Teen admits shooting officer outside Pomona courthouse

Los Angeles Daily News

Teen admits shooting officer outside Pomona courthouse
By Rod Leveque
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 08, 2004 –

POMONA — Only a few minutes into his first interview with police, a 16-year-old Fontana boy quickly and bluntly confessed to killing a California Highway Patrol officer outside the Pomona courthouse in April.

Detectives barely prodded Valentino Mitchell Arenas during the videotaped interview before the boy abandoned his denials and flatly admitted firing three gunshots at 35-year-old Thomas Steiner to gain status for himself in a notorious Pomona gang.

“I don’t want to put words into your mouth,” Pomona Police Department Detective Gregg Guenther told Arenas only a few questions into the interrogation. “All I want is for you to tell me.”

“I shot him, man,” Arenas answered.

After watching a videotape of the interview, Pomona Superior Court Judge Charles Horan on Thursday ordered Arenas to stand trial on murder and other charges that could land him in prison for life with no chance for parole.

Arenas, charged as an adult, will return to court July 30 to again be arraigned.

Steiner, of Long Beach, was shot in the head as he walked away from the Pomona courthouse in full uniform April 21. A gunman drove up to him, fired several shots from inside a car, and sped away.

Police arrested Arenas that night after recovering a car belonging to his father that witnesses linked to the shooting. They interrogated the teen just before 5 a.m. the following day.

The videotaped recording of Arenas’ confession, played in open court Thursday, was the key piece of evidence during the teen’s brief preliminary hearing. It showed Arenas as visibly nervous, fidgety and scared during the interview.

Arenas initially denied driving his father’s car and leaving it at the Garey Avenue flower shop where police found it, but then quickly retracted that story and admitted to the shooting.

He said the idea to kill a cop simply “popped up” in his head earlier that day.

The teen told detectives that he stole the car from his father and a .38-caliber silver handgun from his grandfather and drove the streets of Pomona looking for an officer to shoot.

“I just snapped,” he said.

He told police he drove by the police station but saw no officers. He then drove by the courthouse, where he saw Steiner walking out of the parking lot. He said he intended to shoot the first officer he saw and Steiner fit the bill.

“Does that mean no matter what policeman was walking out you would have shot him?” Guenther asked.

“Yep,” Arenas answered.

Arenas said he yelled out “12,” for the 12th Street gang, as he shot the officer. He denied, however, being a member of 12th Street, the oldest and largest gang in Pomona.

He told Guenther he didn’t remember what he did with the gun after the shooting.

The tape then shows Guenther receive a message on his pager and leave the interview room. He returned minutes later and told Arenas that officers had recovered the gun near where the car was found.

Arenas appeared to breathe heavily and panic at the news.

“Now you think I’m a liar,” he told the detective.

Guenther tried to calm him.

“You have been far more honest than I ever expected and we thank you for that,” the detective told the boy. Rod Leveque, (909) 483-9325

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