Santa Barbara's Gang Injunction Trial Heads Into Second Week
Updated On: May 13 2014 09:17:20 AM CDT
The civil rights of 11 people versus the safety of a community -- that's part of what's at stake in Santa Barbara's push for a gang injunction.
Fresno's Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Anderson claims similar restrictions in other parts of California have cut crime between 30-50 percent. Anderson was one of a handful of witnesses called to testify during the first week of trial.
To understand the city's proposed restrictions on the 11 named defendants, experts said we need to understand what's changed over the years.
March 14, 2007: State Street was bustling with tourists and shoppers, and school let out early that day.
Two groups of teens got into a fight. A 15-year-old from the west side was clubbed over the head and stabbed repeatedly in the back. Luis Angel Linares, known as "Nacho," was found bleeding to death in the bushes behind the Saks department store. The suspect was 14 years old.
For some, that was a flash point -- the start to restricting Santa Barbara's two gangs, Eastside and Westside.
"You're so used to Santa Barbara being the beautiful place to go," said Anderson. "When you have criminal activities like the murder on State Street that started all this, it really jolts you and your system."
Within the next two years, an ominous sign appeared in Bohnett Park. Detective Gary Siegel testified he discovered a symbol linking a smaller subset of the Westside gang to the Sureno's -- California's prison-based gang -- that serves allegiance to the Mexican Mafia.
"I think all of California is under the umbrella of gang violence," said Anderson.
Siegel testified that something else started happening.
Siegel said he interviewed a street vendor in July 2009 who'd been robbed off Micheltorena Street on the west side. The victim told police the young man who robbed him said he had to start paying a tax to do business on the west side. The victim refused and was beaten. Later, he learned that Eastside and Westside gang members out on parole had begun taxing and extorting money from street vendors and drug dealers; people least likely to tell police.
"These types of activities by the gang are being noticed by La Eme now," said Anderson. "Because Santa Barbara -- and they call it 'Santa Bruta' is the term that they use -- is an area where a lot of money can be made."
Anderson testified that word on the street is .. orders from prison, from La Eme, are for Eastside and Westside gang members to cool it, ease off their tax collecting. Apparently, talk of the injunction is making the head gang leaders in prison, nervous.
Siegel also testified how he witnessed Ruben Flores, a known Westside gang member in rival turf on Cabrillo Boulevard along the waterfront, associating with a group of Eastside gang members in July of 2009.
"No worries of an attack or retaliation," said Siegel. He called it "unusual and significant" and saw Flores' immunity as another sign or presence of Sureno (bonding behind bars) taken to a higher level than seen before.
Santa Barbara Police Sgt. Dave Henderson testified how the department has spent years tracking 537 known gang members, or active participants, and a myriad of offenses through a computerized plotting system. Red dots represent Westside, blue dots for Eastside. Homicides, robberies, weapons and curfew violations -- each offense is mapped.
Court exhibits reflected high crime in both Bohnett and Eastside Parks, two rival turfs. The exhibits also showed a spike in gang-related crimes in 2007.
"They're not breaking down what was actually done by gang members what was done by juveniles, what was done by adults," said JP Herrada, executive director of Palabra. "It basically makes the area look a lot worse than it really is."
Members of the group People Organized for the Defense & Equal Rights of Santa Barbara Youth (PODER) see the injunction as a way for police to do what they've been doing for years, legally.
"You do have a say in what happens in your community," said Gabriela Hernandez, a member of PODER. "You do have a say in what happens to your children."
Ultimately, four safety zones have emerged: the areas east and west of State St., the waterfront and MacKenzie Park off upper State Street.
The named defendant list includes Raymond "Boxer" Macias, linked to the mastermind behind the brutal "moving truck" murder in Santa Maria in 2013.
Pedro "Oso" Garcia also made the list as a known Eastside gang member.
"Look at not our past but our future, what we have to offer the society," Garcia said during a pre-trial public rally. "People think because we have tattoos and committed those crimes while we were all under age, that we are still the same person we were back then. But people grow up and mature. Everyone deserves a second chance. Why are we any different?"
Garcia insists he hasn't had police contact in three years and sees the injunction as depriving the defendants of their rights. If it passes, Garcia said he plans to stay in his current home.
"I just won't be able to take my kids to school," he said.
"If it's approved we will continue to challenge it and appeal it through the federal courts," said Hernandez. "We already have secured funding from a donor willing to pay the appeal process."
One thing both sides agree on is trying to wipe out the familial cycle of gang life in Santa Barbara.
The second week of trial starts today.
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