Key Witness Takes Stand in Gang Injunction Case

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ganginjunction_catWhen the District Attorney’s Office was able to gain a preliminary gang injunction, it was based in large part upon declarations from West Sacramento Police Officers.  One of the key officers was the former head of the gang unit in West Sacramento, Joe Villanueva, who left the department at the end of 2007 to go to the DA’s Office and now currently works for the City of Fairfield as a Police Officer and Detective for the Gang Unit.

Last week, Detective Villanueva, considered an expert on gangs, testified.  Deputy DA Ryan Couzens created a PowerPoint in which each defendant in the gang injunction case had his own page, and Detective Villanueva offered his “expert” opinion that each of them were gang members and represented a public nuisance to the City of West Sacramento and the residents of the safety zone.

The slide show itself was an interesting tactic, but it had some problems.  First, it was unclear the basis for which Detective Villanueva was determining that individuals were gang members.  On the slide show it listed self-admissions for the 24 defendants in the trial.  However, often these admissions were jailhouse admissions, which are somewhat questionable.

The reason for this is that many of these individuals in jail or prison are identified as Nortenos because they are Hispanics from Northern California, and therefore the system itself designates them with a certain gang label in order to preserve a measure of safety in a prison setting.

Some of the self-admissions were based on discussions with other police officers, that would need to be verified in order for them to have much merit in a trial.

Another key question raised by the defense is whether Detective Villanueva, clearly an expert on gangs, could also render expert opinions on the psychological impact of these gang members on the residents of the safety zone.  Mr. Villanueva was repeatedly asked about the impact on the residents, and the defense objected that this was beyond the scope of his expertise.  Judge White has not ruled on that point, as of yet.

The slide show was supposed to be used only for demonstration and clarification purposes, and DDA Couzens refused to submit it into evidence as an official exhibit.

Defense attorneys repeatedly objected to the material presented and objected to its use because it seemed that Detective Villanueva was not testifying from his own base of knowledge, but rather simply relying on the material, to speak from it.  It became rather apparent however, that Mr. Villanueva was not relying on the slide show for recollection, but rather as a script to direct his testimony.

A key question will be how useful is an expert such as Joe Villanueva to tie everything together for the defense.

Detective Villanueva did offer a lengthy explanation, both of how one becomes a gang member as well as the history of the Norteno Gang.  He told the court that the gang was created during the years of 1958 to 1963, emerging as a rival against the Mexican Mafia and the Surenos in California prisons.

Bakersfield marks the boundary between the Northern Norteno gang and the Southern Sureno gang.

This would have been a nice lead-in witness to introduce their case, but it is unclear at this point just how much he ties everything together for the plaintiffs.

The limits of Detective Villanueva’s testimony can be seen in one of the questions from DDA Couzens who asked him if the Broderick Boys Gang still presents a nuisance in West Sacramento.  While Detective Villanueva acknowledged that he has not worked there for nearly three years, he said he does keep in touch and follows the gang activity from Fairfield.

He rendered the opinion that yes, the gang still presents nuisance in West Sacramento. 

He was also asked if he noticed a difference in gang activity after the first injunction was put in effect in West Sacramento. Detective Villanueva said he was an investigator for the DA’s Office after the first injunction in this trial and he was aware of the effects it had. According to him, he noticed a large reduction in crime and of association in public places, and reduced self admissions.

The cross examination began on Friday but will continue this Wednesday.  While Detective Villanueva made several of the key points he had to make in order to sustain the gang injunction, there are several questions that he left open that need to be addressed, particularly in light of the fact that Detective Villanueva’s firsthand knowledge on the ground essentially ended three years ago.

First, there is a presumption that once a gang member always a gang member.  That appears to be operationalized within the law as a five-year window.  But for a number of these defendants, their commission of gang crimes is rather marginal.  The question about active gang membership would appear crucial.

Second, how has the gang changed over time? That is a question that Detective Villanueva cannot really answer, but needs to be understood in order to understand if there is a current need for an injunction.

Many residents have argued that the original Broderick Boys, as a gang, is no longer in existence. Instead there is a loose affiliation of gang members in the area, but the threat they represent is less.  Crime is down in West Sacramento, but part of that is not due to a gang injunction but rather to heavy investment in redevelopment, jobs, and infrastructure by the city leaders in West Sacramento.

Recall that the Vanguard spoke with Detective Villanueva last summer in Fairfield.

When he began working in West Sacramento, he took note of the Broderick Boys Gang.

“What I noticed about the Broderick Boys is they were pretty sophisticated in the sense that they’re well-organized, structured, and there was just a lot of them,” Officer Joe Villanueva told the Vanguard.  He estimated their numbers to be 500 to 600 members over the years.  “This particular gang, the Broderick Boys, was fifty percent of the caseload for our investigation division.  There was only one guy monitoring these individuals, that was me.”

“There were a lot of gang cases.  I testified in over forty cases,” he said, estimating that figure to be over a period of five to seven years.  “I’d say maybe half a dozen went to trial.  That includes prelims and the grand jury.”

“The most common things was guns, drugs, and then violent crime.  A lot of robberies,” he said.  “But even the shootings, with gang crimes, is very difficult with witness intimidation, no one wants to come forward and testify with gang cases.  It makes it really difficult for trying to solve gang crime, because of the fear and intimidation.  But a majority of the stuff that I dealt with was violent crime.”

One of the key questions we asked is whether West Sacramento needed a gang injunction. 

Detective Villanueva explained to the Vanguard at that time how the gang injunction came to be.  “Jeff Reisig and I went to a gang conference down in Southern California where it was talked about and there was also an issue with one officer monitoring all of the gangs in the city.  Here’s this one gang that was established and was committing all of this crime to where it was fifty percent of our case load in investigations.  So we talked to some of the people in Southern California and it seemed like something we could do in our city.”

He said it would depend on different people’s views, some people think the gang problem is overblown and others think the gang injunction is needed.  “My argument through both the first and the second one and through the depositions and everything else is, regardless of what I say or anyone else says, look at the factual evidence.  Look at the constant crime that’s been consistent in that community.   That’s what you can look at and make your decision from there.  That’s one of the things with the Third Court of Appeals, they said the issue was the proof of service, but they said, the crime’s there and the history’s there.”

Joe Villanueva believed as he testified last week that the impact of the gang injunction is obvious.  “It was amazing how it quieted things down, in that you didn’t see stuff out there that was so blatant,” he said.

“The guys that were getting arrested were tired of getting arrested so it prevented some crime. At the same time it’s an intervention to the show the young kids that it’s not worth getting on this list,” he continued.

“It really quieted things down.  If you asked the guys that were in West Sacramento that worked the streets, they’ll tell you after the first one, how busy West Sac was, it just quieted down.  It was a huge impact with limited resources.  Even if we weren’t enforcing it, or enforcing it so much, just to have it there, it didn’t allow the gang members to think, I can be free to roam this area,” Detective Villanueva described.

He concluded, “If you think about it, the injunction itself only covers a certain amount of square miles in the city, however with the gangsters they were thinking it was the entire city.  So they were unable to roam freely and intimidate people.  They had to think a little bit before they went out and were doing this stuff.  Some of them just said this wasn’t worth it.”

For many however, this view defies logic.  You have individuals committing crimes, some of which will put them away for the rest of their lives.  And yet a civil injunction with civil penalties is going to prevent them from joining gangs?  It does not make much sense.

One of the key questions that has been raised is about the extent that the gang injunction is merely a political tool used by the DA’s Office.  As we have tracked gang cases, we have noted many instances where the DA is willing to give no prison time and drop the more serious charges in exchange for an admission under Penal Code 186.22 of gang membership and activities in furtherance of criminal gang activities.

One belief is that the need for such pleas is to get the gang injunction approved.  The other is that many of the grants that fund anti-gang activities require showing numbers and convictions of gang members for gang crimes.

Motivation of the DA’s Office plays a role in one critical incident that the Vanguard is now examining.  In his 2008 letter, former DA Investigator Rick Gore alleges a then “recent” incident involving Deputy DA Jay Linden, who is one of the co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the gang injunction case.  Mr. Gore describes him out with the gang unit in West Sacramento apparently wearing a badge and gun, and assisting with the arrest of the suspect.

This report apparently was withheld, as it involved the discovery of a broken windshield.  The car was searched and a gun was found.  The DA’s Office then attempted to turn it into a gang case, however, apparently Detective Villanueva disagreed.

Mr. Gore alleges that “[DA Supervisor] Garrett Hamilton was trying to make that case go away, since [DA Jeff Reisig] did not want it getting out that Deputy District Attorneys were out helping to arrest suspects.”

According to Mr. Gore, the DA tried to pressure then-DA Investigator Villanueva into filing this as a gang case, due to the fact that they found a gun in the car. 

Writes Mr. Gore, “Investigator Villanueva was receiving flack from DDA Hamilton about his report not being complete. Villanueva came to me for advice. I told him he should never leave things out of his report and advised him to do a supplement immediately and turn it in.”

He wrote a supplemental report, and DDA Hamilton settled the case rather than allowing the case to go forward.  The defense allegedly never discovered the supplemental report.

The gang injunction trial will continue Wednesday as the defense will continue to have their chance to cross-examine Detective Villanueva.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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10 thoughts on “Key Witness Takes Stand in Gang Injunction Case”

  1. valerie

    So did he have actual admittance from these 24 or did that just come out of his mouth? Something I can never understand is the first injunction was around 350 alleged gang members. I read an article where it placed at around 1000 alleged gang members, then I read that its at 23 alleged gang members and counting. Who makes this up? To this day youth in the Broderick community are still being harassed by WSPD. I think our youth need to testify to what they see going on in the schools as far as harassment goes. The terrible thing with this whole injunction in itself is that when these guys do go to prison for a crime they commited, and most of them have nothing to do with “gang” involvement. But, that does not matter, because they have to live this street injunction in there due to street gang affiliation that the DA’s are placing on them. 6 points added to their totals of placement in the prison system. I am a victim of a crime, which did not happen in the Broderick neighborhood. I have never walked out my door and felt unsafe in the Broderick neighborhood. Crime has been flexible since 2003, and Villanueva wants to make it look like crime has dropped dramatically. Where is he getting his stats from? Because the stats that I looked at, there was more crime in 2009 and the injunction was placed in 2005. Our tax money is being used for Reisig to send his people to harass our youth and a majority of these so called gang members are only gang members because the DA of yolo county “labels” them as gang members. Reisig in his actions is a criminal himself.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    valerie: “I have never walked out my door and felt unsafe in the Broderick neighborhood.”

    I volunteered at night as a legal aid attorney at a legal clinic in the area. Our legal clinic shut down soon after we learned of a stabbing two blocks down from where our clinic was located. I can’t say the clinic shut down for only that reason, but I think it was a contributing factor. Just anecdotal evidence…

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    There is little doubt there is crime. Although as Valerie points out, less crime than perhaps in other places. The key question for me is whether ordinary law enforcement efforts can fight that crime. As I made the point, if these people are not deterred with lengthy sentences following felony convictions, why is a civil remedy going to work?

  4. Alphonso

    I never understood the singular focus on West Sac. I looked up some crime statistics- the numbers are a little dated (2008 full year numbers), but I couldn’t find anything more recent-

    Here are some categories showing West Sac/Woodland (roughly the same size population)

    Murder 2/0
    Rape 19/18
    Robbery 75/63
    Agrav Assaults 79/102
    Burglary 333/487
    Larceny 810/1250
    Vehicle theft 228/218

    There is too much crime going on but I do not see much difference between the two communities.

    They also showed some trends – the West Sac aggravated assults have declined significantly, but larceny is up dramatically – overall crime has not changed much over a three year span.

    Perhaps they do not need the West Sac injunction or maybe they need more focused injunctions in both Woodland as well as West Sac.

    http://www.idcide.com/citydata/ca/west-sacramento.htm

  5. valerie

    ERM,

    Are you speculating perhaps that would be an alleged gangmember? The thing that I worry about the most in the Broderick neighborhood is panhandlers and homeless people, never had to worry about alleged gangs. I am involved in the community and the thing that bothers me the most is their is no activities for our teens. Why is that? If you receive money to fight alleged gang members, why can’t some of that money go back into the community? There is more crime on the other side of town than their is in the Broderick neighborhood. And, did Reisig really think that with a growing City that crime also does not rise? But an injunction, please! I would have never thought this way ten years ago if I had not gone to a community day parade in West Sacramento where parents were very upset about a comment that was made from our own City Councel about future gangmembers in regards to the local football team that was in the parade made up of 8-10 year old boys. All of this makes sense that them comments have lead up to an injunction. If there were gangs I would be the first to say so. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, there is a cause from the DA’s office and it is very sad that our youth have to pay for it. Reisig is a coward for taking money from the State that can go to a real cause like activities or schools. He lost the first injunction and could not just give up there, so he went for another one which is current as we speak, after who knows how much money has spent on tring to get this injunction. Greed and evil is lurking in that man all the way down to his core. and, the taxpayers have payed for this since 1995. Evil man he is. If someone can please answer to my question about so called admittances to the 23 on the injunction now, I would greatly appreciate it.

  6. jimt

    David–thanks for having the fairness to quote some of Detective Villanueva’s testimony; and apparently in context. Based on his testimony, there would seem to be little doubt that the past injunction was in order, and that the proposed injunction does indeed merit serious consideration, at the very least. Presumably testimony will be forthcoming from whoever took over Villanueva’s gang task role in West Sac.

    Also, would you mind posting a reminder of some of the main points of what an injunction involves–is it mainly a curfew, and are penalties steep for violating curfew?

  7. msymt

    As a resident of Broderick, I realize there is crime (E Roberts Muser– “volunteered at night as a legal aid attorney at a legal clinic in the area. Our legal clinic shut down soon after we learned of a stabbing two blocks down from where our clinic was located. I can’t say the clinic shut down for only that reason, but I think it was a contributing factor. Just anecdotal evidence”), but there are stabbings throughout many communities (so hardly anectodal evidence given I live there); however, the issue is more complex than mere curfew violations or it being a handy law enforcement tool…in my opinion, it’s more about the big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about: politics (on the District Attorney’s Office part), discrimination (both DA office and WSPD), and one man’s ego (Reisig).

    Having been in this struggle in 2005, the anectodal evidence of my opinion is how the first injunction was introduced and enforced (without West Sacramento City Council being involved in any discussions–not that the DA had to, but being that it was within the City) it would perhaps have been adviseable since it’s their constituency that this action would impact.

    While I would love to further back up my view, as well as go into the specifics for the second attempt for the injunction, I won’t since it would take way too many posts, so I will not attempt to (how can I sum up 5 years of how this injunction has really played out and rocked the world of my community–and not in a good way either?). But, what I will say is that while there have been some overhaul in how the injunction is supposed to be enforced, the bottom line (and as a resident), the Penal Code provides all the protection needed to promote safety and secure convictions in crimes, without a tool that is reinforcing someone’s ego and political agenda.

    p.s. Valerie….in the second initial lawsuit, not all defendants admitted gang affiliation…however, it sounds like since then, some defendants may have received prison time and therefore aligned themselves with a prison movement, thus that affiliation is now being used as evidence in the slideshow that the D.A. presented as proof of gang membership. But as any real expert will testify, prison alignment is a matter of survival and street gang affiliation is a choice and those are two very different realities.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “There is little doubt there is crime. Although as Valerie points out, less crime than perhaps in other places. The key question for me is whether ordinary law enforcement efforts can fight that crime. As I made the point, if these people are not deterred with lengthy sentences following felony convictions, why is a civil remedy going to work?”

    A gang injunction apparently has worked in other jurisdictions as evidenced by the workshop Reisig attended. It may have even worked in West Sac for all we know to reduce crime (do you know pre and post injunction stats for West Sac?). However, I would say the DA has his work cut out for him to prove the necessity of this gang injunction. As the judge in the case pointed out, she wants to hear from effected RESIDENTS, not just expert testimony/hearsay evidence from police officers.

    To Alphonso: Thanks for the stats – it is very helpful info for this discussion.

    valerie: “I am involved in the community and the thing that bothers me the most is their is no activities for our teens. Why is that? If you receive money to fight alleged gang members, why can’t some of that money go back into the community?”

    I think this is an excellent point. I would strongly suggest you bring this up during Public Comment at the next West Sac City Council meeting. We are dealing with the same issue here in Davis, when our Teen Center was usurped by the Bicycle Museum. A substitute program was set up, but whether it is equivalent or enough remains to be seen. But at least our city is trying to give teens a good place to go after school.

    msymt: “however, the issue is more complex than mere curfew violations or it being a handy law enforcement tool…in my opinion, it’s more about the big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about: politics (on the District Attorney’s Office part), discrimination (both DA office and WSPD), and one man’s ego (Reisig).”

    I agree the issue is complex, but the DA has to run for office, so his position by its very nature is political. He has to show he is doing a “good job”, which is a very subjective opinion depending on who you talk to.

    msymt: “Having been in this struggle in 2005, the anectodal evidence of my opinion is how the first injunction was introduced and enforced (without West Sacramento City Council being involved in any discussions–not that the DA had to, but being that it was within the City) it would perhaps have been adviseable since it’s their constituency that this action would impact.”

    This is a very astute observation. The City Council really should have made a point of being involved. Of course we don’t know if they were involved or not… perhaps they were and are not admitting to it?

  9. David M. Greenwald

    [quote]A gang injunction apparently has worked in other jurisdictions as evidenced by the workshop Reisig attended. [/quote]

    Has it? I think I would caution you from making that conclusion. First, crime in general has declined across all jurisdictions regardless of whether they have had interventions or not.

    Second, there seems to be an ebb and flow anyway to gang activity. There is also a cat and mouse gang, what may work temporarily probably will not work in the longer term. Just as law enforcement figures out gangs, gangs adapt.

    So what is the evidence that gang injunctions have worked?

  10. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Second, there seems to be an ebb and flow anyway to gang activity. There is also a cat and mouse gang, what may work temporarily probably will not work in the longer term. Just as law enforcement figures out gangs, gangs adapt.”

    I would agree with this statement, just like con artists find new ways to thwart law enforcement when it comes to perpetrating fraud. The thieves/perps of crime always seem to be one step ahead. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try things to see if they work. If they don’t work, you scrap them and try something else.

    dmg: “So what is the evidence that gang injunctions have worked?”

    I assume bc a workshop was held and grant money handed out, gang injunctions have probably been found to be successful on occasion i some areas of the nation/CA. If you do a Google search of “gang injunction success” there are all sorts of articles on the subject, pro and con. I would point out:
    1) “Success” or “unsuccessful” are subjective terms
    2) Gang injunctions are a complex issue that probably depends on how it is done; to what extent the community as a whole is involved; the amount of cooperation between the local DA and local gov’t, and other such factors.

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