Two ATF agents among local honorees at North County 'Heroes' awards luncheon
By Dana Littlefield, San Diego Union Tribune
Investigators know a gun can tell a story.
That’s a fact that would likely ring true to law enforcement officers of all stripes, it would seem to resonate especially loudly with members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a federal agency whose mandate includes cracking down on the illegal use and trafficking of firearms.
Special Agent Geoffrey Rice shared a story recently about an investigation linked to two violent North County street gangs that led to a conviction in a 2016 murder case. He described how bullet casings helped investigators identify the type of handgun used in the gang-related shooting, which helped them find a man trying to sell the gun illegally.
Eventually, that information pointed them to the killer.
Rice was one of two ATF agents honored this week by the North San Diego Business Chamber at its sixth annual Honoring Our Region's Heroes Awards Luncheon. The group recognized 37 people, from several federal, state and local agencies, who “have gone above and beyond” in their public safety duties, organizers said.
The other ATF honoree was Special Agent Matt Beals, a certified fire investigator, who led a team that processed the scene of a 2015 arson fire in Oceanside that killed Gertrudes Hollis, 74, in her mobile home. Her husband, Andrew, was convicted of murder in February and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Working in partnership with the Escondido Police Department, Rice had been helping to identify and investigate violent offenders who were suspected of committing crimes in the area, including shootings, illegal gun possession and drug dealing.
While investigating the fatal shooting of Fabian Arellano in Escondido, investigators — including Rice — noted that distinctive markings on shell casings found at the scene, presumed to be from the murder weapon, indicated they had been fired from a Glock handgun. They learned a short time later that a person they had been investigating had recently acquired a Glock and was looking to get rid of it.
Authorities searched the man and his vehicle and found a Glock. Its serial number had been obliterated, Rice said. Further investigation revealed that the gun had been used in the homicide, and the man who possessed it had helped the shooter flee to Mexico.
Rice and others tracked the suspected shooter, then-18-year-old Javier Seda, to a town on the outskirts of Guadalajara.
Seda was arrested by Mexico-based ATF agents and law enforcement. He was extradited to San Diego County where he pleaded guilty in February to murder. He was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.
Rice said the case stands out in his mind because of the Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab’s quick work to process the gun evidence and the collaboration between federal and local law enforcement.
“It was important that we got that gun off the street as soon as possible,” he said.