The eldest of three children, Ramos was born at Redlands Community Hospital in Redlands, California, in 1957. Ramos attended Redlands High School. After graduating from high school in 1976, Ramos earned his bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of California, Riverside, in 1980 and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Citrus Belt Law School in Riverside in 1988. He was admitted to the California bar in 1989. Ramos' government service began in 1980, when he started as a group counselor with the Probation Department and then later became a probation officer. He started his career with the District Attorney's Office in June 1989, as a deputy district attorney in the Major Crimes Unit.
Ramos was elected to his first term as district attorney in 2002 by defeating incumbent Dennis Stout and was reelected when he ran unopposed in 2006. In 2010, Ramos was reelected to his third term when he defeated Frank H. Guzman and Bob Conaway. He has served as president of the California District Attorneys Association and is currently the chair of the Corrections and Reentry Committee for the National District Attorneys Association.
Ramos has been married to his wife Gretchen for 30 years. He has two grown children, Michael and Michele, and a grandson, Christian. His grandparents came to the U.S. from Mexico, and his father served in the United States Marine Corps.
Ramos is in favor of capital punishment, citing that the decision to pursue the death penalty is perhaps the single most difficult decision he has to make. He has long noted that he has nothing but respect for the entire process, and just as much respect for the victims and their families who didn't have a choice. In November 2012, Ramos campaigned heavily against Proposition 34, also known as the SAFE California Act. Proposition 34 sought to replace California's death penalty with a life sentence with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder. The initiative to repeal the death penalty failed by a narrow margin of 52.8% to 47.2%.In 2016, Ramos co-chaired the Death Penalty Reform Initiative Committee for Proposition 66 which sought to keep the death penalty in California. On Nov. 9, 2016, the initiative passed with 51.13% of the vote.
Ramos has expressed that it takes far too long for convicted criminals to move through the justice system, but the very people who are now crying foul, are the same individuals who have bogged down the system for years with frivolous appeals. He believes that rather than repealing the death penalty we need to enact measures that would mend the current system and prevent countless motions and appeals by the ACLU and its supporters from clogging up our justice system. One solution to speeding up the process is to move forward with the single-drug protocol for lethal injections that would replace the three-drug concoction that federal courts have blocked. In an effort to continue his fight for victims and their families, Ramos met with California Governor Jerry Brown in May 2013 to voice his concern. Ramos noted that despite their philosophical differences regarding the death penalty, the governor understands the vote of the state's citizens.
Victims and their families have always been a priority for Ramos. "Preserving the dignity of victims and their families" is a part of the official mission statement of the District Attorney's Office in San Bernardino County. Ramos was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to serve on the Governor's Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board on January 23, 2004. After being elected to his first term, one of the first actions that Ramos took was placing the supervisor in charge of victim services on his executive staff, elevating the position to the role of a chief, and creating the Bureau of Victim Services Unit. Ramos sees his role as lead prosecutor as one in which he is charged with the responsibility of representing "the people" in the criminal justice system and those who fall victim to crime. In 2013, during Crime Victims' Rights Week, Ramos announced that his office had contracted with One Call, an automated phone system, in an effort to reach crime victims and give them information about their rights and possible compensation. Crime victims who provide law enforcement with a land line phone number will get the recorded message that tells them they have rights under the state's 2008 Victims' Bill of Rights Act, passed by voters as Proposition 9. It is most often referred to as Marsy's Law.
In April 2003, months after being elected to office, Ramos formed the Public Integrity Unit to address the problem of public corruption in San Bernardino County. In 2011, Ramos and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown jointly announced that a criminal grand jury had indicted four men on 29 counts of crimes tied to a $102 million bribery scandal involving Paul Biane, a former 2nd District supervisor; Jim Erwin, former chief of staff for 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry; Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for 4th District Supervisor Gary Ovitt; and Jeff Burum, general partner with Colonies Partners LP. Brown called this case "one of the most appalling corruption cases ever seen in California."
In 2009, Ramos responded to the problem of human trafficking in San Bernardino County by creating the county's Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (C.A.S.E.). C.A.S.E. brought together a partnership of county departments including the District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, Probation Department, County Superintendent of Schools, Department of Children and Family Services, Public Defender, and Department of Behavioral Health, to raise awareness of this issue, and to provide enhanced county and community resources to victims. He campaigned heavily in favor of Proposition 35 which voters overwhelmingly passed in 2012 and which created a Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. Formation of the unit was announced at the premier of a 45-minute documentary entitled Teenage $ex 4 $ale: Human Trafficking in San Bernardino County. In an effort to reduce the demand for victims of human trafficking, Ramos started the Stop the John Project in 2013 and began releasing the names and photographs of those defendants convicted of solicitation in San Bernardino County. In September 2014 Ramos made a blog post mistaking the popular BDSM web page "The Slave Registry" for a human trafficking / prostitution front.
With help from the Board of Supervisors, the District Attorney's office was able to double the size of its gang unit in 2005. It is a vertical prosecution unit composed of 13 deputy district attorneys spread out across the county. These specially trained prosecutors seek gang-enhanced charges whenever possible, which increases the penalty against the offenders and keeps them off the street for a longer period of time. By closely monitoring gang offenders' performance on probation, gang prosecutors ensure that repeat offenders go to state prison. Gang deputies also work closely with gang officers in the affected communities. They attend monthly meetings to share information with law enforcement, probation, corrections and other agencies that deal in the area of gang crime. Since the office's Gang Program began in July 2005, 7,673 gang-related gang cases have been filed. Two of those charged are now on California's death row. There have been 4,583 state prison sentences adding up to 31,893 years, plus 153 life terms.
Despite the increasing number of filed cases, the number of gangs doubled to 719 in San Bernardino County in early 2008 from estimated 360 in 2005. Active gang member numbers also rose to 16,193 from about 13,000 in the same time frame. In October 2011, San Bernardino County had the third highest gang population of any county in America, according to a report released by the FBI.
Early in his career Ramos recognized that if he only focused on adult offenders, the crime problem would never be fully addressed. He realized that most criminals started by getting into trouble as juveniles and eventually dropped out of school. As a result, Ramos has made prevention and intervention programs a cornerstone to the way he effectively addresses crime in San Bernardino County.
Thanks to the state's Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), his office implemented the "Let's End Truancy" (L.E.T.) Project, which works to improve school attendance for previously truant students, discourage future truancy and helps to make education a priority for at-risk youth. In 2008, Ramos, along with the then-District Attorney Kamala D. Harris and Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, testified before the California Senate Public Safety Committee to discuss the public safety threat from truancy, which has been linked to dropping out of school. One step that Ramos has taken to address the problem of truancy is arresting parents for failure to address the issue.
Ramos also has various other programs such as Camp Good Grief and the Gang Resistance Intervention Partnership (GRIP). Camp Good Grief is a three-day grief camp for children and teens whose lives have been shattered due to an act of murder or suicide. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office, in partnership with Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, offers the three day camp that provides a relaxed, supportive and safe environment for children to enjoy the typical activities of a summer camp, as well as to have opportunities to work with professionals to share their feelings related to their loss, learn new ways to cope, and interact with other children and teens in an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
The Gang Resistance Intervention Partnership (GRIP) is a program designed to provide second- and fifth-graders strategies for steering clear from gangs and drugs over a period of several weeks.
Ramos is regarded as an advocate for animal rights by local and national animal rights groups. The National District Attorneys Association praised his aggressive efforts to prosecute those who participate in cockfighting and raise awareness. In 2011, in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States and Fontana Animal Services, Ramos released a short film to increase awareness about the dangers of cockfighting. To better focus on animal abuse, in 2012 Ramos created the San Bernardino County Illegal Animal Fighting and Abuse Task Force, a multi-disciplinary collaboration designed to promote community awareness, education and prosecution of animal fighting and abuse in San Bernardino County.
One of the most significant animal abuse cases in the history of San Bernardino County took place in 2008. As a result of undercover video footage captured by the Humane Society of the United States, the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office filed criminal charges. In the video, workers at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino are seen using the blades of a forklift to ramming "downed" cows that are too sick to walk. At one point, a worker can be seen jabbing a cow in the eye with a baton, while another worker blasts water up the nose of another cow with a powerful hose—all in an attempt to force the injured animals back onto their feet and off to the slaughter.
As a result of the footage, the USDA ordered the largest beef recall in U.S. history—143.4 million pounds—and said the meat had been used in school lunches and food assistance programs.