Detective Christopher Sterni was honored as the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Office Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the Manteca Rotary.
The service club annually honors outstanding officers nominated by their peers in the Manteca Police Department, California Highway Patrol, the San Joaquin County Probation Department, the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Office, and the San Joaquin County Probation Department.
Sterni began his career with the sheriff’s department in 1996 as a correctional officer. In 2002, then-Officer Sterni made the transition to Deputy Sheriff, where he worked the assignments of Transportation and then at Lathrop Police Services as a Community Resource Officer, School Resource Officer, and Patrol Officer.
During his time in Lathrop Sterni received seven MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) awards, numerous Letters of Commendation from his supervisors, and most recently the Sheriff’s Office Meritorious Service Award.
Sterni was nominated for the Rotarian honor partially on the strength of his role in an elaborate collaboration between Lathrop Patrol Deputies, the Street Crime Detective, and the Investigations Unit that led to arresting and charging Deandre Lee Phillips with 10 armed robberies that took place in the cities of Lathrop, Stockton, Manteca, Tracy, Turlock, and the unincorporated areas of San Joaquin County.
The first robbery dates back to Nov. 11, 2020, when Phillips alleged robbed the Chevron Station at 116 E Roth Road using a large silver revolver.
The next robberies occurred on Dec. 9 in the cities of Stockton and Turlock where Phillips is charged with carrying out armed robberies while wearing the same shoes and carrying the same duffle bag and firearm he did in Lathrop.
On Dec. 14, Phillips allegedly continued to carry out robberies in both Manteca and Turlock.
Turlock’s robbery of the Amar Fashion Bazar included a violation of Penal Code 209 (kidnapping) with intent to commit a robbery, due to the cashier running in fear from Phillips once he pulled out his firearm. Phillips chased after the victim and, upon catching the victim, put his gun to the victim’s head and forced the victim back into the business to give him the cash. That opens Phillips to a possible life sentence.
Phillips is also charged with committing a robbery at Lathrop Liquors on Dec. 9. He continued to commit robberies on Dec. 26 in Manteca, Tracy, and French Camp.
At this point, Detective Sterni and his team took over the investigation. He swiftly got to work in setting up a surveillance team on Phillips’ residence and authoring search warrants. While in the process of authoring the search warrant, the surveillance team advised the detectives that Phillips had just exited the residence and had gotten into a vehicle.
Detectives responded and conducted a stop of the vehicle, where they apprehended Phillips. While taking Phillips into custody, a Smith & Wesson Model 586 with a six-inch barrel fell out of his waistband. This firearm was recognized as the same firearm that was used in the robberies.
Search warrants for the residence of Phillips and vehicles were issued. While executing the search warrant, detectives found the distinctive clothing used in the robberies and cash hidden in a shoebox.
Phillips was booked into the San Joaquin County Jail on multiple counts of armed robbery.
Sterni continued to solidify the case by interviewing Phillips’ cousin and sister who live with him. Through interviews with both subjects, Sterni was able to obtain confessions that they had been with Mr. Philips when he committed a number of the robberies.
Phillips is currently awaiting trial for 10 counts of armed robbery with the enhancement of using a firearm and illegal possession of a firearm.
“This quality of work is nothing new for Detective Sterni,” noted Sheriff Pat Withrow. “He exemplifies what a seasoned Detective should be by exhausting all leads, investigating the smallest details, skilled interview techniques, and most of all being a team leader towards a common goal. That goal is making sure criminals in San Joaquin County are held to answer for their crimes and bringing closure and compassion to the victims of suspects.”
The annual awards are made in honor of the late Don Asher who served as a municipal court judge as well as being a member of Manteca Rotary. It is done in conjunction with Law Day that falls on May 1.
Typically the club hosts the honorees, their commanding officers, and their families during an awards luncheon. The in-person event was canceled due to the pandemic in favor of being a part of the service club’s weekly Zoom meetings for the next six weeks.
President Eisenhower in 1958 proclaimed May 1 as Law Day.
The rule of law is the bedrock of American rights and liberties—in times of calm and unrest alike. The 2021 Law Day theme—Advancing the Rule of Law, Now—reminds all of us that we the people share the responsibility to promote the rule of law, defend liberty, and pursue justice.