COURT WATCH: Detective Aaron Moe Outlines Gang Culture, Expectations in Justin Gonzalez Murder Retrial

By Cheyenne Galloway 

WOODLAND, CA – In an ongoing murder jury retrial Thursday for Justin Gonzalez, District Deputy Attorney Robin Johnson and Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson, representing the accused, took evidence from expert testimony on criminal street gangs provided by witness Detective Aaron Moe.

In 2017, the Superior Court of Yolo County found the accused guilty of second-degree murder and co-accused Alexis Valesquez guilty of first-degree murder following the stabbing that occurred at Woodland’s Casa Del Sol in 2016.

Due to new law, untruthful testimonials from previous witnesses, contradicting DNA evidence, and Gonzalez’s unwavering innocent plea, his murder conviction has been overturned, ultimately leading to its current retrial.

Three days prior, during the in limine hearing, where the court set the parameters for the Gonzalez retrial, Judge Samual McAdam agreed with both the prosecution and defense the court would admit evidence surrounding the accused’s gang affiliation but would not permit any prejudicial proof of this nature under Assembly Bill 333—aimed to reduce the damage of gang enhancements.

That set the scene for the most recent evidence hearing in Gonzalez’s case, where DDA Johnson called witness Aaron Moe, an investigator for the Yolo County District Attorney’s office for roughly 10 years, to the stand for a direct examination.

Before becoming an investigator for Yolo County, Moe was a law enforcement officer for 22 years. In 2004, Moe transferred to the detective bureau to serve as a gang enforcement officer, a position he held until 2010.

Detective Moe, in his direct examination, admitted to having contact with suspected gang members, witnesses and victims of alleged gang-affiliated crimes during his time as a gang officer.

DDA Johnson then asked, “When you’ve talked with gang members, did you talk with them about how they represent themselves to other individuals and gang members?” Detective Moe replied, “Yes.”

According to investigator Moe, these conversations with gang members included the colors, symbols and language utilized by gangs, as well as gang operations and information on specific crimes committed by particular gangs.

In the direct examination, Det. Moe said he had conversations with these gang members about why they committed certain crimes, noting, “That was a large bulk of the conversation was the why…What do you get out of it? Why do you do it? What do you have to do to maintain it? And then what happens as time goes on?”

These conversations, he added, involved the element of respect in the gang community. Moe then detailed how gang members earn respect within their gang, rival gangs, and the community to prove their authority and fear factor. This respect is achieved by “putting in work,” a phrase Moe adopted from talking to gang members.

Along with gang affiliates, investigator Moe also held conversations with victims and witnesses of suspected gang crimes (who occasionally are members of the gang themselves), which he explained in his direct examination testimony. He then described the difficulty in receiving testimony or cooperation from the suspects, victims, and witnesses because of fear of retaliation for working with law enforcement.

Detective Moe even noted instances of retaliation and threats of retaliation towards those individuals who did testify or solely gave information to the police without formally swearing.

Following DDA Johnson’s general gang-related questions in the direct examination, she confirmed Moe’s work location in 2016, Yolo County.

“Predominantly Hispanic-based gangs, both Norteño and Sureño,” said Moe, with the particular facet of the Norteño gang being Varrio Bosque Norteño, otherwise known as VBN, and the predominant Sureño gang in the area being Eastside Trece (EST).

Det. Moe then explained he has had several conversations with members of VBN about their operations and their rivals EST, some of those conversations touching on how VBN gang members gain respect in the community as well as expectations of how gang members react to other members in a conflict.

In the direct examination, Moe also admitted to having conversations with VBN members about dropouts, which, as described by Moe, are individuals dropped from the gang due to disrespect either by cooperating with law enforcement or disobeying gang guidelines, as well as the gang’s course of action for dropouts, often assault and even murder in some instances.

“How can you talk to people who are real gang members and gain all this information?” inquired DPD Johnson. “Being polite and respectful, not talking down to them about their involvement in the gang,” answered Moe.

According to detective Moe, the environment plays a crucial role in the amount of information gang members provide. As reported, they are less likely to talk in an integration room but might feel more inclined in their house during a probation search.

Moe said he takes the information given by the gang member and cross-references it with multiple sources by talking to other gang members, rival gang members, witnesses, and other investigators, noting, “If they talk, I ask them everything,” including initiation, status, involvement, disrespect, and gang culture.

“Again, you have consensual contacts; you have contacts other than criminal investigations where I talk to these individuals. So I ask them questions as far as if they have an act, if someone disrespects you, what happens,” responded investigator Moe.

The jury will reconvene on Oct. 25.

For more information detailing the complexities of Gonzalez’s case, read the following articles:

COURT WATCH: Judge Permits Partial Gang Evidence in Upcoming Justin Gonzalez Retrial

COURT WATCH: Witness in Gonzalez Jury Trial Admits ‘Not Sharing Entire Truth in Prior Hearing and When She Told Officers She Was ‘Black Out Drunk’

COURT WATCH: Witnesses ‘Not Sure’ about Testifying Truthfully in Gonzalez Murder Trial

COURT WATCH: Justin Gonzalez Retrial/Wednesday A.M. – DOJ Criminalist Confirms ‘Strong Support of Exclusion’ of Victim’s DNA on Accused’s Shirt

About The Author

Cheyenne Galloway recently graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a double major in Political Science and Italian Studies. Graduating at the top of her class and achieving the distinction Laurea cum laude in her Italian Studies major, she showcases her enthusiasm for knowledge, finding ways to think critically and creatively. She is particularly interested in writing and reporting on social justice and human rights, but as a writing/reporting generalist, she enjoys researching and communicating various topics through written expression.

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