DA’s Office Suffers Blow With Acquital Verdict In Rocha Case

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office this week suffered a blow to its credibility when a jury acquitted Javier Andrew Rocha of all charges that had been lodged against him.
Indications were that the jury concluded that the centerpiece of the case against Rocha, a videotape of his alleged assault of a neighbor, showed no assault occurred and severely undercut the sheriff’s department report on the incident.
Moreover, jurors were put off to learn that the prosecutor’s office had moved forward with the case in some measure because of the social standing of the alleged victim’s husband. Jurors also found troubling that the district attorney’s office failed to carefully examine the error-riddled sheriff’s department report of the matter before proceeding with the case against Rocha.
Rocha is the son of Dr. Martin Rocha, Sr., a pediatrician who was formerly employed by Loma Linda University Medical Center. In 2004, Martin Rocha, Sr. was recruited by David Stern, one of the board members at Mountains Community Hospital, to be an on-staff pediatrician.
Martin Rocha, Sr. at that time relocated to Lake Arrowhead with his family, including his then-ten-year-old son, Javier Andrew Rocha, to take the position at Mountains Community. The Rocha family moved into a house on Hospital Road, near Mountains Community, which was immediately adjacent to and shared a driveway easement with the home occupied by David Stern and his wife, Nancy.
In time, despite the consideration that David Stern had recruited Rocha, animosity developed between the Stern and the Rocha families. That enmity was at least partially exacerbated by Martin Rocha Sr.’s purchase of a commercial property in Lake Arrowhead where David and Nancy Stern had an office for their accounting business. Previously, David and Nancy Stern had made an offer to purchase that office property but had not been able to close the deal. After Martin Rocha, Sr. purchased the office property, effectively becoming the Sterns’ landlord, they left that office and quartered their  business out of their home on Hospital Road.
Over time, the hostility between the Sterns and the Rochas deepened, and the Sterns filed for civil harassment restraining orders against members of the Rocha family.
Because the portion of Hospital Road near their homes is narrow, motorists on occasion would use the common Rocha/ Stern driveway as a turnout. On one occasion last year, one of those motorists turning around in the driveway drove into the Sterns’ garage, damaging it. To prevent motorists from coming into the driveway, David Stern strung a tennis net across the entrance to the driveway easement his home shared with the Rocha property.
On February 2 shortly after 7 a.m., Dr. Rocha’s 28-year-old son, Martin Rocha, Jr., was at his parent’s home to return a vehicle and move some furniture on his parent’s property. To access the Sterns’ portion of the easement so his friend who had accompanied him to his parents’ home, Darren Earl, could safely turn his car around, Martin Rocha, Jr. took down the tennis net which blocked a good portion of the Sterns’ driveway.  His action was captured on a video taken from a camera located on the roof of the Sterns’  garage.  Nancy Stern, who was working in her upstairs office, also saw Martin Rocha Jr. take the tennis net down and came out of her house to confront him. There ensued a mostly verbal altercation that was captured on video.
In the course of the exchange between Martin Rocha, Jr. and Mrs. Stern, Martin Rocha in apparent response to her demands that he do so, retrieved the net from the ground to re-hang it. As the confrontation progressed, however, Martin Rocha flung the net to the side and retreated to the passenger’s side of Earl’s vehicle. Mrs. Stern followed him all the way to the car. When Martin Rocha got into the vehicle on the passenger’s side, Nancy Stern came right up to that side of the vehicle. As she was bending into the car, she came into contact with Martin Rocha and her  glasses fell into the vehicle.  Earl  retrieved the glasses and handed them over to David Stern, who at that point had come out of the house in response to his wife’s shouts. Martin Rocha and his companion drove off, without completing the task of moving the furniture.
Later, at approximately 10 a.m., after sheriff’s deputies had come to the Sterns’ home in response to a phone call from David Stern, 18-year-old Javier Rocha, Martin Rocha, Jr.’s younger brother, departed from the Rocha residence on his way to his father’s medical office, where he was employed. He was briefly questioned by  sheriff’s officers at the scene but then departed. It was apparently at that point that the sheriff’s personnel confused his identity with that of his older brother.
Javier Rocha was later arrested and charged with felonious assault, abuse of an elder, and theft. His bail was set at $100,000 and later reduced to $75,000. He  remained in sheriff’s custody for 77 days. The Rocha family retained Christopher Persaud, an attorney to represent Javier. In the lead-up to the trial, Martin Rocha, Jr. undertook a public campaign to have his brother freed, launching a website,  javierrochaisinnocent.com.  Against the advice of legal counsel, he approached the sheriff’s department and prosecutors, informing them that he was the individual Nancy Stern had the confrontation with, not his brother. After he learned that the sheriff’s department was referencing the security video of the exchange between him and Nancy Stern as evidence of the crime, he initiated an attempt to obtain a copy of the video. This however was met with resistance on the part of both the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office. On no fewer than four occasions, he was told that the tape was either not available or privileged from release. He persisted, however, and the tape was eventually released. He posted it on the website.
On the day of the incident, Mrs. Stern, who had previously suffered two heart attacks, went to Mountains Community Hospital and was later transported to St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino when it was thought she was experiencing another cardiac episode.
The police report of the incident stated that Javier Rocha had assailed Nancy Stern, “smacked her in the chest” and “snatched the glasses off her face scratching the bridge of her nose.” The report further stated “N. Stern is positive Andrew Rocha [i.e., Javier Andrew Rocha] is the one who assaulted [her] because she has known him for the past 7 years.”
The district attorney’s office proceeded with the prosecution of Javier Andrew Rocha despite information it received that Javier Rocha was not the individual involved in the altercation with Nancy Stern.
Furthermore, the video, the strongest piece of evidence presented, severely compromised the prosecution’s case. Javier Rocha, who stands 6 foot 2 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds, is at least three inches taller than his brother, who is a decade older than he is. Moreover, the video captures both brothers, including Martin, Jr. during his interaction with Mrs. Stern just after 7 a.m. and Javier at around 10 a.m. during his brief encounter with the sheriff’s officers who had come in response to David Stern’s call. The difference in the physical aspects of either brother is evident in a comparison of the images captured on the video.
That portion of the video which captures the confrontation between Martin Rocha, Jr. and Nancy Stern depicts a series of events that are not consistent with the police report.  In the video, Martin Rocha can be seen unfastening the tennis net and rolling it to clear access to the driveway easement. After he has placed it onto the vegetation to the side of the driveway, he is at that point approached by Mrs. Stern who comes into the field of focus from the direction of the house and garage. The video shows Nancy Stern moving toward Martin Rocha, Jr. and that at one point he moved to retrieve the wound up net in what appears to be an effort to reinstall it across the driveway. After she approaches him again, however, Martin Rocha, Jr. tosses the net and a pole connected to it back onto the vegetation. What can be seen of the physical contact that occurs between the two comes as Martin Rocha, Jr. is moving to get into the vehicle as she is moving toward him as he is retreating. Once he is in the car, she appears to be reaching with both hands into the vehicle.
At the trial, Martin Rocha, Jr. testified and was cross examined by both prosecutor Kristen Cain and defense attorney Christopher Persaud, He told the jury that he was the  person involved in the incident which resulted in the criminal accusations. Persaud also elicited testimony from Martin Rocha, Jr. and Earl that Nancy Stern had scratched Martin Rocha, Jr. on the back of his neck as she was attempting to pull him out of Earl’s car. Persaud introduced photos, taken by Earl on his cell phone, that showed those scratches, some of which were bleeding.
The prosecution’s case was further damaged by an assertion in the sheriff’s department’s report that Javier Rocha had run away from the deputies looking into the incident. The police report  was contradicted by the Stern’s surveillance video, which showed Javier Rocha cooperatively speaking with a deputy in front of the Stern’s driveway on the morning of February 2 and walking away only after the deputy ended his questioning of him and as the deputy was returning to his vehicle.
The video sequence showing the confrontation was played for the jury on multiple occasions during the five day trial.  After closing arguments on April 12, the jury gathered on Monday, April 16 for deliberations. Upon going into the jury room at 9 a.m., members of the jury requested a copy of the video to view once again. Because of a computer glitch, however, the video could not be displayed and there was a two hour delay while a member of the county’s technical support staff was located to play the video. Upon viewing the video, the jury deliberated for less than 20 minutes before returning with a unanimous verdict to acquit Javier Rocha.
One juror indicated after the verdict was rendered that the entire jury was convinced that the video depicted Martin Rocha in the altercation with Nancy Stern. This damaged not only her credibility with the jury, but called into question the validity of the police report and the prosecution’s assertions, which in other aspects were controverted by the video, the juror suggested.
The trial, in some measure because of the website, invited wide scrutiny, including national and international media attention. A common view expressed by a number of those in attendance at the trial was that both the sheriff’s investigators and the prosecution had not examined a crucial piece of their own evidence, the video, People’s Exhibit 43. The video was later designated Defense Exhibit 45A after Cain made motions to prevent it from being entered into evidence. Some said both the investigators and the prosecutors had merely substituted in the Sterns’ version of events in the police report and court filing against Javier Rocha without undertaking a critical assessment of their representations.
Lieutenant  Rick Ellis, the supervisor of the deputies who investigated the matter and was responsible for signing off on the police report, acknowledged in a videotaped interview after the charges had been filed against Javier Rocha that he had not viewed the videotape. On the witness stand at the trial, he testified that Martin Rocha, Jr. had informed him during a phone call to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s office on February 9 that it was he and not his brother who was depicted on the video having the confrontation with Nancy Stern.
Following the verdict, Cain spurned media requests for comment, including questions about whether she intended to file a criminal case against Martin Rocha, Jr.
At mid-week, the Rocha family was consulting with civil attorneys about filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit.

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