The Judge Gets Real, But Why?
In an unexpected turn, federal Judge Manuel Real today ordered prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Alex Sanchez case to request that top LA city and police officials advise the court about the gang peacemaker’s public activity over the past decade in a special hearing on January 13. Real repeatedly questioned the prosecution’s evidence for the first time in the proceeding’s six-month history.
Lawyers and advocates scrambled to make sense of the judge’s order, which must be met in six days. Professor Beatriz Cortez, coordinator of the nation’s first Central American Studies program at Cal State Northridge, was among the skeptics. “How will this hearing be conducted, will it be secret, will the community be left out?” she asked. Others claimed the judge was going through the motions in response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent admonishing. The Sanchez family and official defense team expressed guarded optimism about the development.
Taken literally, the judge’s order means that the city’s top gang reduction official, Guillermo Cespedes, and a top LAPD gang expert appointed by the new Chief Charles Beck would be asked, or even subpoenaed, to state what they know about Alex Sanchez from the past decade. Since city and police officials have often collaborated with Sanchez in the past, the public record might place them at odds with former CRASH officer Frank Flores, the prosecution’s expert witness.
While no one expects that to happen, no one is making predictions.
The day at the federal court house began on a new note. Rather than the iron chains and prison garb previously worn by the defendant, Sanchez was wearing a casual green shirt and slacks. An artist from Univision was sketching the defendant for the evening news as some 45 supporters and family entered the courtroom. At first they were ordered by armed security to sit at the far side of the chamber where eye contact with the defendant (described as forbidden “communications”) was virtually impossible. As those seats overflowed, however, the large Sanchez family arrived and sat as a bloc closer to the defendant without being impeded.
The point of the new bail hearing was to respond to the order of a Ninth Circuit panel last week admonishing Judge Real to more carefully consider the evidence presented claiming that the 37-year old Sanchez would be a danger to the community and a flight risk if released on bail. Sanchez is a former member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, who dropped out of active membership to become a founder of Homies Unidos a decade ago. The work of Homies Unidos includes peace-seeking intervention and mediation in the dangerous world of street gangs. Sanchez was targeted by LAPD gang units a decade ago, but won unprecedented political asylum at a federal immigration hearing. The controversy over illegal police tactics, known as the Rampart scandal, resulted in costly reforms of the LAPD supervised by a federal judge until just weeks ago.