Victorville Judge Rules Prosecutors Have Enough Evidence to Charge Seven of the ‘Justice 8’ With Conspiracy, Denies Bail
"Why are these folks incarcerated with no bail? I’m a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve represented people who are charged with murder, child molestation, and rape. And even they were afforded bail," said one of the activist's defense attorney.
6:15 PM PST on January 11, 2024
“This is not fair,” yelled activist Edin Alex Enamorado as the preliminary hearing for the activists dubbed ‘The Justice 8’ concluded on Wednesday evening.
“Even murderers get bail!”
Wednesday marked the fifth and final day of the preliminary hearing regarding the activists who were arrested a month ago today. After days of witness testimonies, cross-examinations, and final arguments, Judge Zahara Arredondo once again denied bail for the seven activists. She ruled that multiple felonies were committed by the group based on evidence and testimony presented in court.
During the preliminary hearing, the judge was able to hear from multiple witnesses who took the stand, all of whom were either sheriffs, deputies, or officers involved in the investigation or who were involved in the initial response to all three of the cited incidents in the case, which occurred last September.
Some of the charges on seven of the defendants include but are not limited to, false imprisonment, conspiracy, criminal threats, and assault by force that resulted in bodily injury.
The incidents involved Doe #1, who was allegedly approached by Enamorado, a known street vendor advocate, before the September 3rd incident. Street vendors had requested his help after being harassed by Doe #1.
Doe#1, a security guard working near the El Super grocery store in Pomona, was filmed by a street vendor himself, wherein Doe #1 is seen aggressively cursing at the vendor and demanding that he move his stand away from the store. The interaction eventually becomes physical, with Doe #1 getting in the vendor's face.
According to the attorneys representing the defendants, Doe #1 was working with an expired security license, and at the time of the encounter with the vendor, he was not on the job.
When Enamorado eventually approached Doe #1, he was holding a pink pepper ball gun and filming his interaction with Doe #1. At some point in the day, Enamorado and a crowd of protestors returned to El Super, where a confrontation occurred with Doe #1, who was inside his car. In all three instances, protestors demanded all three Does to get out of the car but did not physically pull anyone out.
Nicholas Rosenburg, Enamorado’s attorney, along with other defense attorneys, stated on several occasions that the alleged victims were shown to be the aggressors who, in one way or another, antagonized the crowd of gathered protestors.
Still, San Bernardino Deputy District Attorney Jason Wilkinson described their actions as ritualized harassment and assault.
“The actions of these groups, despite their message, tear apart the fabric of our society,” said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson also stated that the actions taken against all three John Does by the seven activists in each incident followed a similar pattern.
He listed surrounding a vehicle, which, according to Wilkerson, is cause for a false imprisonment charge. He also stated that the use of “We,” as in “We are going to… ” in Enamorado’s social media broadcasts and requesting that his followers provide information regarding the personal addresses to the homes of the alleged victims, falls under charges of conspiracy.
Defense attorney Damon Alimouri, who represents defendant Vanessa Carrasco, disagreed with Wilkinson regarding the accusation of the group's involvement in a so-called "conspiracy."
Stating that a “crowd does not imply conspiracy,” several attorneys objected to that charge. They cited that there was no group vote or agreement made between the activists that premeditated any alleged assault.
Wilkinson also accused Enamorado of using Doe #1’s aggressive actions against a street vendor as an excuse to broadcast videos for his own personal gain. Listening to this, Enamorado and the rest of the activists and supporters in the court were visibly upset and shook their heads in disagreement.
Many people filling up the courtroom have seen the activists work together and individually.
“In reality, we are doing this for the community; who is going to help street vendors from their aggressors?” said Jashin Liberto, who has been attending most court hearings. “I came for my friends. We’re here for our gente. There’s no one else who is doing the work they were doing.”
For those who have heard the testimonies given at each hearing, the ruling on Wednesday felt like a clear injustice. When law enforcement took the stand and was shown videos of the incidents that took place in Pomona and Victorville, many of them were often unable to identify any of the defendants in the videos or were confused about who was who.
Before finding any of the defendants guilty on several charges, Judge Arredondo stated:
“I’m very sensitive to any type of discrimination against street vendors… I do not like any discrimination against anyone,” she continued. “The court will not dismiss what has been heard and seen in this hearing. I hold every person accountable.”
She also described the incident in which one of the Does was instructed to get out of the car, allegedly assaulted, and forced to apologize as, “One of the most offensive things that could ever occur to a person.”
One of the activists, Wendy Lujan, was also present on Wednesday after missing hearings in the past, due to being exposed to COVID-19 in jail. But on Wednesday, her attorney asked for bail, asking for similar restrictions as Acevedo, who is the only activist currently out on bail.
Civil rights attorney Christian Contreras detailed how Lujan is beloved in the community and has five children, one of whom is an adult daughter with special needs. Contreras reassured the judge that Lujan was not a threat to the community and that she wanted to be out on bail to care for her family.
Unfortunately, the judge denied bail and said:
“I don’t believe I would be protecting the public or the victims if I let her out,” she continued. “Ms. Lujan must stay in custody.”
Lujan’s daughter, Crystal, once outside the courtroom, said that she has taken on the role of caretaker for her sister, who is bound to a wheelchair and is a special needs adult.
“I feel lost and devastated,” she said, taking a deep breath. “There’s been a lot of adjustment at home, lots of consoling my younger siblings who cry for mom; I don't understand why there’s no bail. The reason we hold ourselves so high is because of my mom. She is not perfect, but she is a great person. She’s made us who we are.”
After denying Lujan bail, one of her daughters yelled with tears in her eyes, “I love you, we are here, home is waiting for you, Mom,” before she exited the court.
Lujan was visibly upset and cleaned her tears with a napkin while being escorted out.
Enamorado, who was also exiting the courtroom, yelled, “None of this would’ve happened if we hadn’t sued Fontana.”
The activist referenced a civil rights lawsuit filed against the City of Fontana in early December. It alleges that the city's treatment of street vendors and those who support them was unfair.
As for Gullit “Jaguar” Acevedo, he remains the only activist out on bail. As of Wednesday, three out of the four charges against him were dismissed, including the conspiracy count, while the fourth charge was dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor. Due to his charge for assault being reduced to a misdemeanor, he will now have court on January 17th, separate from the rest of “The Justice 8.”
“By no means are we done fighting this,” said defense attorney Dan Chambers. “It isn’t over for anybody. Just because my client is out on bail and separated from the group doesn't mean we won't be fighting for the rest of them.”
Due to being arrested, Acevedo, who was a middle school history teacher at Hardy Brown College Prep, was terminated from his teaching job before the school year began. The school and the district have not responded to our requests for comment regarding his termination.
However, days after his termination, the school alleged, in a message to parents, that they were alerted to potential protests rising due to Acevedo’s termination, and the school alleged that racial slurs were used.
The message, in part, stated:
“This event may occur because a former member of the Hardy Brown College Prep staff is connected to this protest group… Because of the potential violent nature of these protests, including the alleged use of racial slurs against African Americans, we have also notified the San Bernardino Chief of Police, the District Attorney, and our community partner the San Bernardino NAACP of the threat to our campus community.”
It’s important to note that there were no protests planned at the time and that the day before this message was sent to parents, video evidence of the incidents involved in the case was already shown in court.
None of the defendants were ever seen or heard saying any racial slurs to any of the alleged victims or crowd. Not to mention, there was only one person in the group, Enamorado, who was being accused of racial slurs. Those claims were also unproven.
Three students of Acevedo, along with their parents, showed up to court this week to show support for their teacher.
“I think what happened to Mr. Acevedo is very unfair. He's a very good teacher, and there’s not many good ones out there,” said one Hardy Brown College Prep student. “He’s a very good person that doesn’t deserve what is happening to him.”
For now, fundraisers continue to be held for all 8 of the activists, this week a fundraiser was held by street vendors at Tacos El Delicioso, and more fundraisers are supposedly happening in the next few days. The families continue to raise funds individually and kindly ask for donations for legal fees.
The seven remaining activists will return to court on January 19 at 8:30 A.M., where they will be arraigned. According to Chambers, that is when the judge will list the charges, and the defendants will have an opportunity to enter their new “not guilty” pleas.
Contreras said on his Instagram that the trial in this case will probably not happen until March.
The prosecutors also mentioned the possibility of adding more defendants to the case as they continue investigating the identities of those involved in the protests.
“I’m extremely angry with the court's decision today,” said defense attorney Alimouri. "I’m angry with the fact that these charges were filed in the first place. They’re completely unjust and completely out of line with the spirit of the United States Constitution. Why are these folks incarcerated with no bail? I’m a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve represented people who are charged with murder, child molestation, and rape. And even they were afforded bail.”
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