BLACKFOOT- The bench trial of Idaho Falls resident Juan Santos-Quintero, 23, for shooting Bingham County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Todd Howell and firing on other law enforcement officers in a standoff in Firth Sept. 21 ended at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday with guilty verdicts on all counts.
The trial lasted two full days at the Bingham County Courthouse.
Seventh District Judge Darren Simpson, who presided over the bench trial requested by Santos-Quintero in place of a jury trial, ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for June 26 at 1 p.m. Santos-Quintero was remanded to custody in lieu of $1 million bail.
The defendant showed no emotion when Simpson pronounced him guilty of aggravated battery for the wounding of Howell, guilty of two counts of aggravated assault for firing upon Sheriff’s Deputies Jake Van Orden and Brock Katseanes, guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, grand theft by possession of a stolen firearm, and guilty of the enhancement charge of being a persistent violator.
The enhancement charge of using a firearm in the commission of a felony was dismissed on the motions of county prosecutor Paul Rogers and defense attorney Manuel Murdoch after Simpson noted there was no date on the document.
The shootings took place in a residence where the mother of Santos-Quintero’s girlfriend, Denise Williams, had been staying for two years near A.W. Johnson Elementary School at Firth after a caller to the 911 Dispatch Center in Blackfoot reported a man driving a vehicle down the road had fired a weapon out of the car window.
The caller followed the vehicle to the house and notified dispatch of the location. Law enforcement officers arrived on the scene and ordered the people inside the house to come out. Witnesses said Denise Williams told officers everyone was out, but they saw movement and discovered a man later identified as Santos-Quintero was still inside.
Howell was shot when he, Van Orden, and Katseanes approached the house and ordered the person inside to exit the house. A standoff resulted that involved law enforcement officers from several agencies.
Rogers called nine witnesses during Wednesday’s testimony, including sheriff’s detectives from Bonneville County, the trauma surgeon who tended to Howell at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, forensic experts in toxicology and firearms from the Idaho State Police laboratories, Santos-Quintero’s parole officer, and his stepfather.
Lt. James Foster from the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office investigation division testified that one of his fellow officers noticed that someone among the people who had exited the house had a cell phone and was talking to someone he learned was inside the house and was identified as Santos-Quintero. Foster said when he arrived on the scene, he took the phone and commenced talking to the man. He learned that the defendant was actually Juan Santos-Quintero Junior, and asked how he wished to be addressed. “He said Junior, so that’s what I called him,” Foster said.
He said he eventually built some rapport with Santos-Quintero and began urging him to come out and and surrender, but he wasn’t willing to do that because he was afraid.
“He said he had shot a cop and feared that he would be shot if he came out. One of the biggest hang-ups in the negotiations was his fear that he would be shot,” Foster said.
After about an hour and a half of talking with the defendant, Foster said, he finally convinced him that he would not be shot if he surrendered. He said Santos-Quintero agreed to come out if he could call his mother, have a cigarette, and talk to his girlfriend. Foster said he would see that those things happened and directed Santos-Quintero to remove the clip from the pistol, along with the shells from the magazine and throw the lot on the floor, which the defendant did.
Santos-Quintero said he would have a cell phone in his hand when he emerged from the house, and Foster said he did, along with a bottle of some type of alcoholic beverage he was drinking. Foster said the weapon the defendant used to shoot at the officers was a 9mm Ruger pistol that had been stolen, along with other items, from a car in the parking lot of the Ammon Walmart store.
Foster said he was just returning home when he got the call about the standoff at Firth and responded when he learned that Williams and Santos-Quintero were involved because the sheriff’s office had been searching for them in connection with other crimes in Bonneville County.
Tamara Salazar, a forensic scientist from the ISP laboratory, said tests of Santos-Quintero’s blood showed he had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system.
ISP firearms specialist Britnney Wylie testified that marking on the slug taken from Howell’s body matched those inside the barrel of the pistol the defendant had been shooting.
Several other witnesses, including Santos-Quintero’s stepfather, Jose Hernandez-Gomez, testified to hearing the defendant say he had shot a cop. The stepfather at first said he could not recall his stepson making that statement when he called his mother, so Rogers asked for a recess so the tape of his interview with police could be played to refresh his memory. When court reconvened, Hernandez-Gomez agreed that Santos-Quintero had made the statement.
After the state rested, Defense Attorney Manuel Murdoch said the defense would not present any evidence, his client would not take the stand, and he would not be making a closing argument. But he did make a motion that Santos-Quintero be acquitted of the charge of grand theft of the firearm used in the shootings because the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that his client had stolen the weapon or known that it was stolen, or that he was a felon in possession of a firearm.
Murdoch also asked that the aggravated assault charge be dismissed because the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that deputies Van Orden and Katseanes felt threatened.
Simpson refuted all of Murdoch’s contentions, saying being fired upon would create fear in anyone, the fact that Santos-Quintero’s girlfriend told an officer he had stolen items from the car at Walmart and the owner had reported the pistol as one of the items stolen and the serial numbers matched those on the pistol that Santos-Quintero abandoned in the house, and the fact he had prior convictions for possession of a controlled substance and aggravated assault made him guilty of illegal possession of a firearm were all proof the state had proven its case.