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Charges dropped against suspected Belmont shooter

Charges have been dropped against one of the two men arrested after a fatal January shooting in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood.

Jose Omar Rivas Sorto of Maryland was arrested and charged with one felony count of shooting from a vehicle a day after the Jan. 8 shootout in so-called Downtown Belmont that took the life of Osvaldo Lopez-Hernandez of Texas.

After a hearing this past Thursday in Charlottesville District Court, that charge has been dropped, according to court records.

The disposition on Sorto’s case reads “nolle prosequi,” Latin for “unwilling to pursue” and meaning the prosecutor has abandoned the suit against him.

The fate of the other man arrested the same day as Sorto is less clear.

Police have only ever identified the second man as John Doe.

The unnamed second man was described by authorities as an associate of Lopez-Hernandez who was also struck by gunfire during the Jan. 8 shootout. Unlike Lopez-Hernandez, however, John Doe survived his injuries and was arrested and charged with felony abduction for financial benefit, felony use of a firearm and misdemeanor brandishing, according to police.

The Jan. 8 shooting was the first homicide case of the year in Charlottesville and rocked the city’s Belmont neighborhood, not only because it occurred in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon but because of the scene of the shootout: in front of the iconic “I Love Charlottesville A Lot” mural that is surrounded by popular shops and restaurants.

It marked the start of an especially bloody 2023 for the city, which has now had five reported homicides in the past four months alone.

But the uptick in gun violence in the area predates Jan. 8.

Gunfire in Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County has taken the lives of 14 people and left 22 others injured since September of last year, according to an ongoing Daily Progress tally.

The Charlottesville Police Department earlier this year said it was receiving one shots-fired call every day. The police in Albemarle County reported one every other day.

The numbers have eclipsed past years, according to Tim Longo, now the chief of police for the University of Virginia and previously the chief of police in Charlottesville.

“The city of Charlottesville has had five murders since January,” Longo said during a virtual UVa town hall on the rise in gun violence in March. “To put that into context for you, in the almost 16 years I served as the chief of police in the city of Charlottesville – from 2001 to 2016 – I never had any more than that number in an entire year. There were some years I had none. … They’ve had five just in the first three months of the year.”

Charlottesville’s current police chief, Michael Kochis, who joined the force in mid-January, has not outright referred to gang activity when discussing the recent rise in violence.

On more than one occasion he has referred to the conflicts as “beefs” between different neighborhood groups of primarily young men.

Albemarle County Police Chief Sean Reeves has said the root cause is gangs.

“This increase is largely driven by the shootings in our community that are being linked to individuals with known gang affiliations,” Reeves told The Daily Progress in March.

Kochis has responded to the uptick in violence by instituting community “walk and talks,” upping patrols of hot spot neighborhoods and hosting public forums.

Charlottesville police, Albemarle police and UVa police have also been holding monthly meetings to coordinate and cooperate across jurisdictions.

A product of those meetings was the expansion of patrols for UVa’s “ambassadors,” a contracted public safety team that can report activity but cannot enforce the law. Ambassadors, who previously only patrolled UVa Grounds and the nearby Corner, now can be spotted down West Main Street and on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville proper.


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