Riverside police honored at Law Enforcement Appreciation Awards
The annual Riverside County Law Enforcement Appreciation Awards were held recently, and members of the Riverside Police Department received several honors for incidents that occurred in the last year, the city announced Thursday.
Robbery-Homicide Detective Sgt. Brett Stennett was recognized for his work in solving the murder of an 18-year-old woman who was allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend.
Officers Benjamin Rodriguez and Jorge Estrada were honored in the Exceptional Lifesaving category for reviving a 2-year-old child who nearly drowned in a pool.
Retired Lt. Christian Dinco was honored for his lifetime achievement and service of 30 years in law enforcement
The Riverside Police Department and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department received awards for Collaborative Investigative Recognition after their joint efforts in the triple homicide, arson and kidnapping investigation that occurred in the 11200 block of Price Court.
Riverside Police Explorer Daniela De la Cruz won a $1,000 scholarship.
Investigative Excellence — Detective Brett Stennett
“Category Criteria: Recognize an officer for exceptional execution of responsibilities by successfully concluding a major investigation or by demonstrating outstanding investigative or interrogative techniques in the course of an investigation,” according to the city’s announcement.
On March 16, 2022, Riverside police responded after an 18-year-old woman was found dead in her home with minor visible injuries. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was asphyxia that resulted from strangulation, and there was evidence of blunt force trauma and sexual assault.
Stennett was assigned to investigate the crime a day later with minimal leads, officials said. Stennett’s first move was to immediately return to the victim’s residence with a search warrant, where he found the room cleaned and items thrown away. He then located surveillance video from the victim’s apartment complex and the surrounding neighborhood and interviewed family and friends.
Stennett learned that on the morning of the woman’s death, the she was sleeping when an ex-boyfriend showed up at her apartment to return property, according to the city of Riverside. The victim’s brother took the returned property, and the ex-boyfriend left. The brother left for school, leaving the victim home alone, and a few hours later her family found the victim deceased in her bedroom.
“Detective Stennett served a search warrant at the ex-boyfriend’s residence, interviewed him, and collected his cell phone,” according to the city’s announcement. “The ex-boyfriend said he had not seen the victim in over a month. However, statements he gave were inconsistent with cellphone data and surveillance video. He was released at that time pending further investigation.”
Stennett closely examined the ex-boyfriend’s cell phone, which showed that he recorded video of himself assaulting the victim on the social media platform Snapchat, the city reported. The investigation determined that the Snapchat videos occurred after the ex-boyfriend returned the victim’s property and after her brother left the apartment.
The ex-boyfriend tried to delete the video evidence from his Snapchat account, “but the determination of Detective Stennett and computer forensic technicians led them to the discovery of the hidden videos,” officials said. “The techs at Snapchat were even baffled how they were able to recover the deleted videos. The evidence ultimately revealed he was present at the time of the victim’s death.”
Now a prime suspect in the killing, the suspect was arrested and police served a search warrant at his parent’s residence, according to the city of Riverside. The search turned up evidence related to the crime. A “jailhouse operation” followed, and the suspect admitted to committing the crime. He is currently awaiting trial.
“The young victim of murder and sexual assault would be without justice if it weren’t for the hard work and tenacity of Detective Brett Stennett,” officials said.
Exceptional Lifesaving — Officer Benjamin Rodriguez and Officer Jorge Estrada
“Category Criteria: This recognition involves one or more agency personnel distinguishing themselves by personally performing an exceptional act or acts that saved one or more human lives (not necessarily under conditions requiring bravery, or exposure to great personal risk), where the victim(s) survived the incident,” officials said.
In October, Riverside police got a 911 call from a distraught juvenile who said his 2-year-old brother had drowned in a pool and was unconscious, unresponsive and not breathing. The toddler’s parents were attempting CPR, but neither knew the proper technique.
“The 911 call-taker kept the parents calm and gave instructions on how to properly perform CPR while officers and medical aid were being dispatched,” officials said.
School Resource Officer Benjamin Rodriguez heard the dispatcher’s call and left the incident he was involved in to rush to the residence where the drowning occurred. Rodriguez arrived on scene, ran to the backyard and found the family surrounding the unconscious child. As the boy’s frantic family members begged him for help, Rodriguez found that the child had no pulse and confirmed the boy was not breathing.
The officer immediately began CPR, which he performed unassisted while surrounded by yelling and weeping family members, according to the city’s announcement.
Officer Jorge Estrada also responded to the drowning incident, ran through the house and into the backyard where he immediately saw several people yelling and crying, officials said. Estrada went directly to the drowned child and took over chest compressions while Rodriguez continued rescue breathing.
Both officers continued administering CPR until the boy began breathing on his own. As the child started to breathe, Riverside Fire Department personnel arrived and took over medical care for the child. The child was taken to a hospital, where he fully recovered.
“Thanks to the lifesaving actions of these dedicated officers, a young life was saved, and a family was spared the pain of losing a child,” officials said. “For their valiant actions on that day, the Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee is proud to bestow Officer Benjamin Rodriguez and Officer Jorge Estrada with the Exceptional Lifesaving Award.”
Lifetime Achievement — Retired Lt. Christian Dinco
“Category Criteria: Officer has completed a minimum sworn law enforcement ser. vice of 25 years, Officer has continuously displayed the highest level of professionalism, has continuously exceeded expectations, has had a sustained positive impact on his/her service community and has consistently performed his/her duties in a manner in harmony with the department’s goals, mission, objectives and values, Officer has served as a peace officer in Riverside County for at least the last five years (e.g., a CHP officer completing his/her career in Riverside County),” according to the city’s announcement.
Christian Dinco was hired by the Riverside Police Department in August 1995, after transferring from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department where he had worked as a deputy for the previous three years. Since joining the RPD, Dinco has worked in patrol, served as a field training officer, a school resource officer, and he was on the department’s full-time METRO Team.
In March 2004, Dinco was promoted to detective. He worked in narcotics, auto theft and property crimes and in June 2006 he was promoted to sergeant, working as a supervisor in patrol and investigations, according to the city. When he became a lieutenant, Dinco led the Special Operations Division overseeing SWAT, Air Support, PACT and the Emergency Negotiations Team. Dinco also served as an area commander in the West Neighborhood Policing Center, watch commander and he oversaw the Community Services Bureau where he was a public information officer.
Dinco has a bachelor’s degree in leadership and public administration from California Baptist University.
“During the last year of his service, he was elected as a council member for the city of Eastvale, now representing the community where he lives, while still serving the community where he worked,” the city reported.
Collaborative Investigative Recognition — Riverside Police Department and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department
“Category Criteria: Events recognized in this category must have occurred within the jurisdictions of agencies eligible to submit nominations to LEAC. They should be truly extraordinary and uncommon in nature requiring the collaborative efforts of two or more agencies using a significant amount of on-duty resources. This recognition should be for a significant investigation requiring unique collaboration of agencies,” according to the city of Riverside.
On November 25, Riverside police performed a welfare check at a residence where neighbors reported a teenage female who appeared to be in emotional distress as she was leaving with a male in a red Kia vehicle. Moments later, another call came in reporting a fire at the same residence. Riverside firefighters extinguished the blaze and discovered three victims of an apparent murder.
The Kia had out-of-state license plates, which led investigators to soon determine that the vehicle owner was an off-duty law enforcement officer from Virginia, officials said. Riverside police detectives “contacted the suspect’s agency, confirmed his identity, and obtained his cell phone number.”
Using electronic surveillance, Riverside police located the suspect and his vehicle and determined he was travelling eastbound through San Bernardino County, officials said. Riverside officers then relayed the information on the triple homicide, the kidnapping and the suspect’s vehicle to allied law enforcement agencies.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies attempted to stop the suspect with the assistance of the department’s Aviation Unit and Specialized Enforcement Team, according to the city’s announcement. The suspect shot many rounds of ammunition at the pursuing deputies and hit a patrol vehicle.
“The deputies used great restraint knowing a victim was in the suspect’s vehicle,” officials said. “The vehicle eventually became disabled, and the victim escaped. The suspect continued to engage the SBSO deputies and helicopter in a gun battle. Deputies successfully rescued the victim, and the suspect was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
The investigation later revealed the suspect met the teenage kidnapping victim online. He developed an online relationship with her and learned personal information about her that included the girl’s home address.
“The suspect eventually traveled from Virginia to Riverside, where he killed the victim’s grandfather, grandmother and mother, hoping to take the 15-year-old back to Virginia for a relationship,” according to the city of Riverside.
A review of social media accounts, cell phone communications and the suspect’s computers resulted in over 1 million pages of data that investigators are still analyzing.
“This investigation resulted in the collaboration of numerous federal, state, and out-of-state law enforcement agencies,” officials said. “However, the initial investigative collaboration between the Riverside Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office brought the quick and successful recovery of the victim, and ended the crime spree of a violent criminal and sexual predator. Personnel from both agencies worked expeditiously and diligently in overcoming communication issues and differing county and jurisdictional challenges to resolve the situation before the victim was harmed or killed.
“For their collective efforts in exemplifying how agencies from differing counties can successfully work together in dynamic situations and investigations, the Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee is honored to recognize the Riverside Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, and is pleased to present them with the Collaborative Investigative Recognition award.”
$1,000 Explorer Scholarship — Riverside Police Explorer Daniela De La Cruz
“Scholarship Critera: Applications were evaluated on future law enforcement-related goals, Explorer activities and contributions, academic and scholastic achievement, dedication to public service, and long-term goals. Each Explorer submitted an essay describing their personal commitment to supporting law enforcement and the community,” according to the city of Riverside.
Last year the Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee established a college scholarship program to benefit police and sheriff explorers who serve in western Riverside County.
“This program was created to encourage and assist future law enforcement professionals in their educational goals,” officials said. “The Scholarship Fund is administered by an appointed sub-committee comprised of LEAC members. This year for the first time, opportunities were created for sponsors to contribute directly into the fund and support the selected Explorers. This allowed us to double the number of recipients from four to eight Explorers.”
Scholarship applicants had to be a participant in an explorer program and either a high school senior planning to attend college next year or currently a full-time college student. Applicants were submitted at the behest of their LEAC explorer agency.
Explorer Daniela De La Cruz is currently attending the University of California, Riverside, with law enforcement goals after college, according to the city. She hopes to graduate with a degree in Sociology and become a juvenile probation officer with the Riverside County Probation Department.