Expert Witnesses Testify in Gang Trial

Gangby Saghi Nojoomi, Antoinnette Borbon, Patrick Shum, Ibraham Dbouk

Yolo County Gang Task Force expert, Joe Perez, testified Monday and Tuesday in People vs. Gonzalez, Jimenez, Fuentes, and Ozuna about the details of gang member identification and the process by which authorities are able to recognize an active gang member.

Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson’s last witness, Joe Perez, opened his testimony by explaining how several eight-hour courses, specialized training, and seminars have prepared him for gang identification in testimonies for ten previous court cases involving gang-related charges.

The four defendants who allegedly assaulted and robbed a man on June 19, 2013, are also being charged with gang enhancements.

Basing his testimony on certain characteristics, Perez stated, “If a gang member sees another gang member involved in a fight, he would generally get involved out of honor for the gang.” According to Perez, the honor establishes loyalty and respect among members.

Joe Perez continued his testimony by explaining the difference between two rival gangs, the “Norteños” and the “Sureños.” According to Perez, the “Norteños” operate mainly in Northern California and associate themselves with the color red, the number 14, and the letter N, while the “Sureños” operate mainly in Southern California.

After correctly identifying defendant Juan Fuentes, Perez was asked by DDA Johnson if he could correctly identify distinct features of each defendant. According to Perez, defendant Juan Fuentes maintains a tattoo on his left wrist that consists of four single dots, and a tattoo on each finger consisting of a single dot. Joe Perez stated that this “represented an area code.”

When asked by Ms. Johnson if these tattoos could be seen on both gang members and non-gang members, Joe Perez stated, “Yes, both non and gang members” may display the tattoos.

Perez continued by explaining that defendant Juan Fuentes has other tattoos, including one with the map of Yolo County and Woodland on his right hand. After establishing these distinct features of the defendant, Ms. Johnson then asked Perez whether he was familiar with the Mongolian hairstyle, to which Perez answered, “Yes.” He proceeded to describe it as a ponytail that consists of only the top part of the head’s hair and shaved sides. He associated it with gang members.

After correctly identifying defendant Justin Gonzalez, Joe Perez was asked by the deputy district attorney about several dates in which the defendant Gonzalez was in contact with Woodland Police. According to Perez, the defendant was in contact with police officers on several dates. On November 28, 2010, Mr. Gonzalez came in contact with Woodland Police officers and was in the presence of known gang members while wearing gang-related clothing. Perez specified that in May of 2011, the defendant was seen “wearing red shoe laces,” and that in June of 2011 the defendant was involved in a fight while displaying a red bandana.

On August 17, 2011, Gonzalez was in contact with a deputy while in the procession of a red necklace and a cloth belt and, according to Perez, both are characteristic of gang clothing. On March 11, 2012, officers responded to the robbery of a cab driver. According to Perez, this incident involved four individuals, including the defendant Justin Gonzalez who flashed a flashlight at the victim before taking his money.

On November 4, 2012, Mr. Gonzalez was admitted to a hospital with a gun wound to his leg after getting involved in a gun fight. According to Joe Perez, when Gonzalez was asked why he was involved his response involved an admission to being an active “Norteño” member.

When asked by Ms. Johnson about whether or not he was familiar with Cellebrite, the company making data extraction devices widely used by police, Joe Perez answered by describing the process. Perez stated that a Cellebrite examination occurs when “a phone is hooked to the monitor and this extracts messages.” The process will also “give information on phone date and time of photos.”

According to Perez, defendant Justin Gonzalez’s phone was examined on June 19, 2013, and three photographs were extracted that displayed gang-related signs. One photograph that displayed gang-related signs and included defendants Gonzalez and Fuentes was shown to the jury and was taken shortly after midnight on June 19, 2013.

Following the photograph examination, expert Joe Perez correctly identified defendant Jose Jimenez and explained that on June 7, 2011, the defendant was involved in a physical assault with a knife in Ralph Harris Park. Perez testified that on that day the victim’s cell phone was stolen.

Testimony continued as Perez stated that on May 1, 2012, and October 14, 2012, the defendant was seen in the company of known gang members and that on November 1, 2012, the defendant was taken into custody and he admitted to being a gang member for about six to seven years.

When asked to identify features of the defendant, Perez stated that Jose Jimenez has the word “’Bosque’ across his stomach,” and “the ‘Boston Red Sox B’ on his left forehand.” He also has “four single dots along his fingers.” On his right hand, Perez testified, the word “B Town” is displayed. The defendant also displays the saying, “The love of Money,” on his head.

Expert witness Joe Perez finished his Monday testimony by correctly identifying defendant Anthony Ozuna.

According to Perez, defendant Ozuna was booked into jail in June of 2013 while wearing a black Boston Red Sox hat. While admitted, the defendant admitted to being associated with “Norteños.”

When asked to explain features of defendant Ozuna, Perez identified a tattoo of the saying, “City of Trees,” on the defendant’s forearm, and a tattoo of the map of California on his arm. Perez also identified the word “Loyalty” on the defendant’s left hand.

When asked by Ms. Johnson if the tattoos could be found on non-gang members as well, Perez answered with a firm “Yes,” but also explained their gang-related connotations.

DDA Robin Johnson concluded the Monday testimony by asking Perez to explain several excerpts from defendant Anthony Ozuna’s Facebook page. According to Perez, the defendant posted the following status, “Hold back bangN tho about to get a haircut.” Perez testified that the capitalized “N” can stand for “Norteño.”

Mr. Perez concluded his testimony on Tuesday. Continuing his analysis of defendant Anthony Ozuna’s Facebook page, Perez explained that on March 6, 2012, the defendant posted the following lyrics to a well-known “Norteño” song: “Talk reckless, don’t disrespect us, decorate your chest, leave you with a bloody necklace.”

Perez’s testimony continued as he explained that in August of 2013, during a court hearing, the defendant Anthony Ozuna was noticed on camera with three other inmates exchanging something. Upon a search, a “kite” was found on the defendant. Perez defined a “kite” as a form of communication between gang members through writings on items.

Claiming irrelevance and a violation of Evidence Code §352, defense attorneys objected, only to be overruled by the judge. Concluding his testimony, Joe Perez claimed that he believes all four defendants are gang members, to which the defense objected once again before being overruled.

Defendant Justin Gonzalez’s attorney Keith Staten began his cross-examination by asking Joe Perez if he read two books associated with law enforcement, to which there was an objection and it was sustained. Continuing his cross-examination Staten claimed that tattoos are not strong indicators of gang membership, to which Perez responded by claiming that tattoos are often earned and are common among members.

Mr. Staten then called upon Deborah Davis, a professor of Psychology  at the University of Nevada. Using a slideshow, Davis claimed that testimonies are often inaccurate. According to Davis, in wrongful convictions, witness testimony is wrong 75-80% of the time. She stated that appearances of strangers often change and that witnesses are often only assumed to be correct.

Davis claimed that people often believe their memory is accurate when, in actuality, the memory is not as accurate as it is perceived to be. Using line-ups as examples, she claimed that it is more likely to cause a witness to wrongly identify someone. During cross-examination by DDA Johnson, Davis stated that she has been involved with defense consulting since the mid-1980s. Ms. Johnson concluded her cross-examination by stating that the jury’s opinion and perception matters most in witness testimony.

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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