by Antoinnette Borbon
Last week the Vanguard was surprised to learn there had been a resolution in the “Operation Red Sash” case.
Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson tried the first four of eight alleged gang members. But her efforts to tie their crimes to that of gang activity failed with jurors.
However, Johnson was ready to go it a second time with the last four remaining defendants.
The second trial was to begin on July 14th. Of the four defendants, co-counsels Jeff Raven, Rod Beede, Dave Garland, and Fidel Martinez were prepared for trial.
Their clients faced drug possession to sales and weapon charges. Some of the defendants have prior prison terms and/or felony convictions.
But what may have been difficult to prove were the alleged gang enhancements.
In the first Red Sash Trial, most of the defendants admitted being members at one time but had been through a de-briefing process.
Although gang expert Herrera testified, “They usually come out of prison and join other gangs,” the jurors were not convinced.
Some jurors stated there was “not enough evidence to prove crimes benefited or promoted further gang activity.” One juror in particular stated that ” it was just a drug bust, nothing proven but that.” However, the juror hoped this would turn their lives around.
Thus, Attorneys John Brennan, Dan Olsen, Clark Head, and J. Toney would succeed in raising reasonable doubt on the gang enhancements.
Unknown to the Vanguard was why DDA Michael Cabral would offer a plea deal; it was still successful with the four.
It seemed reasonable to offer six years, with no gang enhancements, for the drug possession and drug sales for defendants Morales, Castanon and Castro.
On the other hand, the last of four charged, Andrew VanDyke, Jeff Raven’s client, was granted a dismissal on all counts.
But this was not an easy decision for defendant Valentino Castanon. As the court waited for his compliance to the plea, Garland patiently continued negotiations with success.
The three, having been in custody since 2012, will not have much time left to serve as credits have already given them approximately four years.
This is a far cry from one defendant from the first Red Sash trial. Robert Montoya will serve a sentence of 13 years, even after DDA reduced it from 21 years.
Montoya’s attorney John Brennan, made a great effort to get his client less time, as did Montoya’s mom, but Judge Mock denied it.
Montoya faced more time because of the past convictions and a prison prior.
Sentencing for Morales, Castanon and Castro will be in June.
In 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…”
In late March, 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.”
Now there won’t be a second trial.
David M. Greenwald contributed to this report.