MODESTO — A man testified Thursday in a preliminary hearing about what he witnessed last summer during a fight outside a north Modesto bar, where police say an off-duty federal officer inadvertently shot and killed his co-worker.
Defendant Robert Anthony Moreno has been charged with murder in the death of fellow federal officer Daryl Chargualaf. Moreno also faces two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic gun.
Valentin Ceniceros testified that he saw the shooter take a few steps back, reach with his right hand into the back of his waistband and pull out a gun before stepping forward a few steps and firing in the direction of three men fighting on the ground.
The witness, however, could not identify the people involved in the violent confrontation, which occurred about 1:40 a.m. July 22 outside O'Malley's Bar in a shopping center at Standiford Avenue and Prescott Road. He could provide investigators with only a limited description, which included some of the clothing the men were wearing.
During cross-examination, Ceniceros said he had just dropped off friends at their home nearby, just south of the bar. He was not drinking alcohol that night, but his friends and his wife were. His wife remained in the back seat as they drove north on Prescott and cut through the shopping center parking lot, as he said he always does to avoid traffic and the traffic lights at the Standiford intersection.
Ceniceros said on the witness stand that he would sometimes drive through the shopping center parking lot to check out what was happening outside the bar, because a friend used to work there.
He said he spotted four men and a woman in an argument in the parking lot outside the bar. Ceniceros parked his vehicle to watch the confrontation happening several car spaces away from his vantage point. "There was yelling, arguing, a girl screaming in the background," Ceniceros testified. He said he couldn't hear what exactly they were yelling to one another.
The confrontation moved several car spaces to the east as it escalated, when one man, who took off his shirt, shoved another. Ceniceros said the shoving then led to a scuffle, and that all four men were involved early on.
The scuffle moved to the ground, with one man on the ground, a second man on top and a third man punching and stomping the man on the ground. That's when Ceniceros said he saw the fourth man pull out the black handgun, which looked like a semiautomatic pistol, and fire toward the three men fighting.
Ceniceros testified that he saw the shooter crouch down, apparently aiming the gun. He said the shooter didn't make any commands or display anything other than the gun before he fired it.
The witness said in court that the shooter was close to the men fighting on the ground. "Within two feet, really close," he said.
Ceniceros testified that he heard the woman scream, "How can you do this?" Out of fear for his safety, Ceniceros pulled out of his parking space and drove through an adjacent alley. He said he then heard a second gunshot as he drove away.
On his way out of the shopping center, Ceniceros said he spotted one of the gunshot victims, who appeared to be disoriented and bleeding from his arm. The injured man asked him for a ride to hospital, but Ceniceros told him he couldn't and drove away.
The witness drove east and stopped at Mr. T's Delicate Donut Shop at Tully Road and Standiford. He told a security guard about the shooting and asked him to call police, even though Ceniceros had a cell phone in his vehicle.
About five minutes after the shooting, Ceniceros drove back to the crime scene and found police had arrived. He testified that he didn't speak to officers before leaving. He spoke to Modesto police Detective Craig Grogan a few days later about what he witnessed.
During cross-examination, Ceniceros was asked if his recollection of the shooting is as good as it was when he spoke to the detective. He said yes, "It's hard to forget something like that."
Moreno, 31, of Hollister and Chargualaf, 34, of Modesto worked together as Department of Defense police officers at a facility in Tracy. Modesto police investigators have said Moreno remained at the crime scene when police arrived and identified himself to investigators as the person who fired the shots.
The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. His preliminary hearing started Thursday afternoon and was expected to continue this morning in Stanislaus County Superior Court.