Ivan Nuñez Ramirez, 26, of Calexico was arraigned in Imperial County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 19, on a single felony count of arson and remained in custody in Imperial County jail on Wednesday, Oct. 20, with bail set at $10,000, according to an official from the county Public Defender’s office. | CALEXICO CHRONICLE GRAPHIC
CALEXICO — For the time being, Calexico authorities believe they have their suspected arsonist off the streets after a local man was quietly taken into custody early Saturday morning, Oct. 16, the last time a fire fitting similar suspicious designs occurred.
Ivan Nuñez Ramirez, 26, of Calexico was arraigned in Imperial County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 19, and remained in custody in Imperial County jail on Wednesday, Oct. 20, with bail set at $10,000, according to an official from the county Public Defender’s office.
Nuñez Ramirez is being held on a single felony count of arson and next has a bail review hearing on Oct. 28.
His arrest was kept relatively under wraps by police to see if any other suspicious fires occurred, Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said on Wednesday morning, Oct. 20. No similar fires have occurred since, he said.
Calexico fire officials deferred comment to Gerardo now that a criminal investigation is underway.
“It feels good. It feels really good,” Gerardo said, to catch whom he believes is going to a suspect connected to at least a few fires, based on witness descriptions and other developing information.
The chief wouldn’t reveal too much into the case at this early juncture, but he did say that the suspect refused to speak in any detail with police following his arrest on suspicion of arson after 2:50 a.m. Saturday.
Calexico police officers had been swarming city streets for at least a week prior to the arrest on an enforcement detail that utilized both plain clothes and uniformed officers, Gerardo said. After reports came in at 2:52 a.m. that morning regarding a vehicle arson at 123 McKinley St. — the site of a previous suspected arson on Oct. 2 — police descended on the area.
A witness described a suspect, and Calexico police Sgt. Armando Orozco spotted a man later identified as Nuñez Ramirez in an area north of Sheridan Street along the railroad tracks, according to a case narrative in the police logs from Oct. 16.
That area is just about a block north of the McKinley location on the westside of Calexico, where most of fires had been concentrated, Gerardo said.
“Sergeant Orozco detained the subject, Ivan Nunez Ramirez DOB: 1-6-95, for further investigation. An in-field lineup was conducted by Sergeant Orozco. The witness … positively identified Nunez as the suspect of the arson (at 123 McKinley),” according to the arresting officer’s narrative in the logs. “I placed Nunez under arrest for violating 451(d) PC – arson of property.”
Call logs state that Ramirez initially agreed to speak with police.
“Nunez said that he was westbound on McKinley Street on his bicycle. When he entered the intersection of McKinley Street and Harold Avenue, he noticed that there were people around a vehicle that was on fire,” the officer writes. “Nunez said he just thought to himself that it was a crazy situation, but he continued westbound on McKinley Street. Nunez said he rode his bicycle straight to the area along the railroad tracks where Sgt Orozco detained him.
“Nunez denied setting anything on fire and denied ever being involved in any arson. Nunez was found in possession of a lighter but said that he has a lighter because he smokes cigarettes,” according to the narrative. “No cigarettes were found in Nunez’s possession.”
Gerardo said there are many indicators that lead police to think Nuñez could be connected to several other fires, including the techniques used to start the fires, the relative speed he was able to get from location to location (his bicycle), and other details that are being withheld due to the continuing investigation.
For certain, police will be seeking a warrant to search the suspect’s cell phone. Gerardo explained that a cell phone, as long as it’s on, will give away a person’s location.
The police chief explained briefly that was one of the key reasons for not going public with the arrest was to monitor suspicious activity relative to the specific techniques used to start the fires, and simply whether another would even occur over the next several nights.
No other similar fires occurred after Nuñez was taken into custody.
The drop-off in suspected arsons couldn’t have come at a better time, Gerardo said, as gusty winds in the Imperial Valley early in the week could have presented firefighters — and residents, for that matter — with some serious problems.
“The last thing that we wanted at the P.D. was with these winds that we had on Monday (Oct. 18) … all we needed was for a fire to jump to another house, or if somebody dies in it, then we have a murder,” Gerardo said.
There’s no way to be certain just how many fires can be connected to single suspect considering the duration and scope. Calexico fire officials have been backtracking six months fire that they consider “intentionally set” to do harm or damage. The numbers were near 30 cases last week, according to a previous interview with fire Capt. Eduardo Rivera.
But the initial idea that someone from the city’s unhoused population was involved, which was Gerardo’s thoughts, was dashed in this case; Gerardo said the man in custody lives in the Kennedy Gardens area of the city.
To be fair, Gerardo nor fire officials have ever blamed the suspected arsons on the houseless community in general; rather, it was always believed to be one to three suspects who were outcasts from the larger unhoused population.
“Honestly, the community stepped up” in this rash of arsons, including the regular unhoused individuals police often encounter, Gerardo said on Wednesday morning.
“There were a lot of people calling us. We had city employees that were on the way home from work who would report activity,” he said. “My guys were out there talking to the homeless people, and they would help.
“We would tell them, ‘Hey, you know what? We don’t want to blame you for it. But it looks like everybody’s pointing the finger at you guys.’” Gerardo said, adding the unhoused population didn’t want or deserve being connected to the arsons.
Gerardo gave credit to city administration and code enforcement officers on cracking down on the owners of vacant properties or structures where there was potential “fuel” around that could be ignited.
More information is expected to be made available during the Calexico City Council meeting on Wednesday night, which starts at 6:30 p.m.
(This story was updated at 2:25 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20.)