The plaintiff’s counsel was overheard at one point saying you always have a choice about starting strong or ending strong, certainly as the record will show, Mr. Cedillo who has been married for the last four years to a woman that he has known for 12 years (he is 28). He has two children. He has held stable employment installing insulation first for F. Rogers in West Sacramento and then PCI in Sacramento.
Since that time he has been relatively clean, facing charges of robbing with the use of a knife, but those charges were dismissed. He was arrested for public intoxication with no charges filed in October 2005. In April of 2007 he was arrested for carrying a large knife and failing to register as a sex offender. But apparently the large knife was a fishing knife, he was fishing on the river, and he was never charged, never went to court, and never convicted. In essence, since his 2003, he has not been convicted of a single crime nor has been charged with a gun crime.
He denied that even in the 2003 he was a gang member even though he accepted a plea and admitted to the PC 186.22, which meant that he had committed a crime in furtherance of a criminal street gang. As he explained on the stand, “I took the plea because promised to not send me to prison if I accepted it.”
The prosecution went to great lengths to explain that he had actually perjured himself. This led to a long series of attempted questions and objections. The bottom line appears to be this, in the admitting form in which he accepted the plea, he pled no contest. The no-contest statement said that he acknowledged he either “was” guilty or that there was a strong likelihood he would be found guilty. It is not an admission of guilt. It is not perjury to cop a plea if you believe there is a chance a court would find one guilty, even if the individual believes themselves to innocent of the charges.
When he was offered an agreement with no prison time, the stipulation was that he had to admit to the gang enhancement. One of the claims that the defense is making is that is often a condition of plea agreements, to admit to an enhancement, which puts them into the gang database and makes them a validated gang member.
One of the interesting lines of questioning was a series of rather tedious questions as to whether Mr. Cedillo knew of other gang members or was himself a gang member. They talked about colors, tattoos, showed him a series of pictures of people he knew.
At one point, they asked him if he knew what “SK” meant. He said yes. It meant, “scrap killer” or “scrap killa” in the street vernacular. When pressed on the issue and asked how he could know that if he was not a Broderick Boy or a member of the Norteno Gang, he said he learned about it on the Discovery Channel, “Gangland.”
That became a bit of a running joke, but when we researched the issue, we discovered that aside from the error of saying it was on the Discovery Channel, in fact, “Gangland” had an episode on the Norteno Gangs covering the prison gang “Neustra Familia” with a discussion of how it evolved from a prison gang onto the streets. In it was a rather detailed explanation of what a “scrap” is – namely the Norteno derogatory term for a Sureno Gang Member. Within that context a “scrap killa” would be one who kills Surenos. Moreover, they discussed a music album that apparently became pretty popular on the streets and it made ample use and discussion of the term “scrap killa.”
While it did not directly mention the term SK, there is apparently another Gangland episode on Nortenos that might. Thus we find his explanation plausible and moreover believe he must have seen the video to come up with that accurate of an answer for what was likely a question he was not prepared to address.
He was asked about his tattoos which were not visible in the courtroom. He said he had a tattoo of “916” his area code, he had some native tattoos, his wife and daughters names. He has no gang related tattoos.
There was an extensive discussion and questioning about some of the known Nortenos Symbols including the number 14 which is the numerical equivalent of the letter “N.” That shows up either in one dot and four dots, X4, XIV, and other ways. He was asked if he saw these symbols and he mentioned that he saw it in taggings around mainly South Sacramento and maybe a little bit in West Sacramento. The video which is linked above has a detailed discussion of the symbols, particularly XIV, which is a Norteno symbol and would not be exclusive to a West Sacramento Gang.
The DA’s office tried to get him to state that he saw gang markings frequently in West Sacramento, but it does not appear that was the case.
He did complain that when he goes back to West Sacramento he has been pulled over a number of times by the police. He was pulled over on various pretenses and searched. Under cross-examination it appears that he may have been lawfully searched while on probation, although the time lines were less than clear. Each time, he was told that he had a minor traffic problem, he was never given a ticket, he was asked about his gang affiliation and he believes they were looking for drugs in his vehicle, but never found any.
The bottom line here for Mr. Cedillo is that since 2003, he has not been convicted of a crime, he has never served jail time, and his only linkage to a gang that was presented was his 2003 plea agreement.
Even if the gang injunction were to be imposed on a permanent basis is questionable even doubtful that Mr. Cedillo should be subject to it.
That brings up two points. First, one of the chief complaints about the original gang injunction is that people were served who claimed that they were not gang members and they had difficulty in challenging that status. At least with the first group of named defendants, they can challenge whether they are a gang member.
Second, even if there are gang members, one of the key questions is whether there is an organized group of Nortenos operating as the Broderick Boys and one question ought to be whether the gang members in West Sacramento are primarily a street gang or from the prison gang. One of the points is that if you end up in prison, you have to affiliate with a gang to survive. So the fact that you may have people with XIV tattoos in West Sacramento may not itself be evidence that a Broderick Boys gang exists.
These will all be questions that need to play out as the court case advances.
—David M. Greenwald reporting