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Santa Rosa police arrest gang member suspected of threatening witness

Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:42 p.m.

A gang member suspected of threatening to kill a witness in the upcoming trial of a fellow gang participant was arrested early Friday morning during a high-profile raid on a rural southwest Santa Rosa compound, police said.

Richie Michelson, 29, was held at the Sonoma County Jail on $1 million bail after his arrest for suspicion of intimidating a witness and gang-related charges, authorities said.

Michelson was arrested early Friday after a witness in a gang case went to police saying she feared for her life. The witness told police that a man, later identified as Michelson, had made increasingly frequent and menacing assertions that she “would be dead” if she testified at the Nov. 16 trial of Karl Gray on weapons, drug and gang charges, police Sgt. Ray Navarro said.

Gray, who has two prior strikes under California’s three strikes law, faces life in prison if convicted of the charges.

The witness “came forward because she was scared, and she was in fear for her life,” Navarro said. “There were some credible threats that were made.”

Police tracked Michelson down to a complex of buildings on Ludwig Avenue west of Stony Point Road, where it appeared 11 or 12 people were living, Navarro said.

Because of the size of the property and the number of people involved, the department’s SWAT team with full tactical gear joined gang investigators at 7 a.m. to launch a search of the property.

Flash-bang devices were used as authorities moved onto the property and detained those present, including several who ran for fences and other buildings, he said.

Investigators searched several buildings, including crawl spaces and “nooks and crannies” created by torn wallboard, rafters and a hole in the floor of one structure.

Michelson surrendered in an outbuilding where he had been hiding with several others, Navarro said.

Two other women, Evita Hill Mota, 58, and Evelyn Espinoza, 24, were arrested on outstanding arrest warrants, Navarro said.

Investigators with the SWAT team then moved onto a similar family compound on Brooks Road in south Santa Rosa, where Michelson also spent time, to collect additional evidence, Navarro said.

The victim in the intimidation case, whose name was not released, was a witness in the case against Karl Gray, who was arrested during a similar raid June 7 in south Santa Rosa.

Twelve days earlier, police said Gray and a second man fled a traffic stop, led authorities on a high-speed pursuit and crashed on Dutton Road, allowing them to flee on foot.

A firearm believed to belong to Gray, the driver in that case, was recovered, along with packaged drugs found in the truck, police said.

When Gray was apprehended the following week, he was arrested for suspected possession of methamphetamine for sale and possession of narcotics for sale with a loaded firearm; separate charges for being a felon in possession of a concealed weapon, a loaded firearm, ammunition and two different firearms, one found during the pursuit and the other during the raid; felony evasion; two gang enhancements; and violation of parole.

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