As the City of Santa Barbara’s long-awaited gang injunction trial approaches the conclusion of its second week, a mysterious character dubbed “Mister X” by prosecuting attorneys has emerged as the trial’s most compelling and dramatic figure. Although Mister X has yet to testify, his revelations were invoked extensively by expert witness Greg Anderson, an ardent supporter of gang injunctions and a senior prosecuting attorney from the Fresno District Attorney’s office who has written no fewer than seven gang injunctions himself.
According to Anderson, Mister X — reportedly a shot caller for the city’s Eastside gang now being held in County Jail — met with him and other law enforcement officials last week for nearly 90 minutes. In that time, Mister X outlined in vivid detail the growing role of the Mexican Mafia — otherwise known as “La Eme” — in the affairs of Santa Barbara gangs. Anderson claimed that Mister X told him that he was instructed by a high-ranking member of La Eme that members of Santa Barbara’s rival gangs needed “to cool their jets” when the gang injunction was first proposed more than three years ago. According to Anderson, Mister X said gang activities could resume once the threat of the injunction had passed and that gang members would be entitled to “catch up” with what they’d lost by laying low.
“La Eme decided it needed to exert more local control over what’s going on in Santa Barbara,” he said. Its first priority, he testified, “was more aggressive taxation.”
Anderson said Santa Barbara’s two main criminal street gangs — the Eastside and the Westside — have long been typical California turf gangs, preoccupied with territorial primacy but largely unaffiliated with any statewide criminal enterprises. He added, however, that Santa Barbara gangs have been culturally unique in their reliance upon knives and clubs, rather than guns, as their weapons of choice. He testified that when Santa Barbara gang members found themselves prosecuted for more serious offenses, they came under increasing scrutiny by La Eme — a prison-based gang that offers protection and benefits to gang members from Southern California. More critically, Anderson testified, La Eme began to realize the untapped financial potential Santa Barbara had to offer. “La Eme decided it needed to exert more local control over what’s going on in Santa Barbara,” he said. Its first priority, he testified, “was more aggressive taxation.”
By that, he indicated La Eme would designate a handful of Santa Barbara gang members as their designated tax collectors, charging them with extracting tribute from drug dealers operating within their territories. Mister X, Anderson charged, was at one time one of two tax collectors in Santa Barbara County. The other, he claimed, was Raymond “Boxer” Macias, an Eastside gang member now facing charges for extortion and torture as part of a tax-collection effort in Santa Maria. Jury selection for Macias is now underway. Macias remains one of the 11 individuals named by the gang injunction proposed by the City of Santa Barbara. He was also active with the nonprofit Palabra, which has claimed it put a lid on gang violence by having ex-gang members talk sense to active gang members.
Although Anderson’s testimony focused on how effective gang injunctions were — he claimed that four highly anecdotal and admittedly unscientific studies he conducted in Fresno demonstrated that crime dropped by 30-50 percent within six months after the injunctions were introduced — the specter of the Mexican Mafia appears to address two key weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. For starters, the statistics introduced last week by Sergeant Dave Henderson showing the incidents of gang crime between 2004 and 2009 were notably squishy, defense attorneys argued, providing no distinction if the gang members involved were witnesses, perpetrators, or victims. Likewise, they provided poor differentiation as to the severity of the offense.
Henderson testified he identified 537 validated gang members or active participants, but that was over a 19-year period. That figure is hard to reconcile, however, with Anderson’s testimony that there are between 400 and 500 gang members within city limits right now. (Later in the trial, Santa Barbara Detective Gary Siegel — a designated expert as well — testified the number could be as low as 300.) Recent statistics released by the city’s own police department also revealed a sharp decline in gang violence and incidents over the past few years. (By contrast, gang violence in Fresno is much greater, and there are more gang killings in one year than Santa Barbara has seen in nearly 20.)
In this context, Judge Colleen Sterne might find herself challenged to conclude gangs constitute a current and abiding nuisance of such extremity that extraordinary legal steps need to be taken to limit the rights of the 11 named gang members to assemble. (Initially, there were 30, but shortly before the trial started, 19 were dropped from the proposed injunction because their cases were weak or they were serving lengthy prison sentences already.) But if Mister X was indeed told by Michael “Boo” Moreno that Santa Barbara gang members needed to “cool their jets,” that might help explain the precipitous drop in Santa Barbara’s recent gang-related activity. To the extent it can be demonstrated the Mexican Mafia has, in fact, increased its involvement in Santa Barbara affairs, that might offset whatever squish factor the judge assigns the city’s gang stats.
Defense attorneys fighting the gang injunction objected that whatever Mister X may or may not have told Anderson, he had ample reason to lie. He is facing life behind bars — temporarily incarcerated in County Jail for spouse abuse — and might be motivated to provide damaging testimony in hopes of securing some favors in exchange, they argued. Likewise, they attacked Anderson’s studies, noting that his methodology fell far short of social science standards. When asked point-blank if his studies were “scientific,” Anderson replied, “Not even close,” but he argued that gang injunctions defied any scientific inquiry because there were too many variables. He conceded Mister X might have reason to lie but added he had reason to believe him. It was Mister X who brought up Moreno’s name as his contact with the Mexican Mafia, Anderson said. And he knew Moreno, he said. He’d prosecuted him personally and sent him to prison on gang-related charges.
The trial is expected to last at least another week.