Three men arrested in connection with a bank robbery in Paso Robles last week are now free, and the city’s chief of police is at odds with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office over the case.
Police say it’s clear they caught the crooks but prosecutors say the evidence is weak.
“The last thing we wanted as a PD was to see them released any time in the near future,” said Chief Ty Lewis, Paso Robles Police Department. “It’s our opinion that these are the right people and we’re working hard to get them back into custody soon.”
Edward Ochoa, 30, Jose Ramirez, 29, and Luis Rico, 21, were booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail last week on charges including robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
“Last Tuesday about 6 p.m., some bank robbers entered Chase bank on Niblick street. It was a take-over style robbery with all of them being armed with pistols and long rifles,” Chief Lewis explained.
Within an hour of the robbery, California Highway Patrol officers reportedly spotted a speeding vehicle matching the suspect description about 55 miles north of Paso Robles. They stopped the car and arrested the three men inside.
Chief Lewis says his officers collected strong evidence implicating Ochoa, Ramirez and Rico in the crime, but prosecutors disagree.
“Charges have not been filed as our filing deputy did not feel there was sufficient evidence at this point to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said SLO County Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth in a statement to KSBY News.
Lewis says it’s not uncommon for prosecutors to request more evidence before filing charges, but that’s typically the case in property crime investigations, not robberies.
“We felt very comfortable making the arrest,” he said. “It turns my stomach. It makes me sick to think they’re out of jail right now. There’s information to lead us to believe they’re gang members, they are violent criminals. The fact that they’re out of custody right now makes me sick to my stomach.”
The original suspects could still be charged if new evidence emerges, but Chief Lewis says he sees the three men as a danger to the community and a flight risk that need to be mitigated immediately.
The police chief says there may be other suspects as well.
The FBI is assisting in the investigation.