Officers from seven agencies sweep 130 Stanislaus homes for probation violations

The routine gets familiar fast: Park out of sight of the target home. Hop from the car, move quickly and quietly toward the residence. Head to the back, fan out around the sides, or cover the front door. Avoid windows so as not to be seen by anyone inside.

Then, heavy knocking on the front door. If no one answers, the announcement is standard: "Sheriff's Department. Open the door." Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. If nobody answers, the officers walk away in a cluster, moving to the next house on the list.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 90 officers from seven agencies rapped on the doors of more than 130 probationers in Oakdale, Riverbank and Waterford. Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy Tom Letras organized the sweep with deputy probation officer Leah Valenti of the Stanislaus County Probation Department.

"You just have to remind these people they're one step away from going back to jail," Letras said. "We need to make sure they're compliant with the terms of their probation."

He said officers arrested 23 people for various violations, including burglary, drug possession and violating parole or probation.

The operation was unique for its scale and the degree of cooperation between agencies, Letras said. Six teams of officers from the sheriff's and probation departments, the Modesto, Oakdale, Waterford and Riverbank police departments and state parole came together for the effort.

"Any one of our agencies alone couldn't do this without it impacting our day-to-day abilities," Letras said.

Planning for the operation began in January after Oakdale Police Chief Marty West called the Sheriff's Department and said he thought the area was ripe for a probation sweep. They pulled together a list of everyone in the area on probation for stolen property, gang activity and auto theft, among other violations.

The months of planning came together this week.

Wednesday, at one house in Waterford, it didn't take long for officers to spot what they were looking for: 2,034 pirated DVDs and CDs, cheap knock-offs that sell fast at the flea market. They sorted through the titles, from "10,000 B.C." to "Horton Hears a Who!" to "The Bucket List," as well as one box of children's movies and another of adult flicks.

The probationer whom officers were looking for wasn't home. But her terms of probation allowed them to go through the house looking for pirated DVDs and CDs. Deputies directed several people who were in the home — a man, two young children and two teenagers — onto the living room couches to wait during the hunt.

While some team members went through closets and drawers, others made calls and found the woman, Leonor Sandoval, at work in a county jail-alternative program. She was arrested on suspicion of possessing counterfeited DVDs and CDs, trademark violation and violating probation, Letras said.

Each home on the search list is numbered so officers can broadcast their locations over the scanner without giving away too much information.

"You might hear us say, 'Team four is en route to location number 28,' " he said. "They find out where location 28 is when we knock on their door. For us, the element of surprise is the element of safety."

Early Wednesday, a team arrived in Riverbank to check on a probationer who was searchable for drugs. They ended up arresting him and three others on drug and warrant violations. Before his arrest, as the probationer waited shirtless, barefoot and in handcuffs outside, he admitted it didn't feel good to have officers rooting through his stuff.

"But it's all part of the system when you get in trouble," said Richard Richardson. "It's all part of the price you pay."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

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