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      Prosecution of Alex Sanchez Continues

      At dawn on June 24, 2009, armed local, state and federal officers swarmed the rented home of Alex Sanchez while he slept with his wife and children, and arrested the former gang leader on charges of racketeering conspiracy, claiming he led a double-life as a peacemaker by day and MS-13 member by night. The LAPD arresting officer, Frank Flores, stuffed Sanchez in a squad car and told him, “You’re done”, it’s all over.” Downtown at Parker Center, where prosecutor Elizabeth Carpenter was present, Officer Flores told Sanchez, “You can plead right now.”

      It was a moment of redemption for the LAPD’s gang unit known as CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums), which was at the center of a scandal resulting in federal intervention and a judicial agreement to monitor and reform the department’s much-maligned misconduct, which included fabricating testimony, planting drugs and weapons, shooting innocent people, and illegally serving deportation notices, including one on Sanchez.

      Sanchez, a former gang member turned peace advocate, was a thorn in the department’s side, having sued them for continuing harrassment of his grass-roots organization. Sanchez, with support from his community, many clergy, and national leaders like Ethel Kennedy, became the first former gang member to win political asylum from the US immigration authorities, in July 2002.

      So it must have been with some pleasure that the LAPD swooped down on Sanchez seven years later, Flores leading the posse. Chief William Bratton himself, flanked by FBI officers at a major press conference, announced the conspiracy indictment of 24 alleged members of Mara Salvatrucha for charges ranging from murder to selling drugs to federal agents. Earlier that morning, the chief called longtime civil liberties advocate Connie Rice to warn her of the impending arrests in an attempt to pre-empt her reacting with public criticism. The word traveled to City Hall, where a top official called me with a “heads-up.” While it wasn’t time to “throw Alex under the bus,” he said, the charges were serious and the FBI was involved.

      Since then, the case has unraveled, but Alex Sanchez still faces trial before a jury, one likely to be conservative. If the trial ever proceeds, that is.

      Here is what has happened since 2009:

      • The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals required Judge Manuel Real to hold a new hearing, with evidentiary standards, after the judge summarily denied bail to Sanchez;

      • By late 2009, Sanchez had hundreds of supporters demanding bail, including Connie Rice and many immigrant rights groups;

      • A new bail hearing was held by Judge Real in utmost secrecy, the record still sealed, in which the judge demanded to know what evidence existed that Sanchez was either a flight risk or a danger to the community. The closed hearing resulted in Sanchez’ release on bail, January 13, 2010.

      • Sanchez and his wife, Delia, had their third child;

      • Flores was appointed the prosecution’s expert witness on gangs for the coming trial; the Sanchez defense turned to Fr. Gregory Boyle as its expert to disassemble the officer’s case;

      • The Judge told the prosecutors they could not let officer Flores wear three hats: as a member of the prosecution team, an expert witness, and as a victim claiming that he was threatened with murder;

      • Flores was withdrawn as the prosecution’s expert witness after Boyle’s sworn affidavit was submitted;

      • Prosecutor Elizabeth Carpenter has withdrawn from the case, and was replaced by longtime prosecutor Steve Wolfe;

      • Judge Real was ordered off the case by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with the concurrence of the prosecution;

      • A new judge, Dale Fischer, has been appointed, who is known around the courthouse as sane but not empathetic;

      • Sanchez’s appointed legal defender, Kerry Bensigner, regretfully withdrew from the case when he was appointed to the Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown;  

      • Sanchez’ new court-appointed defender is Amy Jacks, now deeply engrossed in researching the past twenty years of this saga, up to and including tens of thousands of FBI wiretaps;

      • The other indicted defendants remain in prison, their numbers dwindling to approximately 17 due to plea bargains, disappearance and death.

      Whatever happened to the Constitutional amendment guaranteeing a fair and speedy trial, one might ask? In June, it will be three years since the arrest of Alex Sanchez. One week after the three-year mark, at 3:00pm on June 13, the court will hold a “status conference”  at the Roybal Federal Building, which may establish further ground rules and even set a tentative date for trial next year (four years since the arrest).

      If the case goes to trial, it is likely there will be explosive evidence about miscommunication, corruption, law enforcement transgressions, and false evidence in the US government’s secretive gang and drug wars across Central America. What will the prosecutors do, for example, with their witness Nelson Comandari, apparently in custody, who law enforcement once called “the CEO of MS”? Comandari was arrested in Texas several years ago, cooperated with the FBI and, apparently the LAPD, gave many hours of interviews presumably in exchange for government leniency,  naming names and describing countless crimes, while still acting as the gang’s leader. One of many reason this is important is that the FBI and police testified over and over that they needed authorization for secret wiretaps to penetrate the gang’s inner workings – while failing to tell wiretap judges that they already held Comandari as a cooperating witness.

      Most important, the trial will come at a time of vast reconsideration of the gang and drug wars in El Salvador and the rest of Central America. The intervention has been such a costly failure that regional governments are moving towards less lethal alternatives, some of them inspired by Sanchez and Homies Unidos a decade ago.

      In fact, even the New York Times now reports that Salvadoran authorities are reducing killings and violence dramatically through complex negotiations with imprisoned gang leaders there. Known as a “gang peace process,” this violence reduction strategy has been endorsed by the City of LA, including the LAPD, after years of failed efforts to arrest their way out of the crisis.

      The elements of the strategy include:

      1. Mediating street disputes before they explode;

      2. Employing former gang members as frontline advocates of ending the self-destruction brought on in many instances by their previous behavior;

      3. Reforming police departments to embrace human rights and respect for gang intervention workers in violence prevention;

      4. Offering rehabilitation, remedial education, training and jobs as meaningful alternatives to inner city youth. Such work cannot be performed by police officers or politicians on their own, but requires the presence of trained organizers and counselors with street credibility. It necessarily involves interaction with current gang members, often criminalized by police and prosecutors as illegal association.

      The irony is that Sanchez faces trial and punishment for some of the very activities which he pioneered and are becoming accepted best practice by many public officials. That could make his coming trial and testimony historic.

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      Reader Comments (3)

      Hiring an expert witness might help you win the case. Expert witness gives statement and facts about their field that may increase your chance of affecting the juries decision.

      April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterExpert witness

      Mr.Sanchez is not being tried for the techniques of social reform that he supposedly pioneered. My understanding is that he is being tried for conspiracy to murder. He is being portrayed by his followers and supporters as an indispensible genius. I think they may be wrong. Mr.Sanchez seems to me to have clung to ambition, rather than held to a desire to promote peace and understanding. Ties within legitimate sectors of society are very highly prized by those who are engaged in illegal industries. I could list numerous historical examples by name. I must add that I believe that Mr.Hayden's resort to claiming the trial is being dragged on is somewhat spurious. I think that many delays were actually requested by the defense. I suppose that a very rapid trial, if it resulted in a conviction, would be labeled a rush to judgment. Let me ask a few things. If Sanchez knew that murder was likely to occur, or that conspiracy to murder was proceeding, did he make any effort to inform the relevant authorities? Does the public relations stance of a status of a social reform genius excuse a person of legal responsibilities? Why would the Federal government be out to get Mr. Sanchez? It seems to me that a simpler explanation without conspiracy theories of unwarranted prosecution with obscure motives exists. Mr.Sanchez wanted to station himself at high levels in both the legitimate and illegitimate hierarchies in American society. This type of effort is common in America and everywhere else. Effective reform movements never depend on a lone individual. The effort to rid America of injustice will proceed. As for the Sanchez trial, it would be in the best interest of the defense to delay for as long as possible. Being at liberty on bail for several years before conviction has its advantages, in a worst case scenario. And every avenue for appeal ought to be opened before conviction, if possible. I don't see that the government has let Mr.Sanchez down much, up to this point. As for the matter of the long pre-bail incarceration: What American would not feel sympathy for an untried man held that long? Perhaps, in the worst case scenario, the sentencing judge might even be inclined to be merciful, in the light of pending appeals...As for the millions who suffer American justice without friends in high places, I believe Alex Sanchez let them down.

      May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.D.Kifer

      The four Violence Reduction techniques that Mr. Hayden attributes to the genius of Alex Sanchez are not new. Such techniques as the four listed by Mr.Hayden were being practiced in most cities many decades before the birth of Alex Sanchez. In fact, they were being employed many years before the long ago birth of Tom Hayden! Politicians and gangsters are inveterate credit takers. Tell me this, if you will Mr. Hayden. Can Pedro Espinoza, murderer of Jamiel Shaw, be excused? Can't we get him a well-funded position as a Gang Expert? Espinoza went about as far as any gang member can go at being antisocial. Espinoza saw red and murdered Jamiel Shaw. Jamiel Shaw was a true role model for younger teenagers. Jamiel Shaw was not a supposedly reformed criminal who was getting all he could for himself, while taking advantage of everyone around him. Convicted murderer Espinoza smirks in the courtroom about what he did. Yes, I do believe with the right support from politicians Mr.Espinoza can use his vast experience to his own advantage. Why not free him, pending appeal? After all, Espinoza only murdered one person. Doesn't he deserve a second chance? Espinoza has "street credibility," doesn't he? What is "street credibility," anyway? This term is just jargon. It is the anonymous, humble, peaceful, unpublicized residents of Los Angeles who are responsible for the slowly declining homicide rate in their city. Politicians and "reformed gangsters" demand accolades. Young men like Jamiel Shaw deserve great esteem, but they are infrequently rewarded.

      May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Donald Kifer
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