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Man faces trial in another Santa Rosa nightclub assault

In what might be a case of legal déjà vu, a Santa Rosa man sent to prison for his role in a slaying outside a downtown nightclub will go to trial this week on new charges stemming from an assault outside another club less than a block away.

Raul Lopez-Granados, 25, is charged in the June assault on a group of men and women walking from the Chrome Lotus on Mendocino Avenue after celebrating a birthday party.

Prosecutor Karina Kowler alleged in trial briefs that Lopez-Granados was standing by with a group of three or four men when he shouted lewd remarks at the women, provoking a fight.

In the ensuing scuffle, Lopez-Granados knocked a man unconscious and his friends yelled gang slogans before fleeing, prosecutors said.

He was arrested after being picked out of a police lineup and charged with two counts of felony assault with a gang enhancement that could send him to prison for many years if convicted.

The case bears similarities to the 2006 slaying of construction worker Matthew Toste, 32 of Santa Rosa, who was killed as he walked through the Seventh Street parking garage to another club, Seven Ultra Lounge, with two women.

Like the latest case, the women were taunted with sexual remarks by Lopez-Granados' friends before Toste came to their defense and was shot dead by then 18-year-old Joseph Kenneth Lopez Jr. — Lopez-Granados' cousin. Lopez was convicted of pulling the trigger and sentenced to life in prison.

The case sparked widespread community outrage and concern that gang violence was creeping into the city's commercial core.

Lopez-Granados entered a plea bargain to being an accessory and received 16 months in prison. He was sentenced to another four years for a shooting at the Fountaingrove Inn using the same gun that killed Toste.

At his 2010 sentencing hearing, Judge Lawrence Antolini implored Lopez-Granados to change his life. The Norteno street gang member stared in silence, his hands shoved inside the front of his pants.

He was on parole when the June 23 assault occurred, Kowler said, and was held to answer to the charges at a preliminary hearing. He remains in custody awaiting the start of jury selection.

His lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Rachel Wilber, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lopez-Granados isn't the first former Toste defendant to have brushes with the law. Nicholas Mejia, 35, also of Santa Rosa, pleaded no contest to obstructing police a few months after he was released from San Quentin in 2011. In the Toste case, Mejia got six years in prison for being an accessory and a gang member.

Also, Paul Whiterock, who was acquitted in the slaying, was arrested in a 2011 Windsor party assault. Charges were dropped after it was determined he was the victim, his lawyer said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.)

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