Craigslist Scam or Gang Enterprise? Will DA’s Gang Allegation Hold Up in Trial?

GangAs Deputy DA Ryan Couzens described it, over a five-day period defendant Eduardo Orozco used Craigslist to rob and victimize at least three individuals. In each case, the victims had arranged to sell the defendant or his accomplices a small electronic device, only to discover that the defendant had allegedly run off with the device without paying.

In her opening statement, Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher had acknowledged that her client had made a series of mistakes and that he ought to be held accountable for them. But there was no evidence that her client was a gang member and he should not be convicted of the gang charges in this case.

Find her client guilty of whatever he did, she would tell the jury as she wrapped up her opening statement, but do not find him guilty of the gang charges.

Mr. Orozco faces five felony charges for his alleged crimes. He faces two counts of second degree robbery, a count of grand theft from a person, a count of assault with a deadly weapon, and a gang charge under Penal Code section 186.22(a) along with four gang enhancements under PC section 186.22(b)(1).

Deputy DA Couzens described the first incident as taking place on May 9, 2013. The victim was selling an iPhone4 on Craigslist and agreed to meet the person on Bourn Dr. in Woodland.

He described three chubby guys in a black Honda. The driver was bald with messed up front teeth. As the victim was showing him the iPhone4, he was asked why he was selling the phone. The victim said he just got an iPhone5 and pulled it for the defendant to see.

At that point, Mr. Orozco allegedly grabbed the iPhone5, shoved the victim to the ground and drove off with both phones.

On May 10, another victim was selling an iPod Touch on Craigslist, and he agreed to meet at the Target in Woodland, believing that the public area would serve as some protection.

He met a large Hispanic male with shortly-cut hair and bad teeth with a big gap in the middle. He gave the phone to Mr. Orozco, allegedly, and went to the back of the car to get something. When he went to the trunk, Mr. Orozco simply drove off.

Finally, Mr. Couzens described the last incident on May 13. We also heard that victim testify as the first witness in the trial.

The victim said he was selling his Kindle Fire after his parents came to him and told them they were having trouble making rent that month. The victim said he went through stuff he did not necessarily need to sell.

He lived in the Sacramento area but got a call asking him to come to Woodland. He said he couldn’t afford the trip back if the purchaser didn’t buy the Kindle. The person he spoke to on the phone, who called himself “Alex,” said no problem, he would give him $20 no matter what for gas on top of what he paid for the Kindle, but he was definitely going to buy the Kindle.

The victim was cautious. He showed the defendant a lot of features on the device. He asked to see the money and the defendant allegedly showed him a wad of $20 bills. The defendant then placed himself in the car with one foot hanging out.

The victim stood between the door and the defendant. He said at this point he thought he was going to get his money. Suddenly the car started to roll and the victim described that on instinct he reached his hand into the car.

At this point the door slammed shut on his hand and after trying to keep up with the vehicle he ended up being dragged 15 to 20 feet. His hand came out and he rolled onto the ground.

He was able to get the license and shout out each of the numbers as he called the police. He described that his hand had marks on it for weeks, but the most serious injury was he separated his shoulder and his medical insurance was such he had to wait for three months before having surgery.

However, his efforts paid off as the police were able to trace the number back to an address at Tyler Drive in Woodland. When the police arrived on the scene, the adults locked the doors; however, the police were able to ultimately call the defendant and his accomplices, who are being tried separately, out of the house and get a warrant.

They were able to find the Kindle, along with gang clothing and graffiti.

According to Mr. Couzens, when Mr. Orozco was arrested he told the officer that he paid the victim his money and shouted “Norte” in front of police officers. We would later learn, however, that even the police officer himself questions what was said and that it might have been “no way,” not “Norte.”

In addition, Mr. Couzens acknowledged that Mr. Orozco’s appearance has changed. His hair is longer and has teeth are far better than described when he was arrested. The witnesses identified him off a four-year-old photo and Mr. Couzens warned the jury that the witnesses may not be able to identify the guy.

Indeed, the first witness, the victim from May 13, was not able to state whether the perpetrator was in the courtroom.

Mr. Couzens argued that gang expert John Perez of the Woodland PD would testify during the trial. Mr. Orozco has no gang tattoos but they did find some photos on Facebook of him, wearing a red cloth belt.

In her opening statement, Ms. Fisher noted that one of the accomplices was a relative. Mr. Orozco made poor choices that day, and she conceded the jury should find him guilty of what he did. But she argued he was not a gang member.

Rather, she argued that he was a young Hispanic male who talked and dressed like his peers, listened to rap music, and spoke the lingo. She said he was trying to be cool, not be a gang member.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Gang Expert Testifies

By Antoinnette Borbon

The gang trial of Eduardo Orozco on Tuesday featured testimony by an expert in the field of gangs, especially the infamous “Norteños,” who would end up stating he heard no gang accusations from the victim when taking down his statement.

In fact, Officer Omar Flores possesses an abundant amount of knowledge into the street gang, “Norteños.” As far back as being a kid in the Salinas/Watsonville area, known to be the central hub of the Norteño Gang, Flores explained he has had years of training about gang characteristics.

But more than that, Flores testified that never once did the victim tell him or describe the crime as being gang-related or done by a gang member.

On May 13, 2013, the victim had his Kindle fire stolen.

The defendant, Eduardo Orozco, is charged with robbery and assault with gang enhancements, as is his co-defendant. The trials are being held separately.

The victim had his property stolen by force, as he explained to the officers that day, and had suffered an injury by the car as the suspects drove off in a hurry. But the victim refused any medical attention.

It is alleged that the two co-defendants had committed a string of Craigslist scams by answering an ad for an item for sale and then, once meeting with the seller, stealing the item and running off.

However, it is alleged that Orozco may only be involved with this incident, and one or two others Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens will be talking more about tomorrow.

Officer Greg Elliott testified to having to send a photo shot of six men to the victim to identify through an email but he stated that the most recent photo of defendant Eduardo Orozco was at least four years old. This made it difficult for victim identification, although the victim still maintained that the person in the incident was the defendant, Orozco.

Officer Flores testified to some of the chat expressions the gang uses, but had not heard anything said about the use of those words while taking the statement from the victim. He talked about the colors they wear but stated that, on the day of incident, defendant Orozco did not have anything red on.

He explained to the jury the language and separate areas of different counties that claim to be Norteño. He said they do what is called a chat, a “showo,” apparently to claim who they are and which usually occurs right before a crime.

However, in this case, he did not hear of anything like that from the witness or from the victim’s statement after the robbery.

Flores is a seasoned expert on gang-related crimes affiliated with the Norteños and has even helped to mentor youths to get out of the gang life. He is currently on patrol now for the Woodland Police Department.

DDA Couzens, in closed court, explained to Judge Mock that he wanted to exercise Evidence Code section 1101 (b) to introduce evidence, using the string of what he called “enterprising gang-related crimes” committed by both defendants.

But there was strong objection from defense counsel, Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher, who stated to Mock, “It is insane and prejudicial to use those incidents.” However, Judge Mock said he would allow DDA Couzens a limited amount of questions into the incidents,  and will agree to the 1101 (b).

Ms. Fisher stated she and her client are still discussing whether or not he will take the stand.

Another gang expert is expected to take the stand in the morning for the prosecution’s case.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    let me get this straight – you have a bunch of kids who decide to make some fast cash by stealing small electronic devices from unsuspecting people selling them on craigslist. from there you end up with five felonies and four gang enhancements. even the gang expert doesn’t believe this is a gang crime – why is the district attorney so bent on charging it that way? oh wait, it’s ryan couzens. for those who know, asked and answered.

      1. Offering Balance

        If the evidence proves these individuals to be gang members and it meets the criteria for the gang enhancements they should be punished appropriately.

        Clearly this was not an isolated incident by a fumbling opportunistic thief. These were calculated crimes that occurred repeatedly. One of these individuals is dangerous enough to endanger his victims life by to dragging them behind a vehicle. The victims received a very serious injury that could have been much worse. This wasn’t a drug deal gone wrong, this was a victim who was selling his own property to help his parents pay the rent.

        Is Ms Fisher contesting any of the crimes charged besides the gang enhancement. The article reads as though the only question is the gang enhancement. If that is the case I think there are too many “allegedly”‘s in the article.

        I recognize the difficulty in including every detail but I would expect there are a few things missing. What were the past deeds that were allowed into court? The prior crimes may lend to the gang enhancement.

        1. David Greenwald

          “If the evidence proves these individuals to be gang members and it meets the criteria for the gang enhancements they should be punished appropriately. ”

          And if it doesn’t?

        2. Offering Balance

          They will rightfully be acquitted of the gang charges. Do you recall what the previous crimes were?

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