Young Gang Defendants Face Uncertain Future Regardless of Outcome in Their Case

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ganginjunction_catIn West Sacramento were a group of youths, most of them 14 or 15 years old.  They were drinking heavily, apparently.  Late at night they walked up to a man walking through a neighborhood and one of them reportedly asked where the individual was from.

The individual, with headphones on, listening to his Ipod, did not respond immediately, so the kids jump him, beat him up and rob him.  He was struck in the side of his face and went down almost immediately.

And yet, somehow, he was able to identify his attackers, in some cases from more than 25 yards away.  One of them was identified by some unusual, or purportedly unusual pant pattern.

It is clear that this is a senseless and violent crime.  The DA direct filed the kids as adults.  They were held on assault and robbery charges with gang enhancements.

Like many so-called gang crimes, this one has its problems.  The attackers were not wearing gang clothing, and never identified themselves as gang members.  The gang expert in the case, Officer Duggins of the West Sacramento Police, attempted to argue that the gang benefit was the fear they created.

There was, of course, gang clothing and indicia found at some of the homes of the kids, but it is not clear that this clothing or indicia actually belonged to the kids in question. 

According to the DA’s office, all of them had gang associations.  One of them was validated in Davis at some event that the Davis Police Department does not seem to have any record of occurring.  One of them has tattoos.  Two of them have the association with the home where police found gang indicia.  One of the parents told the Vanguard that an older brother had some gang affiliation some time before.

The police identified photos of a few of the kids in red clothing.

Whether the kids were gang members or not, of course, is not enough to sustain the gang enhancement charges. 

Defense Attorney Amber Poston of the Public Defender’s office argued her client, who was validated in Davis, was found intoxicated and passed out alone.  He had never said anything to the victim.  She argued that while he behaved badly, there was no evidence of gang membership or that the attack was gang motivated.

Defense Attorney James Grannucci likewise argued that there were 14-year-olds out drinking, who allegedly struck a man, but there was no evidence that these were gang crimes.  He argued that pictures found in a home of gang clothing does not demonstrate a gang enhancement.

Defense Attorney Rod Beede argued that, at most, his client was perhaps at the scene when the crime occurred and the victim was never able to identify him fully.  He was disturbed by the gang allegation which consisted of the fact that it was supposedly a gang neighborhood, but they only found red shoes, a letter making a general statement about Broderick (but not written by his client, with the author not identified) and a CD that could be a commercial album.

He argued his client was found 1000 yards away from the scene of the crime, with no clear evidence linking him to the crime.

Defense Attorney J. Toney argued that this was not a gang crime, this was a bunch of juveniles drinking.

However, Judge Mock held them over to answer for the charges.  He called this an “utterly brazen crime” and found it deeply troublesome.  He ruled that unless this was a completely senseless crime, gang membership could be the only reasonable motivation.

He continued that one of the defendants asked where the victim came from, when the victim did not respond, they attacked him viciously.

He said that the evidence suggests that statement precipitated the crime and the only way that statement matters is gang membership and he found enough evidence to believe there is probable cause that all five were active associates of the Norteno criminal street gang.

The case is now held over for trial, which is currently not scheduled to begin until early November.  The evidence presented during the preliminary hearing shows that the involvement in the attack is questionable for a few of the defendants.  Moreover, any gang motivations are also questionable.

Nevertheless, four kids in their early teens will be in custody for the next six months awaiting trial.  If they were not full blown and hardcore gang members prior to this, they may well be by the time they go to trial and when possibly some of them face release.

There was an interesting op-ed in the LA Times entitled, “Former gang members: a life sentence of joblessness.”

They were writing about “Homeboy Industries,” which is a gang reentry program that helps former gang members get jobs and become productive members of society.

But the op-ed pointed out that opportunities for former gang members are very few.  “Most employers just aren’t willing to look beyond the dumbest or worst thing someone has done,” wrote Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and the executive director and founder of Homeboy Industries.

He wrote, “The business of second chances is everybody’s business. We lose our right to be surprised that California has the highest recidivism rate in the country if we refuse to hire folks who have taken responsibility for their crimes and have done their time.”

He continued, “Even in this alarming economic climate, where the pool of prospective employees is larger than ever, we need to find the moral imperative as a society to secure places in our workforce for those who just need a chance to prove themselves. This can’t be the concern only of a large gang rehab center; it must also be part of our collective response to keep our streets safe and our communities healthy.”

“As a society, we come up lacking in many of the marks of compassion and wisdom by which we measure ourselves as civilized,” Mr. Boyle added.

He continued, “We are among the handful of countries that has difficulty distinguishing juveniles from adults where crime is concerned. We are convinced that if a child commits an adult crime, that kid is magically transformed into an adult. Consequently, we try juveniles as adults. We still execute people. And we belong to a small, exclusive club of countries that brands felons forever and denies them voting rights, access to employment and, sometimes, even housing.”

The DA is playing hardball with the case of these kids, who would appear in need of help and guidance.  The sentence thrown at them is not merely the charges that hang over their head from their crimes, it is the lessons that they will learn while in prison and the future that they face once they are out of prison.

The charges are questionable, at least for some, but the outcome is nearly certain and the ultimate verdict in this case may not matter.

—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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8 thoughts on “Young Gang Defendants Face Uncertain Future Regardless of Outcome in Their Case”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]He wrote, “The business of second chances is everybody’s business. We lose our right to be surprised that California has the highest recidivism rate in the country if we refuse to hire folks who have taken responsibility for their crimes and have done their time.”[/quote]

    If you were an employer, and had a number of qualified applicants in this day and age of scarce jobs and tons of applicants, why would any sane employer choose to hire a former gang member fresh out of prison, who has already proven s/he has difficulty conforming his/her behavior to societal norms? This statement by the Jesuit Priest is absolutely laughable in light of today’s economic realities. Which is all the more reason to have programs in place that keep kids out of prison in the first place. To go to prison will end up being a revolving door back to prison. The reality is society does not want to hire jailbirds, and for good reason…

    [quote]The DA is playing hardball with the case of these kids, who would appear in need of help and guidance. [/quote]

    The DA is playing hardball with these kids bc they clearly have no respect for the law or human life – they were one step away from committing murder. Had the guy had a heart attack from being beaten up, it would have been murder. I think these kids need a bit more than “help and guidance”. To downplay what they did as just some harmless kids out drinking who got a little carried away is ludicrous…

    [quote]The charges are questionable, at least for some, but the outcome is nearly certain and the ultimate verdict in this case may not matter.[/quote]

    The verdict matters to the victim in particular, and to the West Sacramento neighborhood that is trying to prove there is no need for a gang injunction and that their neighborhood is safe from predators like these punks…

  2. Morpheus

    I appreciate the job you do, David, especially with keeping the spotlight on abuses by the current elected DA. However, not every case brought by that office is one of overreaching. I can’t help but think you would have a different perspective if these “misguided youth” had beaten you or a loved one senseless.

  3. JustSaying

    [quote]“Nevertheless, four kids in their early teens will be in custody for the next six months….”[/quote]Why? Seems as though they should be released until their trial(s). How serious are the charges against them?

    [quote]“There was, [b]of course[/b], gang clothing and indicia found at some of the homes of the kids, but it is not clear that this clothing or indicia actually belonged to the kids in question.”[/quote] Why “of course”? Do all houses in the area have such items? Nothing ever is certain, but to whom do you think the materials belong? Maybe their mothers collect gang stuff as a hobby or they operate eBay sales out of their homes?[quote]“One of them has tattoos….The police identified photos of a few of the kids in red clothing.”[/quote]Is this really the level of specificity at which they testified? I wear a red beret and have a tattoo of a heart with “Mom” inside. Is that enough for the cops to suspect that I’m a gang member?

    Isn’t a little odd that you support hiring of convicted felons after you’ve repeatedly reported that incarceration and “the lessons that they will learn while in prison” makes them much worse and turns them into gang members when they weren’t before?

    Just curious: Why do all of the defense attorneys [u]successfully[/u] “argue” or “likewise argue” while prosecution’s reps keep trying, but only are able to “[u]attempt to[/u] argue.” This is not the first time you’ve reported this kind of attorney and/or witness mismatch. What’s lacking in the DA’s training and witness prep programs?

  4. jimt

    David,

    How serious were the injuries? Just scrapes and bruises?

    I think such incidents, and consequences for suspects/perps should get full coverage in newspapers, maybe presented in high school civics courses for the edification of the kids (but not suspects that are classmates from the same high school, of course). Parents are then reminded of the serious consequences of their kids hanging out with the wrong crowd, and help to ensure that their kids stay on the straight and narrow–which includes not associating with kids that like to dress and behave like gangbangers or ‘wannabees’. This formula worked in the past, it can work now. If there were resources, I would agree that more should be put toward youth programs–unfortunately that period is likely gone as bankruptcy looms at all levels of government; a sterner hand by the parents and inculcating a sense of personal responsibility are the options left to us; again they have a proven record in the historical record of being fairly effective.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    “However, not every case brought by that office is one of overreaching.”

    Not every case, in fact, I have reported on a number that are not, but this one was.

    “I can’t help but think you would have a different perspective if these “misguided youth” had beaten you or a loved one senseless.”

    Two responses to that. First, you have no idea how I would or would not respond. Based on my own personal evidence, I am not sure that I would respond all that differently.

    Second, there is a reason that people personally involved in crimes are not the ones who make punishment decisions. A juror would have to recuse themselves with any involvement or even outside knowledge of a case. As would a judge. There’s a reason for that and part of it is that you are not objective and impartial when it happens to you.

    So in fact the system is set up for detached observers not people that are personally affected by the crime.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    Just Saying: The charges are assault, robbery, and a gang enhancement, so they have quite a bit of exposure in terms of potential time and my guess is their families could not afford bail.

    Why of course? Because it is my experience that they always find that stuff. I suspect if they searched my home they could come up with a lot of red clothing, of course it is because of the baseball team I root for.

    When Gutierrez as shot, his father said they raided his home and took a red and blue bandanna to show as evidence of gang membership, except of course that they left the rest of the multicolor package.

    “Nothing ever is certain, but to whom do you think the materials belong?” According to the mother, it was the older brother who is in prison and was a former gang member. Take that with a grain of salt. However keep in mind none of these kids were considered by police gang members prior to this incident.

    “Is this really the level of specificity at which they testified? I wear a red beret and have a tattoo of a heart with “Mom” inside. Is that enough for the cops to suspect that I’m a gang member?”

    They have what they call a standard of totality of circumstances, so that alone would not be enough. But let’s say they find red hat, red belt, and red shoes, that would be one piece of evidence. THen your brother was a gang member, that’s two. Then this crime would be three and bingo you are a gang member.

    “Isn’t a little odd that you support hiring of convicted felons after you’ve repeatedly reported that incarceration and “the lessons that they will learn while in prison” makes them much worse and turns them into gang members when they weren’t before? “

    How is that odd?

    ” What’s lacking in the DA’s training and witness prep programs? “

    I ask myself that question all of the time.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    “Parents are then reminded of the serious consequences of their kids hanging out with the wrong crowd, and help to ensure that their kids stay on the straight and narrow–which includes not associating with kids that like to dress and behave like gangbangers or ‘wannabees’. This formula worked in the past, it can work now.”

    One of the big problems is the absence of parental role models that can do this. Often gangs act as surrogates for parental figures. I’m not sure I have seen a gang case where the father is in the picture and the mother is usually powerless to stop the kids.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]One of the big problems is the absence of parental role models that can do this. Often gangs act as surrogates for parental figures. I’m not sure I have seen a gang case where the father is in the picture and the mother is usually powerless to stop the kids.[/quote]

    Which emphasizes the importance of father and mother and the family unit. Since many kids don’t have that, it would seem to me the schools or neighborhoods need to provide youth programs that are aimed at preventing kids from gravitating towards gangs. And it doesn’t always take money to start programs like this. It just takes committed neighbors/schools…

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