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.
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