Eye on the Courts: Another High Profile Gang Fizzle

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GangIn April of 2012, there was a major announcement that a multi-jurisdiction effort led by, among others, the California Department of Justice, claimed 18 arrests which they said would disrupt a criminal gang network.

According to a release from the Attorney General’s Office, “The arrests highlight the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team’s (YONET) continued efforts in combating gangs and narcotics trafficking in our communities. YONET consists of all the law enforcement agencies in Yolo County and is led by the California Department of Justice.”

The operation in West Sacramento was named “Operation Red Sash” because of the Northern Riders and Broderick Boys criminal street gang affiliation with the color red and the Norteños criminal gang.

During the operation, which began in November 2011, YONET agents served 12 state arrest warrants and 16 state search warrants in the West Sacramento, Sacramento and Roseville areas. The investigation has resulted in 18 arrests, 4 guns, body armor, a stun gun, and drugs. Everyone arrested was to be booked into the Yolo County Jail.

“Operation Red Sash” targeted mid-level to high-level members who were distributers of illegal narcotics, according to the release.

They would write, “Several of the members identified in this investigation are probationers, six are on parole, and several are validated gang members from Norteño, Northern Riders or Broderick Boys criminal street gangs.”

Those arrested faced multiple felony charges related to narcotic trafficking, conspiracy to commit narcotic trafficking and participation in a criminal street gang. The operation would cripple these criminal street gangs and their criminal enterprise network.

A warrant the Vanguard got hold of, signed by Judge Timothy Fall, showed 16 targeted properties and ten named officials, of which nine were arrested in addition to eight others.

The warrant identified vehicles that the Yolo County District Attorney’s office sought to confiscate and acquire under forfeiture laws.

They were looking for meth, “articles of personal property tending to establish and document use, sales, transportation and/or conspiracy to use, sell and transport methamphetamine including,” weapons, cell phones, personal computers, and stolen property.

The warrant said, “Officer Herrera knows from training, experience and the course of this investigation that all or any part of the below items sought after will further establish the above mentioned subject’s participation in this felony crime and their gang affiliation will provide supporting evidence that they are an active criminal street gang members, who committed this felony crime in association with, or at the direction of or in conspiracy with, and/or for the benefit of a criminal street gang.”

As such they were looking primarily for red clothing: “Any gang related clothing to consist of such clothing as red belts, red shirts, red checkered shirts, pants with red stitching, tennis shoes with the color red, red sports hats or hats with the color red, and/or clothing that has written on it any moniker, gang symbol or words associated with the ‘Norteno’ criminal street gang or Norteno sets, such as Broderick Boys Nortenos and or Northern Ryder Nortenos…”

But almost immediately, there seemed to be problems.  Locals familiar with a lot of the people arrested told the Vanguard that most of the individuals were not active gang members.  Some of them dealt drugs, but were mainly dealing to support their own personal habits.

Gang affiliations at best were old, in some cases going back decades.  This was not the major case it was billed as.

Last week, a jury basically agreed with that assessment.  The jurors would find all four co-defendants not guilty of any of the gang-related charges. The only charges upheld were against defendants Wayne Lewis and Robert Montoya for selling and conspiring to sell drugs to undercover YONET agents, Gary Richter and Ryan Bellamy.

When the Vanguard asked one juror why they decided on the acquittal, he said, “There was just not enough evidence to pin the gang enhancements to the drug sales, it left us with a gap for reasonable doubt.”

“Did you believe the witnesses were credible?” asked the Vanguard of a juror. “Well, there were some holes in a couple of stories told by one of the witnesses but I felt the YONET agents were just doing their job, it is not unreasonable to think they might make mistakes, everyone does.”  He stated, “From the beginning, nothing was ever really clear and direct evidence that could prove anything either way.”

Because of the size of the case, the DA’s office segmented the defendants into three sections.  The first group was supposedly the strongest case.  The next group is not scheduled to be tried until July 14.  This sets up the likelihood that the DA’s office would at least dismiss the gang charges.

This becomes yet another in a series of major cases where the initial claims by law enforcement officials is not backed up by evidence at trial.

The question for many is, if the DA’s office does not back down from trying these cases, whether Judge Mock, who is about to retire, will have the fortitude to use his own discretion to dismiss the charges outright.

—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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