San Jose begins the year with a concerning increase in homicide cases

The latest homicide suspect in San Jose refused to leave his cell on Friday to appear before a judge. Leonardo Soulett, a former MMA fighter, stands accused of choking a man to death inside a liquor store, one of eight homicides reported in San Jose this year.

Soulett was arrested on Monday night. According to court documents, he followed Zachariah Fierro into a liquor store on Leigh Avenue. An investigator’s report stated that Soulett unexpectedly ripped off Fierro’s shirt, punched him, and applied a chokehold for eight minutes.

When police arrived, Fierro was unresponsive. His death marks the city’s eighth homicide victim of 2024, a notably high number for San Jose so early in the year.

“It’s worth taking a look at,” said Michael Leininger, a retired SJPD officer and law enforcement analyst. “It’s an unusually strong start for 2024.”

San Jose is projected to reach 48 homicides this year, the highest since 2016 when the city saw 47 homicides. Typically, the city registers a total number of homicides in the low 30s each year.

Leininger emphasized the importance of analyzing any emerging patterns in the homicides, such as domestic violence cases, robberies, or random incidents. San Jose police records indicate that this year’s homicides have varied, possibly ranging from gang-related incidents to the outcome of fights or altercations.

Despite priding itself on being one of the safest cities, San Jose has never surpassed the smaller cities of San Francisco and Oakland in terms of homicide rate.

The early increase poses a challenge for San Jose’s new police chief, who will be appointed later this year. However, the new chief will also inherit a significant positive: SJPD has reportedly solved seven of the eight homicides this year and every homicide over the past two years.

“The San Jose Police Department has had a strong showing in solving homicides,” Leininger noted. “They’re good at what they do.”

Leininger added that despite the eight homicides so far this year, San Jose remains a safe big city.

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