One of two Fresno men accused of impersonating police officers in November 2014 to rob drunks was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison.
The family of Patrick Earl King, 26, cried when the punishment was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
They had hoped for a sentence of probation since he has apologized to the victims and has testified against the co-defendant, Juan Calderon.
Judge Brian Alvarez, however, said King needed to go to prison because he has prior convictions in 2008 and 2010 for impersonating a police officer.
King, who was free on bail, said he understood.
“I am sorry. I know justice needs to be served, whether in prison or on probation,” he told the judge moments before he was handcuffed in front of his family, who left the courtroom in tears.
Police say King and Calderon were training to be bail bondsmen and were issued some law enforcement equipment during that process.
Dressed in a tactical vest and with flashlights, they looked for drunks and targeted Mexican nationals knowing they would not report the crime, police said.
The pair would confront the unwitting victims, ask them for identification, demand their wallets, and let them leave after taking cash from them, police said. In many cases, the victims were robbed of $300 to $1,200, police said.
It was like a comedy film that turned into a crime.
Defense attorney Jonathan Rooker
King and Calderon surrendered in November 2014 once they learned police were looking for them, Lt. Joe Gomez said at the time of their arrests. Gomez said King admitted taking part in the robberies and told investigators that he and Calderon began stopping victims several weeks earlier in “dry runs” to see how the scam would play out. As they grew more comfortable, they committed more robberies, several of which failed because their victims didn’t have cash.
They were identified once news of the incidents circulated in the media.
In one case, two victims told police they they were sitting in a car near First Street and Belmont Avenue when two men posing as police walked up, searched them and took $100 from one. The parent of another victim alerted police, telling investigators that her 20-year-old son was driving home from work late one night when the bandits followed him to Fifth Street and Belmont Avenue. In that case, the men told the victim that he was speeding, asked whether he had been drinking and took his wallet, which contained no cash, from his pocket.
King testified at Calderon’s preliminary hearing earlier this month that he was involved in about 20 incidents.
In September 2015, King pleaded guilty to robbery and impersonating a police officer. In exchange, 11 charges were dismissed. He took the plea deal because if he had been convicted of all the charges, he would have faced a minimum of 17 years in prison, said King’s defense attorney Jonathan Rooker. (The co-defendant, Calderon, has chosen to take his case to a jury trial, which is pending, court records show.)
In court Wednesday, Rooker sought probation for King, telling the judge that King is married and has two children. Rooker said King has a job, is the sole provider for his family, and was receiving counseling from a church elder, who wrote a letter to the judge on King’s behalf.
“He knows what he did was wrong,” Rooker said.
The judge, however, could not look past King’s prior convictions.
“He has a history of impersonating police officers,” Alvarez said. “He also has a resisting arrest on his record and reporting a false emergency to police in a 911 call. His behavior is escalating and he has conspired to deprive people of their property.”
Outside court, Rooker tried to console King’s sobbing family. He said his client is not a typical crook.
“He doesn’t use drugs and rarely drinks,” Rooker said.
Initially, King impersonated a police officer as protection, Rooker said. When someone pulled a gun on him, he flashed a security guard’s badge, the lawyer said. King then started to impersonate police as a joke, he said.
“It was like a comedy film that turned into a crime,” Rooker said.