A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge recently dismissed assault charges after an alleged attack inside County Jail in October 2019 that involved three inmates, including a defendant in the MS-13 murder case and a defendant in the Morales Robles murder case.
Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno, 31, was charged with assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and conspiracy to commit a crime following the alleged attack on Oct. 10, according to a criminal complaint filed on Oct. 31.
However, Judge John McGregor on Jan. 17 cited "furtherance of justice" as he dismissed the charges against Membreno, who is a suspect in the Operation Matador case.
California law gives judges discretion to dismiss charges, although court records did not show why McGregor chose to dismiss Membreno's charges.
Membreno is one of 10 alleged members of the transnational criminal organization MS-13 who is charged with dozens of gang-related crimes, including murder. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in February 2018. His trial is slated to begin on May 4.
The other inmate, Agustin Flores, 18, received the same charges related to the jail attack and pleaded not guilty on Nov. 1. The judge did not dismiss Flores' charges.
Flores has been in custody since November 2018, when he was charged with murder in the gang-related shooting death of Salomon Morales Robles that same month.
He also pleaded not guilty to those charges.
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A Superior Court judge in Santa Maria ruled that 10 accused MS-13 members would have to be split into two groups of five and each tried separately after it was determined there wasn't enough money to make the necessary modifications in the courtroom to try all of them together.
The alleged assault at the County Jail occurred after Membreno and Flores allegedly conspired to attack a third inmate, identified as A. Mena, according to the criminal complaint.
Flores allegedly sent a hand sign to his cellmate who, using words and a hand gesture, directed Mena to go downstairs in the Northwest C Module inside the jail, where Membreno waited.
Once Mena went to the bottom of the stairs, Membreno and Flores simultaneously attacked him with punches and knee strikes, according to the complaint.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who is prosecuting the jail assault case, declined to comment because of a gag order in the case that prevents officials from speaking publicly beyond what is said in open court.
Flores is set to appear for a preliminary hearing setting for both the jail assault and murder cases at 8:30 a.m Feb. 26 in Department 8 of Superior Court in Santa Maria.
Membreno is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 21 in Department 8 of Superior Court in Santa Maria for his murder case.
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