A man arrested Tuesday for calling in a series of school threats had been recently sentenced by a judge for doing the same thing. Officials say 26-year-old Gerardo Cortez may also have learning disabilities. Patrick Healy reports from Monrovia for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2013.
The suspect arrested in five San Gabriel Valley shooting threat hoaxes has been previously diagnosed with a developmental disability, NBC4 learned from Los Angeles County Superior Court records.
Gerardo Cortez, 26, remains in custody Thursday awaiting arraignment. He had been arrested outside a brother's apartment in Monrovia Tuesday afternoon.
All five of the threatening phone calls were placed from a cellphone registered to a Cortez family member, according to Lt. Nels Ortlund, with the Monrovia Police Department.
The caller did not identify himself, but made no effort to disguise his voice, Ortlund said. Three schools were placed in lockdown last week after the caller threatened that a gunman with an AK-47 assault rifle would open fire.
Another call threatened a shooting attack at an Arcadia shopping mall. Another named a "Citrus Medical Center."
There is no hospital with that exact name in the San Gabriel Valley, but as a precaution police responded to and searched four medical campuses.
Cortez was at the center of a series of threats last year.
As recently as June 21, Cortez was sentenced to 16 months in county jail as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted to making similar hoax threats in Pasadena last October. Because Cortez had been in custody since his arrest, the combination of actual time already served and "good time/work time" credits meant that he was released almost immediately.
A mental health evaluation was performed prior to sentencing. The report is sealed, but references to it can be gleaned from the transcript of the sentencing hearing.
"He suffers mild mental retardation and has been a client of the Regional Center for some time," Judge Elaine Lu said.
The San Gabriel Pomona Regional Center coordinates services for the developmentally disabled, according to its website.
The Pasadena case involved bomb threats that named three locations: Washington Middle School, Pasadena Public Health headquarters, and an unspecified post office. The school was locked down and the public health building was evacuated until authorities determined the calls were hoaxes.
While Public Health was evacuated, Cortez was arrested a few blocks away, still talking to police on a cellphone.
"Maybe there's a reason he actually wants to be in custody," said Dr. Eric Walsh, Pasadena's public health director, who was in contact with police during the emergency response.
During the sentencing hearing, it was mentioned by one of the attorneys that Cortez's "emotional status" at the time he made the threats had been affected by the death of his single mother, who had raised Cortez and seven siblings.
Prosecutor Gregory Alker recommended a prison sentence. That was opposed by Deputy Public Defender John Montoya, who noted that Cortez had no previous felony convictions, only two misdemeanors.
Judge Lu was persuaded to impose a low term sentence, but did admonish Cortez.
"Your criminal offenses seem to be escalating in nature. My hope is that they're not going to spiral out of the control, OK? That you're going to work on the issues that you have," Judge Lu told Cortez.
Thursday it's expected the DA's office will file new charges stemming from last week's hoax calls. Cortez is due to be arraigned at Citrus Superior Court in West Covina.
Discussing the new cases, Monrovia Police Chief Jim Hunt emphasized the consequences of the threats.
"This is serious. This is very frightening for the students, for the parents," Hunt said.
There are sophisticated ways to shield the source of hoax phone calls, as so-called "swatters" do to try to avoid detection. Last week's caller made no apparent effort, other than not giving his name, police said.
The threat regarding Pasadena Public Health had been enormously disruptive, forcing the evacuation of several hundred people, many of them clients and patients, Dr. Walsh said.
He sees a need for the justice system not just to incarcerate Cortez, but to get him treatment.
"From a public health perspective, this is really someone you want to get help," Walsh said.