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Affiliates of same gang allegedly attacked, robbed Ojai teen in 2008
By Daryl Kelley
A 16-year-old Chaparral High School student who was stabbed to death on Sunday was allegedly attacked and robbed last year by members of the same Ojai street gang with which his suspected slayer is associated, authorities maintain.
Seth Scarminach, whose suspected 14-year-old killer is described as an associate of the OSL gang, told police last July that he was jumped, beaten and his iPod stolen by assailants whom prosecutors charge are members of the same street gang.
“We think it was OSL involved in that robbery,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Frawley on Wednesday.
Indeed, that is what is alleged in felony charges against the three assailants, one of whom has pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace by fighting and admitted to participation in a criminal street gang during the crime.
Asked whether the 2008 robbery could have been a motive for last weekend’s slaying, since charges are still pending against two of the suspects, Frawley said: “It could be, or it could be totally unrelated.”
Robbery, use of a deadly weapon and street terrorism charges are still pending against Fabian Ruiz, 20, one of the defendants in the July 16, 2008 incident, court records show. Ruiz remained in county jail this week on a $265,000 bail. A federal immigration hold had also been placed on him for possible deportation, officials said.
Ruiz’s trial for the alleged robbery of Scarminach is scheduled to begin May 8 in Ventura County Superior Court.
“He is charged with robbery for the benefit of a criminal street gang … OSL,” said Deputy District Attorney Derek Malan, who is prosecuting the case. He is also charged with pulling a knife in an act of street terrorism.
A warrant for the arrest of another suspect, 19-year-old Julio Lopez, was issued shortly after the alleged attack. Lopez is still being sought on charges of battery, street gang activity and street terrorism, according to court records.
The third defendant in the case, Omar Cruz, 19, was sentenced to six months in jail last fall after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace by fighting while participating in a criminal gang activity, records show.
According to crime reports on the 2008 incident, Scarminach received minor injuries during an altercation at about 7:45 p.m. at El Roblar Drive and North Padre Juan in Meiners Oaks, about a block from the victim’s home.
“Essentially, he was jumped by a group and they stole his iPod,” said sheriff’s spokesman, Capt. Ross Bonfiglio. One suspect allegedly brandished a knife, he said. And the victim was allegedly “hit and kicked,” Bonfiglio said.
Whether the robbery and last weekend’s slaying of Scarminach are related is unknown at this point, authorities said.
“That would be pure speculation,” Malan said.
The prosecutor said that the death of Scarminach, the victim and chief witness in the robbery, could hurt the case against the two remaining defendants, although there are other witnesses to the alleged attack.
“There is a possibility that we will be unable to proceed with these cases,” Malan said. “It certainly doesn’t help.”
The slaying of Scarminach at an unsupervised teen party was the first homicide in the Ojai Valley in 11 years. He died in the driveway of a Meiners Oaks home from stab wounds to his neck and chest shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, authorities said. Witnesses said the assailant was not invited to the party.
A 14-year-old Mira Monte resident was arrested on suspicion of the crime that evening, and investigators declared the slaying gang-related.
Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Dunn, who serves as the Ojai police chief, said, “We believe it was gang-related because the parties were gang associates, especially the suspect. I’m not sure the victim was associated with a gang.”
Youths who attended the party said Scarminach was wearing a red bandanna, which the Latino suspect apparently took as a white power symbol.
“Seth was a good guy; he never got mixed up with gangs,” said a friend who was at the party. “He did have a red bandanna on and the (Latino gang members) think that means white power in Meiners Oaks.”
The friend said Scarminach did have a relative who is a member of the Demons, a motorcycle group with a presence in the Ojai Valley and the Avenue area of Ventura. “He did support his cousin,” the friend said.
Malan, who specializes in gang prosecutions, said the red-clad Demons “are a support group for the Hells Angels” motorcycle club, which law enforcement agencies have identified as a criminal gang. “Their average age is much younger than the Hells Angels.”
According to his friends, Scarminach was not a gang member or affiliated with a gang, but was, instead, a laid-back youth with many friends. He had been an independent study student at the Chaparral High alternative school and previously attended Nordhoff High School, school officials said.
Authorities have refused to identify the murder suspect because he is a juvenile. But school officials said he is a student at Gateway, a county-run continuation school in Ventura. He attended several Ojai-area schools before that, and had applied for admission to Nordhoff in the fall.
It is the Ojai Valley News’ policy not to name a crime suspect under the age of 18 unless the suspect is charged as an adult. Prosecutors say no decision has been made on whether to charge the 14-year-old as an adult, but that charges would be filed in coming weeks.
The youth is being held in a Ventura County juvenile detention facility. He was on the afternoon docket in juvenile court on Tuesday. But authorities would not say whether he is being held on a probation violation, because juvenile court actions are not open to the public.
“Hopefully, they are going to give more thought as to whether he should be tried as a juvenile or an adult,” said county Public Defender Duane Dammeyer, whose office is defending the youth. “Holding him on a probation violation would be one way to do that.”
Trying a 14-year-old as an adult is a very rare move, but the Ventura County district attorney did charge a 14-year-old suspect as an adult for allegedly killing a gay Oxnard middle school student in class last year.
Frawley said that if the slaying was gang-related that would be a factor in deciding whether to try the suspect as an adult, which could bring a much stiffer sentence.