LOS ANGELES — In the three weeks since the arrest of a man accused of beating a baseball fan outside Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles police have scoured thousands of stadium surveillance photograp hs, run DNA tests and reviewed mobile phone records and financial transactions in search of hard evidence to bolster a case that authorities concede is largely based on eyewitness identifications.
The public celebration that began when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced the arrest has faded. Prosecutors have not filed criminal charges in the case, and detectives and police officials have divulged few details about the investigation, which was reassigned last week to the department's elite Robbery-Homicide Division. The search for a second assailant and a getaway driver goes on.
Meanwhile, attorneys representing Giovanni Ramirez and his family have waged an aggressive public campaign to chip away at the police allegations, holding news conferences to unveil alibi witnesses and other evidence aimed at proving the man's innocence. As a result, police have been left to battle growing public perception that their case is not as strong as they had originally portrayed it.
"Everyone mistakes an abundance of caution for a lack of evidence," Beck said in an interview last week. "There is no rush — outside of the media crush — to move quickly on this. Why wouldn 't we take the time we have to pursue every avenue?"
Beck has not backed away from his early assurances that Ramirez, an alleged gang member, is the primary assailant in the March 31 attack, which left San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in a coma with brain damage. "I am still confident we have the right guy," the chief said.
Beck acknowledges that the case against Ramirez is, so far, based "hugely" on eyewitness identifications and that such cases can be difficult to prosecute. He declined to elaborate on the d etails of the eyewitness evidence, saying only that detectives have "more than enough" to pursue charges. Police sources have said that more than one person identified Ramirez as the attacker in ph oto arrays.
Prosecutors, however, generally view cases that rely largely or entirely on eyewitness identifications with a degree of caution. Witness identifications are far from infallible and have led to wrongful convictions.
Typically, investigators and prosecutors would have had to rush to pull together their case against Ramirez, because a person must either be charged with a crime and arraigned in front of a judge within days of being arrested or be set free. Police were able to sidestep that timeline with Ramirez, who instead is being held in custody on suspicion that he violated the terms of his par ole from a previous conviction.
Beck and other police officials have portrayed the parole hold, which could potentially give them several months to build a case against Ramirez, as a boon. However, Ramirez's attorney, Ant hony Brooklier, has also sought to use the time to his advantage.
Brooklier repeatedly has gone before television cameras to assert Ramirez's innocence, had his client take a polygraph exam and made headlines with his claim that nearly a dozen people can place Ramirez at his home at the time of the attack.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.