“The baddest of the bad.” That’s how Santa Barbara officials portray 30 people named in the city’s gang injunction, but news of the civil document has been met with varied community response and concerns about its constitutionality, necessity, and thoroughness. Authorities see it as a tool to prevent gang members from congregating and veterans from recruiting. Those who question the filing say officials are already sufficiently armed with laws — like gang terms and conditions for probation and parole — to keep the most hardened criminals in check.
Over the course of the last four weeks, after the identities of injunction targets were released in mid-March, The Independent has reviewed court records and spoken with police, attorneys, residents, and some of those actually listed to get an idea of who these people are and how “bad” they really are.
Of the 30, 16 are behind bars (eight in state prison and eight in county jail); a handful are not in jail or prison but can be considered violent people with serious records; three have no criminal records as adults; and another handful have only ever faced limited charges such as petty theft, DUI, or drug possession. Lt. Paul McCaffrey, spokesperson for the Police Department, said the city wouldn’t be releasing any more material until its next court filing in the coming weeks, but that the department had “a lot more information on each person than what was filed.”
While all those named in the injunction are adults, it seems much of the activity for which they are being blamed occurred when they were juveniles, which also seems to follow recent trends that much of the gang activity is carried out by younger people. Some on the list can only be described as serious, repeat offenders, but others — if they have any adult record at all — are years removed from the criminal charges against them. Of course, adult criminal records only paint a portion of the picture, and juvenile records are unavailable to the public.
For many individuals, finding themselves within the gang injunction brings up a past they’re trying to move on from. Several of these people met with The Independent to talk about life on the list. They didn’t want their names used for fear of losing job opportunities and suffering potential harassment from authorities.
One young man has not been arrested for more than two years, and aside from one gang-related event, has no other violent marks on his record. “It’s just old stuff,” he said last week. “What about the good things we’ve been doing now?” He is now in his second semester at Santa Barbara City College, studying underwater welding, and working with high school students as a peer advisor. He’s paying his rent and his bills, supporting himself while he gets an education. “My punishment was already served,” he said. “I’m staying away from what I have to stay away from.”
“Communities are divided because of the gang injunction, and now specific families are divided,” said Jacqueline Inda, who works with at-risk youth in town. “When you do these things, they’re literally tearing families apart.”
One engaged couple with two children, who were both named in the injunction paperwork (he has had a series of drug-related charges, the latest coming in early 2009, and she has only one from 2008) are afraid they won’t be able to be together in public parks or other designated “safety zones.” “We’re focused on our family,” said the 20-year-old woman, who is a ninth-generation Santa Barbaran. “We don’t have time for anything else. We’re just trying to get by.” Because they are both on the list, the two don’t know if they can even be around one another, creating a difficult situation for raising their two children. The two are both looking for work and are currently living in transitional housing. “Communities are divided because of the gang injunction, and now specific families are divided,” said Jacqueline Inda, who works with at-risk youth in town. “When you do these things, they’re literally tearing families apart.”
McCaffrey, however, cautioned that the whole story may not be out yet. “What they say may be well and good, but we come across situations where it leads us to believe they’re still members of the gangs,” McCaffrey said. Monikers, tattoos, self-admissions, and gang-related arrests are all criteria for making the list, said Senior Deputy DA Hilary Dozer. “Sometimes they also have convictions, but that’s not the only part of the analysis,” he explained.
Another three people — in addition to the five The Independent met with — have been featured in videos posted on YouTube by Youth Cinemedia, a program that works with at-risk youth and teaches them about filming and producing. Bryan Carreno, a 21-year-old in one of the videos, is also a student at Santa Barbara City College. He has had two minor alcohol-related incidents on his adult record, and another where he and his brother got into a fight on Christmas morning. “Why me out of all people?” he asked in the video. “Never in my life have I been charged with a gang-related crime. What did I do to deserve this kind of punishment?”
Emmanuel Padron was also featured. He has no adult record. In the video, he said he works full-time and is off probation. “I haven’t even been active. I haven’t done anything, for like three or four years,” Padron said. Including Padron, there are three people with no adult criminal records. But he still shows up in the injunction filing, which states he’s made admissions of his gang membership and has been arrested for gang-related crimes.
Some of the more serious offenders in prison include people like Omar Ramos, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence after pleading in 2009 to an attempted-murder charge for a gang-related attack. Or Edgar Cordova, 25, who is in the midst of his second stint in prison, having previously served time for an involvement in a 2003 drive-by shooting. He is currently serving a three-year, eight-month sentence for burglary, along with an admitted prior strike.
Christian Botello, 30, is in the middle of a four-year state prison term after being sentenced in 2008 for domestic violence along with probation violations, including burglary. Stacy Ibarra, 22, is currently serving a seven-year, eight-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree robbery and dissuading a witness. Another, Pedro Garcia, is still serving a federal prison sentence related to Operation Gator Roll.
Roy Sarabia, 20, threatened the father of a friend when he confronted Sarabia and Daniel Flores about jumping his son into a gang. Sarabia, according to police, told the man his family was not safe and he was going to stab him. Sarabia was eventually sentenced in 2009 to four years in state prison and forced to register as a gang member. At sentencing, the judge commented that almost every month in 2004, 2005, and 2007, he had been in trouble for one reason or another.
Another eight are in County Jail, either awaiting sentencing or trial, some on very serious charges. Ruben Mize, 19, is perhaps the most notorious of the bunch and on his way to prison, awaiting sentencing on murder and two attempted-murder convictions. His total exposure is upward of 60 years. Three others in jail — Michael Cardenas, Miguel Parra, and Jonathon Alonzo — are facing murder charges with gang enhancements. Cardenas, along with Augustin Cruz, 20, is facing charges of robbery and two counts of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injuries, with gang enhancements, for a 2009 attack.
Marcos Ramos is in jail awaiting trial on charges of drug possession and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, and Michael Rodriguez, 30, is facing a charge of battery with serious bodily injury. He has previously been convicted of four different felonies, three of them drug related.
While not everyone on the list has been served, more than half have, and 30-day responses are close to their due date. Many of these people, however, have no money for civil attorneys. The Public Defender’s office is still looking into what involvement it may take, as time ticks down to a July hearing in front of Judge James Brown.