The war on gangs, now globalized, runs roughshod over the ordinary checks on the criminal justice system.
Federal judge Manuel Real last week accepted a Los Angeles police officer, Frank Flores, as an expert witness on gangs in the trial of Alex Sanchez and twenty-three others on conspiracy charges, a decision that eventually may expose the underground labyrinth of the global war on gangs.
The judge tried and failed to resolve a central question in the case: how can officer Flores of the LAPD be (a) an objective expert witness, (b) a case officer assigned to the prosecution and (c) an alleged victim of a gang conspiracy to murder him?
The prosecutors, led by Elizabeth Carpenter, were giving high fives when the judge ruled that Flores could be an expert witness, but moments later were objecting strenuously when the judge ruled that Flores could not wear so many hats. In essence, Real tried to resolve the conflict by saying Flores could be called as an expert only if the conspiracy-to-murder-him charges are stricken from the indictment. If the prosecutors choose not to call Flores as an expert, the backbone of their overall case is weakened, but Flores could then testify as an alleged victim.
According to Flores’s May 13 testimony, he has spent eleven years as an LAPD officer in gang-heavy neighborhoods of Los Angeles. During those years, he said he interacted with members of the Mara Salvarucha (MS) gang on 2,000 occasions, from having street conversations to arresting them. Flores has testified in eighty local and state cases involving MS gang members.
Never in those years was he ever threatened, much less targeted for murder, by a gang member. It is not common for gang members to attack police officers, an act which brings down enormous street heat against them. Yet the indictment states that four MS members, not including Sanchez, conspired to kill Flores in December 2006. Nothing came of the alleged plot, though the prosecution has headlined its case with the allegation.
Sanchez, the founder of Homies Unidos, a gang intervention group with global reach, was released on bail February 5 after a secret hearing where the prosecution was unable to provide evidence that he is either a social threat or a flight risk. Now free, Sanchez faces two conspiracy charges: first, a racketeering indictment that assumes he was a “shot caller” in MS and has lived a “double life” while posing as a gang intervention worker; and second, being on a wiretapped phone call in 2006 when he allegedly conspired to kill a rival MS member over an internal feud.
The case rests in large part on the credibility of the LAPD’s Flores. Critics assert that Sanchez is being targeted as revenge for his role in the Rampart scandal, which destroyed the LAPD’s reputation a decade ago and led to federal intervention. According to an officially funded 2007 report on the Rampart scandal by attorney Connie Rice, “Retaliation is so integral to LAPD culture that judicial notice of its role is in order.”
Claiming expertise in the coded language of gangs, Flores asserts that a green light for murder is meant by phrases such as “face the consequences,” on the wiretapped phone call. In an affadavit for the defense, the well-known East LA priest Fr. Gregory Boyle dismisses Flores’s interpretations as fabrications in the absence of any other concrete evidence.