An orange barricade shields the body of a shooting victim, killed on January 1, 2018 at De la Vina and Victoria streets. | Credit: Kelsey Brugger (file)

A Santa Barbara County jury found Santa Barbara resident Brian Charles Ruiz, 36, not guilty of first- and second-degree murder in connection with a shooting of two men and killing of one at a New Year’s Eve party in 2018. Ruiz, who appeared in court for the verdict on July 24, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, attempted voluntary manslaughter, and assault by means of force to produce great bodily injury. 

Brian Ruiz was first arrested in 2018 for the January 1 shooting, which occurred near the 200 block of Victoria Street and De la Vina Street. | Credit: Courtesy

Ruiz was first arrested in 2018 for the January 1 shooting, which occurred around 3:30 a.m. near the 200 block of Victoria Street and De la Vina Street in Santa Barbara. According to the court testimony, Goleta resident Tomas Arzate, 23, was shot by Ruiz in the shoulder and head, suffering non-life-threatening injuries, and was taken to Cottage Hospital, where he was later released. 

Jesus Reyes, who was 24 at the date of the shooting, reportedly fled the party before he was chased down and shot in the head by Ruiz. Reyes was found dead on the 1300 block of De la Vina Street, only a couple hundred feet from the party on Victoria Street. 

Ruiz’s defense attorney, Public Defender Adrian Galvan, argued that Ruiz acted in self-defense and was provoked by Reyes and Arzate, who he said initiated the fight at the party. Galvan argued in court that Ruiz’s mental state was compromised during the shootings, triggered by past traumatic experiences from being stabbed in 2004 and 2016. Ruiz testified that Arzate had pulled a knife during the fight and that he had acted out of self-defense and provocation from Reyes and Arzate. 

After returning the felony verdict, the jury was ordered to deliberate on a gang enhancement charge on Ruiz. Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Hans Almgren argued in court that Ruiz was an active member of the Westside Street criminal gang, acting on behalf of the organization targeting members of rival gangs. Santa Barbara County Judge Pauline Maxwell, however, declared a mistrial on the gang enhancement charge on July 25 before the jury could render a verdict. 

The mistrial is specific only to the gang enhancement. If Ruiz were found guilty of the more severe charge of murder, the enhancement could have been applicable, but since he was found guilty of the lesser charges of manslaughter and assault, and Galvan argued that he acted in self-defense, Judge Maxwell ruled that the enhancement could no longer be applied.

Ruiz awaits a review conference on August 24 while being held in custody without bail, and he will face sentencing under Justice Maxwell on September 15, 2023. 


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