This article originally appeared at The Nation on January 13, 2010.
LOS ANGELES. Jan. 13. U.S. Judge Manuel Real granted Alex Sanchez bail after a closed ninety-minute session with law enforcement and civic officials today. The former gang member and founder of Homies Unidos is expected to be freed in ten days after posting $2 million property and sureties.
Sanchez still faces conspiracy charges with 23 others rounded up by the FBI in a government blitz using federal racketeering laws against alleged Mara Salvatrucha [MS] members. The trial is scheduled for October in Los Angeles.
A beaming Oscar Sanchez, the younger brother of Alex Sanchez, praised the ruling by Real, which he said “underlines the judge’s finding that Alex is not a danger to the community nor a flight risk. We believe he is in fact a great asset to communities like ours across the country.”
Supporters of Sanchez, organized as wearealex.org, were jubilant in many cities where pressure campaigns have been mounted. The decision was seen as a victory for gang intervention workers, many of whom have attended the LA proceedings since June.
The hearing was unprecedented in the memory of many courtroom experts. Former US prosecutor Robert Garcia, now head of the non-profit City Project here, could not recall a closed bail hearing in his decades of experience. Civil liberties attorneys were mulling a possible challenge to the nature of the proceeding.
But Sanchez chose to waive his rights to a public hearing. The transcript of testimony given in the proceeding is sealed, and the participants sworn to silence.
Nevertheless, much of the story can be pieced together from independent sources. Judge Real changed course last week following an order from a 9th Circuit panel rejecting the grounds of his initial denial of bail. At the January 6th hearing he proposed a novel meeting of lawyers and law enforcement experts to discuss whether any evidence showed Sanchez to be an active gang member, danger to the community or flight risk over the past decade.
The prosecutors filed publicly its notice of available witnesses on Tuesday, identifying their slate as FBI Acting Special Agent Robert Clark, a former member of an MS-13, Mexican Mafia and 18th Street gangs task force, Captain Justin Eisenberg, a top officer in the LAPD’s gang and narcotics unit, who once was an officer in the Rampart Division gang impact team [known as CRASH until changed after the police scandal of the early Nineties], and Bruce Riordan, chief of the City Attorney’s gang division.
The Sanchez defense of available witnesses were under seal.
So far it is publicly unknown what transpired in the courtroom.
As the hearing ended, several witnesses left the building without press notice. Then Sanchez, wearing chains and white prison garb, surrounded by guards, walked quietly out, head down. Seeing him, NPR reporter Mandolit Delbarco said, “Hello Alex,” and was sharply admonished by one of the security officers, who commanded, “No communications!”. The scene in the hallway was not a hopeful one.
A minute later, Bensinger exited the courtroom, his face flushed with intensity. He rushed towards a side conference room with a trickle of Sanchez supporters following in suspense. Known for refusing any press interviews, he turned abruptly before disappearing into the privacy of the office. The NPR reporter was the lone reporter standing at the door. “Do you know what happened?”, Bensinger asked, then blurted out, “Alex got bail and I cannot comment further.”