Gang member charged, Ripon police officer resigns after road rage incident

01/09/2014 5:04 PM

01/09/2014 6:10 PM

A documented gang member wanted in connection with an October road rage assault has turned himself in. His passenger and girlfriend during the incident, and the owner of the car he was driving, was an off-duty Ripon police officer, according to court documents.

Modesto police issued a felony arrest warrant for Michael Peter Oneill Jr. in mid-December, alleging he punched a man in the car behind him and then chased him at high speeds through residential neighborhoods in northwest Modesto on Oct. 4.

Detectives in an arrest affidavit say Oneill was driving a Jeep Rubicon that belonged to his girlfriend, Mindy Morris, an off-duty Ripon police officer. Morris was placed on administrative leave after the incident and has since resigned, according to Ripon Police Chief Edward Ormonde.

The victim told police the incident began on the Pelandale Avenue offramp from southbound Highway 99. Oneill and Morris were stopped in her Jeep in front of the victim when Oneill got out of the driver’s seat and approached the victim’s car. After a brief conversation, Oneill punched the victim in the face, according to an arrest affidavit for Oneill.

The victim later told police he believes Oneill attacked him because he was dating Oneill’s sister, with whom he’d been in a heated argument two weeks prior. The victim had never met Oneill, but his girlfriend made threats during the argument that she’d have her brother beat him up as soon as he was released from prison, according to the affidavit.

After being punched in the face on the offramp, the victim sped away and Oneill followed. Oneill allegedly chased the victim through the streets of northwest Modesto, at speeds up to 65 mph, running as many as three stop signs and driving on sidewalks and front yards in residential and commercial neighborhoods.

A few days after the incident, Modesto police and district attorney investigators interviewed Morris at the Ripon Police Department. A Ripon police sergeant was also present.

During the interview, Morris admitted she was dating Oneill and said “there had been a road rage type altercation involving Oneill, who was driving her … Jeep,” the arrest affidavit states. At the end of the interview, Morris was placed on administrative leave by the Ripon Police Department for failure to report a crime, active association with a known gang member and actions unbecoming an officer, the affidavit states.

Ormonde would not discuss the details of Morris’ leave, saying it was a personnel matter, but said Morris was a seven-year veteran of the department when she resigned.

Morris declined to comment for this story. She has not been charged with any crime.

Part of a larger investigation

The investigation of the incident and Oneill’s actions prior are part of a larger investigation into the disappearance and killing of a Turlock man.

Korey Kauffman’s body was discovered in an isolated area of Mariposa County almost a year and a half after his disappearance.

A task force of investigators from the Modesto, Turlock and Ceres police departments, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Corrections and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office have spent countless hours on the case and have interviewed hundreds of witnesses.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley wouldn’t say specifically what about Kauffman’s case prompted the assemblage of a five-agency task force. In an email, she said, “Agencies often assist each other if there is a question about jurisdiction. Once an agency is involved, they will continue to assist even if it is ultimately determined to be another agency’s case. This practice is just the nature of how investigations are conducted.”

In the road rage incident, Oneill is identified as a documented Northern Ryder gang member who was in the Stanislaus County jail the day Kauffman was killed. The task force is investigating Northern Ryder gang members in relations to Kauffman’s death.

According to the arrest affidavit, bail agent Praveen Singh solicited Northern Ryder gang members “to commit crimes with and/or for Singh, including the homicide of Kauffman.”

Singh was identified as a person of interest in the homicide in court documents detailing his charges of attempted shooting of an occupied home, soliciting the commission of a shooting at an inhabited home and soliciting the commission of a robbery.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied all the allegations in an interview with The Modesto Bee last month. His attorney said Singh has cooperated with detectives regarding the Kauffman investigation, including voluntarily taking a six-hour polygraph test.

Jail records indicate Singh made a call to a “tank” of the Stanislaus County Men’s jail, where Northern Ryder gang members are housed, on the day of Kauffman’s disappearance, according to the affidavit. Oneill was among the Northern Ryder gang members in the cell at the time. Police say Oneill and Singh are “close associates.”

Oneill has pleaded not guilty to charges of battery and assault with a deadly weapon, along with enhancements for road rage. He will be in court today for a pretrial hearing.

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