A Santa Barbara judge lowered the bail for a man named on the city’s proposed gang injunction list who is accused of brutally beating two men within minutes of each other in 2009.
Agustin Cruz Jr., whose bail had been set at $500,000 after a Grand Jury indicted him on charges of robbery, assault producing great bodily injury, and gang enhancements, had his bail reduced to $100,000 by Judge George Eskin Thursday morning, about a month before his trial is set to begin.
Another alleged Eastside gang member, Michael Cardenas, faces similar charges related to the two assaults, but he is being held in County Jail without bail. He is also suspected in the murder of George Ied, a liquor store worker who was walking home from work in October 2010 when he was attacked and beaten to death.
Authorities allege that in November 2009, Cruz and Cardenas grabbed a 21-year-old man, punched and stomped his face, threatened to kill him, and took his backpack and wallet. Ten minutes later, another man was attacked just a few blocks from the first incident and was left unconscious, lying in the middle of the street. The two weren’t arrested for the crimes until March 2011.
Eskin made the decision despite arguments from prosecutor Hans Almgren, who noted the severity of the injuries sustained by the two victims and said there is a fear that witnesses in the case will be intimidated. “Some people who are this dangerous are not entitled to bail,” Almgren said. Joan Fairfield, a victim witness advocate for the DA’s Office, said she spoke with one of the victims, who told her he fears Cruz or his associates “may try to silence him before the testimony.”
Though a record of Cruz’s interactions with police goes back to when he was 11 years old, and he has been accused of several vandalism-type charges and is alleged to be an Eastside gang member, he does not have a history of documented violence. He also had a series of letters written on his behalf — including one by UCSB professor Dr. Victor Rios and another from Jacqueline Inda of Esperanza. Cruz’s attorney, James Crowder, said Cruz now speaks to youth about the evils of violence, and tries to dissuade them of that conduct. “They don’t listen to police officers or parents, but they do listen to those that have been there,” Crowder said.
If Cruz posts bail, he will hardly be a free man. The judge said he should only be at work or at home, is subject to electronic monitoring, shouldn’t have any contact with the victims or with Eastside gang members, and can’t go near the Franklin Center. He is also subject to searches.
At a bail hearing, the judge assumes the allegations to be true when considering a reduction. The judge must also consider whether a defendant is a flight risk, the person’s criminal history, the current offense, and how the victims are affected.
Cruz and Cardenas — both of whom are on the list of 30 people named in the city’s proposed gang injunction — will be back in court on February 23.