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Hearing in Whiskey Tip homicide postponed, findings of Alvarez warrant still not public

A judge has moved to a preliminary hearing to September in the case of two men who are accused in a 2021 fatal shooting that took place outside a Santa Rosa night club.

That change-up in this case, which is nearing its one-year anniversary, not only delays the court proceedings, it also delays possible public insight into a search warrant served on a Santa Rosa City Council member.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Christopher Honigsberg pushed the preliminary hearing of Fogatia Fuiava and Ednie Afamasaga, originally scheduled to begin Monday, until September 12 because a growing COVID-19 outbreak in the county jail prevents the men from appearing, at the moment, in a courtroom.

The two Santa Rosa men are accused of shooting and killing 27-year-old Kenneth McDaniel outside the Whiskey Tip, a popular venue on Sebastopol Avenue, on Sept. 25, 2021.

The substantive delay in the procedure threatens to leave the public in the dark about what grounds Santa Rosa Police Department investigators had to serve City Council member Eddie Alvarez with a search warrant during their investigation into the homicide at the Whiskey Tip.

On January 11, officers seized three cellphones from Alvarez as he left a council meeting at City Hall.

Investigators later publicly declared that Alvarez was not a suspect in the homicide.

They have since declined to say why they sought the warrant, and Honigsberg has ordered that any materials related to the warrant be placed under seal. The judge said he would decide whether more records in the case would be released at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing for Fuiava and Afamasaga.

Fuiava is sick with the coronavirus, his defense attorney said in court Monday, and both men are in wings of the jail that are quarantined as a result of the most recent outbreak.

Four jail housing units holding 340 inmates are under quarantine, according to Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Misti Wood. That’s nearly half of the 692 people being held there as of June 14.

Because of a press of cases in the courts and the schedules of the attorneys working on the case, Honigsberg was unable to find a suitable time for the preliminary hearing before the fall.

Alvarez has said the ongoing secrecy has damaged his political standing and ability to represent his southwestern council district after officers chose to serve the search warrant in view of two of his fellow council members.

The Press Democrat filed a motion in late March to unseal the warrant documents. Honigsberg, though, rejected the motion after a confidential meeting with an attorney for SRPD.

“The public has a right to know why law enforcement seized and searched the cell phones of this elected public official,” Thomas Burke, an attorney for The Press Democrat, said in a statement.

Police have maintained the warrant is part of an ongoing investigation, without specifying into what.

In his May 20 order, Honigsberg appeared to indicate that the warrant documents were not part of the prosecution’s case against Fuiava and Afamasaga.

“The underlying search warrant records are not contained in the pending related criminal case file (People vs. James Fuiava and Ednie Afamasaga),” he wrote, “instead, the search warrant records are contained in a separate and distinct court file designated by the search warrant number.”

Honigsberg had previously scheduled a hearing for July 11 to reconsider the warrant materials, when he stated he would reconsider whether “there is a continuing need for confidentiality” after the preliminary hearing in the homicide case.

It was unclear Monday whether that hearing would still be held.

Now, “over nine months will have passed before the preliminary hearing will take place when, presumably, more information will come to light,” Burke said. “This prolonged secrecy unnecessarily casts suspicion and doubt over the Sonoma County judicial system.”

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office has charged Fuiava and Afamasaga with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

In charging documents filed last November, prosecutors contend the two men scouted out McDaniel and other bar patrons before hiding behind parked cars in the parking lot.

When McDaniel appeared in front of the bar, both men fired multiple rounds at him, killing him and endangering a bystander, according to the charging documents.

The bystander was not hit, according to previous Press Democrat reporting.

Alvarez was at the Whiskey Tip attending a concert the night of the shooting but said he left before the gunfire.

He has publicly declared he has never met Fuiava or Afamasaga. He also said he did know the shooting victim, who had previously broken into a marijuana dispensary Alvarez owns.

McDaniel had been charged along with three other men in the June 2020 break-in at The Hook, Alvarez’s dispensary on Russell Avenue in northwestern Santa Rosa.

Within days of the shooting at the Whiskey Tip, Alvarez disclosed his connection to the dead man in an email to then-Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro. The Press Democrat obtained the email in a records request.

“All I’m seeing is a veil of secrecy and I don’t understand how the community can have trust in our local government if this is the protocol,” Alvarez said Monday. He said he is consulting with an attorney and considering taking his own legal action to convince the judged to unseal the warrant records.

“If I have to push back and be that person then I will be that person,” Alvarez said.

He is the first person directly elected to represent Roseland, the majority Latino southwestern portion of Santa Rosa.

The first term council member faced a new high-profile search warrant last week, when California Highway Patrol officers and state tax officials seized about $200,000 in unpaid business taxes from The Hook.

Alvarez told a Press Democrat reporter on June 17 that he hadn’t paid state taxes on his business since opening the dispensary in 2019 because the payment process for marijuana business owners was too cumbersome.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

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