“I called my uncle Albert up, said, ‘Hey, there’s a fire over here, come check it out,’” Fernando Juarez testified for the defense during the trial of his uncle, Alberto Beltran Serrato, on August 6.
Serrato, 57, is accused of arson during a series of fires raging throughout San Diego County three months ago.
The witness said he went to the 5100 block of North River Road on May 14 after his mother phoned and told him a fire was blazing in the riverbed there, near her home. Juarez said he then invited his uncle to “Come out and check out the fire and shit….
“Everybody was out there, watching,” Juarez said from the witness box. He was aware when Oceanside police showed up, he said. “I know them officers, so I know they are in an undercover car. Gang unit.”
Juarez said he heard officers call out to his uncle. “They told him to climb down from the slope.” At first, Juarez said he thought his uncle was being arrested for drunk in public. “After they took uncle to court, I drunk his beer.”
When cops took control of Serrato, Juarez said bystanders remarked how unfair it was. “We was just speaking out loud. Freedom of speech, you know?” Juarez said he and others demanded to know why his uncle was being arrested. He said he was surprised when police said it was for arson.
“They said they seen him throwing brush onto the fire.” But Juarez told the jury that his uncle did not put fuel on the fire. “He was throwing dirt on hotspots — that’s little branches that are still on fire.”
Defense produced more than 70 photos that were taken by Juarez’s cell phone that day, from 2:50 until 3:12 p.m.
However, prosecutor Tracy Prior went down a list of the photos with their time-stamps attached; she said this proved that Juarez first took photos of the burned-out area and then he captured images of the brief flare-up that his uncle caused, documenting the alleged arson incident.
On cross-examination, Juarez agreed with the prosecutor that he does not like the Oceanside Police Department. “I don’t.” And he confirmed that he has a tattoo over his right eye that reads, “FUCK OPD.” Juarez said he acquired many tattoos when he was in prison, but, “I don’t know the date.”
A moment later, Juarez corrected himself. “I like OPD, it’s just the officers. It’s the officers who are the dicks.”
Serrato briefly took the witness stand and said it was not brush that he picked up, “I just put some dirt up in there.”
He did confirm that he told police, “I say, okay, I threw something on there. I didn’t say brush.” Serrato said one of the officers told him they had video of him. “I just went along with them, ’cause they say they got a video.”
Serrato confirmed he may have used strong language. “Yes, I use the f word a lot. I go, ‘Why you always effing with us?’” But he said he has no problem with the Oceanside Police Department. “I do get along with some of them.” Although, “There are some that just like to harass people for no reason.”
Defense attorney Deborah Kirkwood told the jury that Oceanside police are biased. “I’m not saying they’re lying, I’m saying they’re mistaken.”
The jury began deliberating the case on August 6 in San Diego’s North County Superior Court.