Death threat case ruled to go to trial


Vice President of Academic Affairs Francisco Arce and EC Police Chief Michael Trevis leave Torrance Courthouse after testifying at James Lemus’ preliminary hearing Tuesday. Lemus is due back in court on Nov. 19 at Torrance Courthouse. Photo credit: John Fordiani

Updated: Nov. 25, 10:55 a.m. This story has been edited for clarity.

Updated: Nov. 4, 10:10 p.m.

The 35-year-old Hawthorne man accused of threatening to kill EC community members had his preliminary hearing in Torrance court today, where Judge Raymond Mireles ruled the case will go to trial.

During the nearly two hours spent in the courtroom, James Lemus, clean-shaven and dressed in a light blue L.A. County Jail jumpsuit, leaned over and whispered to public defender Jonathan Cruz several times.

At the hearing, Veterans Center employee Miriam Jauregui, Vice President of Academic Affairs Francisco Arce, Police Chief Michael Trevis, and Detective Jeffrey Lewis testified.

During her testimony, Jauregui said she took Lemus’ comments as a “serious threat,” adding he talked to her about several things, including his childhood and being upset about his morning class. Jauregui said she told her colleague, Veterans Certifying Official Martha Angel, about the threats immediately after she finished talking to Lemus, which was around noon or 12:15 p.m. Sept. 30, she said.

Lemus told Jauregui Sept. 30 that “he was going to kill the Administrators of El Camino College, and named Dr (Francisco) Arce (Vice President of Academic Affairs) as one of them; he was going to create a massacre at the schools library lawn like the Santa Barbara shooting; and he was going to kill the parents of the children walking around on the campus, tie them up to pole’s (sic) or a wall and rip them to pieces,” according to Lewis’ police report in the first of two temporary restraining orders (TROs).

Jauregui told her supervisor, Esperanza Nieto, assistant director of admissions and records, that Lemus was upset and angry, but did not immediately tell Nieto the full details of what he said, Jauregui said.

Jauregui did not tell Nieto the extent of the threats until 4 p.m. Sept. 30, after she said Angel told her to. Jauregui, Angel, and Nieto did not call the police, and Nieto told Jauregui to tell Director of Admissions Bill Mulrooney about the threats the next day when Mulrooney returned to the office, Jauregui said.

Cruz asked Jauregui if what Lemus said to her Sept. 30 seemed to make sense. “Yes because he was upset,” she said. “No because no one talks that way.”

Jauregui said she didn’t remember what she did later that day, including when she took her lunch break and what she told her colleagues. “I was traumatized,” she said.

Arce said he found out about the threats through email from Mulrooney Sept. 30 or Oct. 1. “There were threats made against staff members and me, naming me,” Arce said. “That I would be killed.”

He said he immediately asked Mulrooney to speak to Trevis. Arce spoke to Trevis “a day or two later,” he added.

Arce said he had not seen Lemus before today’s hearing, but was “very concerned” about the threats. “If someone makes a death threat against you, you should be concerned regardless of who says it,” Arce said. Lemus nodded.

Trevis said he received a phone call about the threats from Mulrooney Oct. 1. “He seemed to be highly agitated and, quite frankly, scared,” Trevis added.

Trevis said notification of the threat was “circulated widely throughout campus” through discussions with faculty.

He added there was “tremendous concern with how we, the police department, were going to protect faculty and students.”

Cruz asked the one felony count against Lemus of threatening a school official be reduced to a misdemeanor. He said the reasoning behind his request was Jauregui did not call the police immediately after the threats were made to her, nor did Arce after he learned of them. Both went on with their regular activities, he said.

“I don’t know if (the people) made probable cause,” Cruz said. “I don’t believe there was any immediacy to the threats – at least not heard in the testimonies today.”

Mireles said given recent school shootings and threatened ones, reducing the case to a misdemeanor “would not be appropriate at this time.”

After Mireles ruled that the case would go to trial, Lemus’ mother, Maria Lemus, who was present for the two hours, shouted, “I love you,” to James Lemus as he was escorted out in handcuffs.

Once he was gone, Maria Lemus said she didn’t understand what the court was doing. She said James Lemus made the threats Sept. 30, but she took him to school Oct. 1 and “picked him up at 11:30 (a.m.),” adding he went to classes that morning. “This is harassment,” she said.

James Lemus’ next court date is Nov. 19 at 8:30 a.m. in Torrance court. His bail remains at $1.2 million.

Editor’s note: The headline has been changed to its current one for clarity.