The year Robert Cruz Ramos turned 15, he was shot in the head, according to his sister and his public defender. He started drinking “to forget everything,” and he started smoking marijuana daily. Around that time, his father disappeared from his life.
Ramos lived in a trailer park in Fallbrook, across the street from a shopping center with an Albertsons. The third of five children, he was born in Escondido but spent his first five years in Mexico before moving back across the border with his mother. He called his mother his best friend.
By the time Ramos was 16, he was snorting and smoking meth. One day after school, intoxicated, he threatened to “beat on” his mother. His mother’s boyfriend called authorities. That was the first time Ramos was arrested. The juvenile court ordered him to perform 40 hours of community service and get anger management counseling. And he was warned to stop associating with the Vario Fallbrook Locos gang.
His second arrest occurred when he was 17. Drunk, he threw cinder blocks and chunks of concrete at his mom’s mobile home and onto a car that belonged to his mother’s boyfriend, as well as at the boyfriend himself and at his own little brother.
Although Ramos completed an outpatient treatment program, he continued to test positive for drugs. When he turned 18, the adult probation department declared, “Numerous local resources have been exhausted attempting to rehabilitate this young man to no avail.”
After graduating from Ivy High School in 2010, he found work as a cook, a landscape laborer, a grocery store clerk; for a short time he had a job on a Christmas tree farm.
One night in January 2011, Ramos borrowed his mom’s maroon Ford F-150 pickup truck to go buy some meth. It was after 11:00 p.m. when he and his friends, Sadboy and Gonzalo, returned. Traveling down Ammunition Road, they were passing the Albertsons shopping center when Sadboy spotted a man walking along the street.
Every night about 11:00 p.m., Kenneth Mose, 24, left his apartment to get a snack, walking the short distance to the shopping center. Usually he went with a roommate, maybe because on previous trips “Hispanic males” had yelled at him and made “derogatory racial comments.” But that January night he was walking alone.
“Hey, is that a black person?” Sadboy said, except he didn’t say “black person.”
“Put on your hoodie and get ready to go to work,” Sadboy said to Gonzalo.
Gonzalo and Sadboy jumped out of the truck. They chased Mose down the middle of the street. They knocked him to the ground. Witnesses later said they heard somebody yell, “This is Sadboy from Fallbrook.”
Mose was facedown near the Carl’s Jr. in the corner of the Albertsons shopping center when sheriff’s deputies found him. He was having trouble breathing and could barely talk. A couple of hours later, in the hospital, he died of his stab wounds.
Investigating the crime, deputies studied surveillance video from nearby businesses and noticed a pickup truck circling the area during the time of the assault. A couple of days after the murder, they pulled over a maroon F-150 and arrested Ramos.
Eventually investigators learned that Sadboy and Gonzalo had been joined in the assault by Enrique Martinez, 23, aka Limps, who had run over from the trailer park, where the men lived. Limps was a Vario Fallbrook Loco, as were Sadboy, aka Salvador Lopez, 19, and Ramos, 19, whose gang name was Caves. Gonzalo, 31 and married with children, did not belong to the gang.
Both Limps and Gonzalo told investigators they didn’t expect it to be a stabbing. They thought it was going to be a beating. But Sadboy pulled out a knife. Everybody got charged with murder.
Limps said that he had been involved with gangs since his freshman year of high school. He said Gonzalo was not in the gang but was “a border brother.” Limps admitted to being present when Mose was stabbed but denied being the stabber. When asked what his involvement was, he said, “I was there beating up the black guy.” But he didn’t say “black guy.”
What had impelled Limps to attack a stranger out for a late-night walk? Limps said that he was willing to do what he “needed to do” to prove he was “down for his neighborhood.” He felt bad that the guy had died; he’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Everybody made plea deals to escape the murder charge, admitting voluntary manslaughter. The last defendant was sentenced on April 20, 2012.
Robert Cruz Ramos, who was driving the truck and whose lawyer said had been shot in the head four years earlier by a black guy, got 16 years in prison.
Enrique Martinez, aka Limps, got 16 years.
The stabber, Salvador Lopez Jr., or Sadboy, got 27 years. He admitted to using the knife, which added 1 year to his sentence, and he admitted it was a hate crime, which added another 4 years.
Gonzalo Ordonez, the border brother, got 6 years, 10 years less than the other accomplices because he was not a Vario Fallbrook Loco. ■