death was the result of friendly fire. That line of questioning was immediately buried in objections from the prosecution. Jack Garden was quick to point out that the SWAT team only used beanbag shot. Esqueda attempted to pivot, asking the medical examiner if the metal fragments found during Diamond’s autopsy could have come from a door breaching explosive.Subsequent witnesses refuted his theory, explaining that no explosives were used to open the door, only a ripram – a manual push-pull device.
Despite the set-backs, Esqueda fumbled onward. Blustering with frustration he told the court “There’s not one scintilla of evidence that David Martinez shot Shaun Diamond.”
After two days, the preliminary hearing came to a conclusion. The judge found sufficient cause to move forward with the trial.
In the wake of the preliminary hearing, David Martinez slowly awakened to the state of his feeble defense with Edward Esqueda. The evidence and the full force of the state were mounted against him and his lawyer was suspiciously absent, difficult to contact, and abrupt in his correspondence.
He felt abandoned, waiting in Men’s Central Jail as time ticked forward. Past the crisp leaves of autumn. And the festivities of Christmas. And the flowers of spring.
During all that time, the threat of the death penalty hung above Martinez’s head keeping him up at night.
But his torture was not simply mental: Martinez was also physically assaulted and threatened. In the shadowy halls, he was attacked with a shank and sustained a gash to his arm. Corrections officers heard rumors that gang members intended to kill Martinez and he was moved from his block for his safety. Unfortunately, the change in environment provided no solace: Martinez’s new block was filled with alleged rapists, pedophiles and child-murderers.
Their screams echoed off of concrete walls and they threw their feces at the guards. It was even worse than living in fear of the Mongols. Eventually, Martinez was moved back to the Mongols’ cellblock where he continued to reside in fear but could at least sleep in peace for a few hours at night.
The agitated rhythm of Martinez’s life in jail was punctuated by court dates. Continuances and motions pushed the trial further into the distance. The judicial horizon ever retreating, always miles ahead. Three years passed and it seemed everything was the same.
Except for David Martinez. The time changed him.
After the weeks, months and years in jail he was desperate to be free to take care of his family. He wanted to watch his children grow up and he was willing to do anything to make that happen, even if it meant confronting the horrific truth.
David was ready to accept that he shot Shaun Diamond. It was his bullet that stuck his father’s arm and blew through the officer’s neck.
In the fall of 2017 David Martinez fired Edward Esqueda — a man he would later call a “liar” who “doesn’t deserve to be called an attorney” — and the court reappointed Brady Sullivan as counsel. Sullivan was glad to be back on the case but he was apprehensive about Martinez, given their abrasive parting. But when he met with David, it was like he was meeting with a different man. This man took full responsibility for shooting a police officer.
Sullivan’s past frustration with Martinez dissipated. He reminded his client that all hope was not lost. They had a strong self-defense case. The SWAT team had been issued a “knock warrant” meaning that they had to clearly announce themselves before entering the premises. If Martinez didn’t hear the police announce and he didn’t see them before firing the gun, then he was innocent of murder. Sullivan only needed to prove that the banging on the gate, the barking of dogs and the physical chaos of the scene made it impossible for Martinez to identify the cops. It had all happened in seven seconds. Now Sullivan and Martinez would have to account for each of those moments.
But Sullivan knew that the jury would judge more than the seconds and the shot. They would judge David Martinez as a person. If they saw him as a cold-blooded gang member, then chances of a favorable outcome were slim. Sullivan also needed to prove that Martinez had been trying to leave the Mongols, that he was a just guy who liked motorcycles who got in over his head. It was fear of repercussions that kept him in the Mongols’ grasp.
With all this responsibility weighing on Sullivan’s shoulders, he arrived at counsel’s table for pre-trial motions. There he reunited with prosecutor Jack Garden who was now joined by co-counsel Michael Blake – a man who had the easy confidence and commanding stature of a politician. The room was already tense. It was clear from the outset that the trial would not be amicable.
Sullivan motioned to admit a recording of David in the police car in San Gabriel, a videotape of Martinez in the Montebello jail, and audio recordings from the Perkins operation. All three elements of evidence would be critical during trial as they included exculpatory statements from David Martinez. At various points in each recording Martinez asserted that he didn’t know it was the cops at his door and that he thought it was the Mongols. The recordings also proved that David didn’t brag about his actions to the other Mongols at Montebello or during the Perkins Operation. On the contrary, he expressed concern for the officer who was shot and remorse for the tragedy that had occured.
After reviewing the evidence Judge Olmedo ruled the tape of Martinez in the police car as inadmissible and refused to make a firm ruling on the admissibility of the Montebello or Perkins recordings. It was a blow to Sullivan, who knew that the tapes could offer the jury a valuable snapshot of his client’s emotional and mental state in the hours after the incident.
Disappointed by the court’s rulings, Sullivan remained resolute, diving head-first into developing his defense.
He believed in his case and his client but the question remained — how could he convince a jury to not convict a man who shot a cop?
The task, although not impossible, would be extremely difficult, even for a trial attorney with Sullivan’s decades of experience. But he knew something that gave him hope — during the time Esqueda served as Martinez’s attorney, the DA’s office had decided not to pursue the death penalty. Instead they would be charging first-degree murder. This was a massive win for David Martinez, but Sullivan knew it meant something more. The DA’s office only pursued the death penalty when the case was rock solid. If prosecutors had decided to eschew the death penalty, that meant they had doubts.
There were cracks in their case and he would find them.
When Brady Sullivan and his second chair, Barbara Martin, arrived for opening statements, they were met with a sea of law enforcement in the gallery. A dozen officers in grey suits sat by Shaun Diamond’s daughter, Margo. The jury couldn’t help glancing in their direction. The Martinez family was also present, seated in the left side of the gallery. They held hands and whispered prayers under their breath. David’s parents stood firm in their belief that their son never shot Shaun Diamond. To them, this whole trial was founded on a fabrication by the police.
In the prosecution’s opening Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake portrayed David as a violent gang member who “saw his opportunity and took his shot.” Sullivan followed Blake’s blunt assessment with a more nuanced version of events. Pacing before the jury, Sullivan explained that the evening of October 28, 2014 was a “perfect storm” in which a series of unexpected circumstances came together and resulted in tragedy. But Sullivan asserted that amidst that storm his client had acted in self defense: he shot to protect his family.
The arguments that followed kicked off with a long procession of police in full uniform. For three weeks, officers took the stand. Under Jack Garden’s guiding hand, their testimonies reinforced the narrative that the SWAT team followed procedure and announced their presence at the Martinez home. No rifles were pointed at the doorway. Martinez had ample warning that the police were at his door. He fired his weapon and the bullet struck a fine young officer who was just doing his job.
Each of the officers was a new battle for Sullivan, another opportunity for him to unravel the prosecution’s narrative. How loud was the sound of the ripram hitting the gate? How many times did you announce yourself? Why wasn’t there an officer stationed in the backyard? His inquiries were effective, but they were undermined by constant objections — leading, asked and answered, improper hypothetical, misstates the evidence. Judge Charlaine Olmedo sustained nearly every objection, impeding the momentum that Sullivan gained.
A stand out in the series of officers was Jim Moss, the SWAT paramedic who treated Shaun Diamond immediately after he was shot. Moss described the bloody trauma to Diamond’s airway, his words seeped in loss as he made eye contact with every juror. There was a clear conclusion that Jack Garden intended for the jury to draw — Diamond died a horrible, painful death. The shooter should pay for that.
In the wake of the emotional testimony, Sullivan cross-examined Moss with dogged persistence, causing him to concede that the police announcements were made by multiple voices that sometimes overlapped. This allowed Sullivan to suggest that the cacophony of shouts and banging might have been unintelligible to the inhabitants of the house at 3:30 am. David might not have heard the police announce themselves at all. Then Sullivan focused on what Moss saw during the operation. That evening Jim Moss had been positioned behind a Mustang in a neighbor’s driveway. From his vantage point he could see into the house through the living room window. Sullivan prompted Moss to admit that after the announcements started he saw a man inside the house walk towards the door. Moss tried to alert the other officers that someone was coming but his voice was drowned out by the banging and the shouting and barking of Martinez’s dogs. If Moss’ message had been heard, then the SWAT team may have waited for Arturo to open the door. And if they waited, maybe David wouldn’t have felt the need to defend his family with his shotgun. If the chaos of the scene really was the “perfect storm” then Jim Moss’ testimony was evidence of the thunder and the lightning.
Sullivan’s cross examination of Moss was a victory, but Sullivan wasn’t slowing down. His confidence grew as Officer Jaime Martinez took the stand. Jaime Martinez was part of the SWAT team on the porch the night of the shooting. He was the assigned “first man.” After Sergeant Aguiar and Officer Diamond breached the metal security door with the ripram, he was supposed to be the first officer to enter the household. Until then, his job was to use his rifle to cover the window — protecting the team from potential threats inside the home. Jack Garden tossed Jaime Martinez a question. “Prior to the gunshot from inside the house, did you ever poke your gun into the house?” It was a softball. An easy no. Of course Jaime never poked his gun into the house. It would have been impossible from where he was standing. Jaime Martinez casually responded, “Yes, I pointed my weapon into the house.” Garden quickly reoriented the question. His eyes flashing with something that looked like nerves. “Not point . Did you ever poke it into the house?” Jaime Martinez shook his head, but the damage was done. Sullivan had now identified the gun that was pointed at the door. The gun that Martinez saw that made him fear for his life. The gun that merited his client’s claim of self-defense.
But then the seas changed as Darrin Kozlowski approached the stand. Bearded and brawny, Kozlowski was a former ATF agent who infiltrated the Mongols from 2005- 2008, during which time he went by the moniker of “Dirty Dan.” He described the Mongols’ illegal activities in great detail as well as their hatred of law enforcement. Lifting Martinez’s motorcycle jacket from a cardboard evidence box, Kozlowski testified regarding every patch on the leather garment. The rocker and back patch meant Martinez was a full member. His 1% badge meant he considered himself an outlaw. His “Respect Few Fear None” patch meant that he assaulted a rival gang member. The prosecution also pointed to the fact that the President of the Mongols Motorcycle Club and several other high ranking members put money on Martinez’s books while he was in jail. Every stitch of association between Martinez and the Mongols knit a narrative that Martinez was a gang member, a criminal, and a killer. Sullivan knew the danger of that story; he needed to unravel it to convince the jury of Martinez’s innocence. But the prosecution was not done sewing.
Jack Garden called Sandra Roman to the stand. David Martinez struggled to contain his emotions as he watched his wife raise her right hand to take her oath. Sandra didn’t want to testify but because she and David didn’t have a marriage license, their relationship was only considered a common law marriage. Marital privileges did not
apply. Sandra testified for hours regarding Martinez’s involvement in the Mongols Motorcycle Club. Her responses were tearful and often terse, prompting the court to allow Jack Garden to treat her as a hostile witness. But Sandra’s one word answers and defiant attitude didn’t deter the prosecution. Garden proceeded to display twenty-six articles of evidence taken from Sandra and David Martinez’s bedroom: plaques, party fliers, vests, belts, and T-shirts. There were pictures of Martinez in Mongols clothes and photos of David arm in arm with Mongols’ President, Little Dave. Sandra was cornered. She admitted Martinez owned the items and that he had been involved with the brotherhood for over three years. According to Sandra, David Martinez loved his Mongol “brothers.” She told the court that Martinez’ association with the Mongols upset her. She didn’t like that the club made him pay dues and encouraged him to spend weekends partying away from his family. Garden nodded at Sandra’s explanation.
Then he took his questions one step further. “He would go out with them and he would smoke meth with them. Is that right?” Sandra hesitated, delicate in her response. She recalled that Martinez told her that he was struggling with meth addiction three weeks prior to the incident. He was getting ahead of work so that he could spend time in treatment. They had already visited the hospital where Martinez planned to
be admitted. Garden paced by the jury box and inquired about the night of Officer Diamond’s death. “And on the night or morning when you saw him in the office he was high on methamphetamine, correct?” Sandra responded quietly. “I assume so. Yes.” She recounted that Martinez was hyperactive and sweating. And it wasn’t usual for him to be up at 3am. When Sandra stepped down, David gave her a small smile as he folded and unfolded scraps of paper on the counsel’s table.
It had taken weeks for the prosecutors to paint David Martinez as a hardened gang member but now the portrait was vivid. The defendant once shrouded in innocence now looked the part of a criminal drug user who might shoot a cop for bragging rights. Martinez’s worried glance at Sullivan betrayed his fear. How could a jury believe the word of a Mongol over the testimony of officers? Sullivan reassured him.
The public defender had a plan and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
Sullivan forged ahead in his defense of David Martinez. Armed with exculpatory information he found in the Perkins and Montebello tapes, he believed Martinez had a strong case. But first he would have to convince the judge to admit the recordings in court – a ruling she had waffled on during pretrial motions. Immediately Jack Garden objected to the use of the tapes, due to the fact that they contained hearsay from other inmates in Martinez’ holding tank and transit vehicle. Judge Charlaine Olmedo sustained the objection, but she told Sullivan that he could play the video and audio tapes if they were edited down to exclusively include the parts in which Martinez was speaking.This task would be difficult for anyone. The tapes were garbled and filled with overlapping discussions that would have to be meticulously picked apart. It was a colossal task for Sullivan who was, by his own admission, not stellar with technology.
Sullivan fumed at the counsel’s table, flipping through stacks of papers and wrinkling his usually pristine suit-jacket. He called Officer Noyola to the stand and asked him the purpose of the Perkins Operation. Noyola responded, curt and dry, “It’s to provide law enforcement with inculpatory or exculpatory evidence.” Sullivan then proceeded to read a series of statements that David Martinez made during the operation. Statements like “I didn’t know it was the police,” and “they had no reason to come to my house,” and “I was just protecting my family bro, like anyone else would.” The fragments of dialogue underscored Sullivan’s assertion that Martinez didn’t know law enforcement was at his door — the sentences pointed to his innocence. On cross-examination Jack Garden sauntered around the lectern. “Do inmates sometimes lie because they know they’re being recorded?” he asked. Noyla nodded. Garden returned a smile and led Noyola down an alternate road — insinuating that Martinez was putting on a show. Garden clicked his pen with satisfaction as Noyola noted that Martinez mentioned being concerned about informants in the transit vehicle. By this time, Sullivan was fuming. “So if the inmate says something inculpatory then it’s inculpatory, but if he says something exculpatory then he’s a liar?!”
Charlaine Olmedo excused the jury to admonish Sullivan for his tone. Sullivan called other witnesses, including neighbors who didn’t hear the police announce and friends of David Martinez who attested to his character. But it all felt inconsequential compared to the content on the tapes. Unsure if the jury would ever hear the recordings Sullivan knew the strength of the defense would rely on a single witness: his client, David Martinez.
When Martinez took the stand, it was Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake who rose from his chair. The imposing man was persistent and thorough in his interrogation. He pelted Martinez with questions poised to slip him up. Blake took his aim. “You shot to kill that day.” Martinez stood firm. “I shot to protect my family.” Martinez endured the stand for two days and for two days his story stayed the same. He acknowledged that he was a member of the Mongols, but he testified that at the time of the shooting he had been trying to move on with his life. The drugs and the partying had gotten old. He wanted to be a father to his two young children and a supportive husband for Sandra so he let his motorcycle registration expire and he stopped attending Mongol events. That’s why he thought it was the Mongols at his door at 3am on October 28, 2014. He feared they were angry because he was distancing himself from the club.
Martinez explained that the night of the incident was pure chaos. He ran to the living room and saw his dad open the door. Then he saw the barrel of a gun. And he pulled his trigger. It was supposed to be a warning shot. Martinez didn’t mean to shoot anyone. He didn’t know it was the police – didn’t see them and didn’t hear them. Martinez told the jury that after the dust settled, he was confused because his parents were so adamant that the officers shot their own man. He started to believe them because he desperately wanted it to be true.
The defendant on the stand was different from the one that Sullivan met at the beginning of the case. This man was ready to accept the truth; he took full responsibility for shooting Shaun Diamond.
On the final day of testimony, Sullivan walked into the courtroom bleary-eyed but beaming. With the help of an assistant he had managed to edit the hours of the Perkins audio tapes and the Montebello jail video tapes into small clips that the judge had found admissible in court. Sullivan had nearly all the pieces of a winning case. Jim Moss told the jury that the scene was chaotic. Jaime Martinez admitted to pointing his gun at the door. David had testified that he hadn’t seen or heard the police and that he feared for his life. But there was one piece of the puzzle that Sullivan didn’t have: a record of David’s mindset in the seconds before he pulled the trigger. Evidence of that internal monologue did not exist. If it did there might not be a trial. Still, Sullivan knew that in order to convince the jurors he had to give them something as close to that fictional record as possible. If he couldn’t show them David’s mindset before the incident, he would settle for showing them the aftermath.
Sullivan called Noyola back to the stand and played the edited tapes.
The jury watched a distraught Martinez in the holding tank crying out in concern for his family. He yelled through the air vent to his friend, Raul, that he didn’t know it was the cops at his door. He told the undercover officers that he assumed it was the Mongols when he heard the banging. He was broken and in shock without an ounce of bravado.
After the court’s TV screen faded to black, Sullivan asked Noyola if Martinez looked like a man who was lying in the video. Noyla dodged the question – “There’s no way to tell,” he said. Sullivan let the words hang in the air. The silence implying his dissent: there was a way to tell. The look in the man’s eyes, the way his limbs hung, the pitch of his voice. This was not an act. Sullivan shut his laptop and gave Martinez a nod.
All the evidence had been presented. Now it was up to Sullivan to make a final plea to the jury that could save his client from life in prison.
Closing arguments began the following day. The court was packed with police officers who got there early to place “reserved” signs on the gallery benches for Diamond’s family. By the time the Martinez family arrived there wasn’t enough room for them to sit. David Martinez’s cousins and uncles were forced to wait in the stark court hallway as their loved one’s fate hung in the balance. Jack Garden delivered a strong soliloquy infused with the long history of the Mongols hostility towards law enforcement. Garden reiterated the narrative that Martinez was a gang member who saw the officers and took his shot with malice in his heart. He was forceful in his statements, never wavering in voice or message: the embodiment of the strength and resolve of the law. When Sullivan addressed the jury it was not with brute strength but with passion and vulnerability. He told them about how his respect for David Martinez had grown over the course of the trial. Sullivan begged the jury to put themselves in David’s shoes, to imagine what they would do if they thought someone was forcing their way into their home in the middle of the night. What would they do to protect their family?
The jury deliberated for five days. Finally, a partial verdict was reached: the jury found David Martinez not guilty of first-degree murder. They hung on second-degree murder and were unable to break their deadlock to discuss charges of voluntary manslaughter and assault on a police officer. Three were adamant of his guilt while nine clung to the belief that he was innocent.
Despite the defense’s victory, David Martinez remains in jail. Prosecutors refiled the charges of second-degree murder and all lesser offenses. A retrial was scheduled to begin in February of 2020, but was continued until fall of 2020 in order to provide the defense with more time to interview potential witnesses. Martinez’s retrial faced further delays when the pandemic threw court schedules into disarray. It is now scheduled to begin in January of 2021.
In the wake of the trial, Brady Sullivan has announced that he is postponing retirement in order to continue representing David Martinez in the trial ahead.
Five and a half years after his arrest, David Martinez continues to wait in jail.