The Fort Bragg gang problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The idiot wars between the red and the blue, the north and the south, the Norteños and the Sueños, La Familia and the Mexican Mafia, the gangs that have been the source of so much violence and intimidation up and down the state, and even in remote Fort Bragg, only seems to be getting worse.
Ivan Sanchez lost his bid for release at a prelim last week. He was up for assault with a deadly weapon in that one. This week, Sanchez will face another preliminary hearing on a separate charge of attempted murder. In the mean time, he was in court last week on charges that he'd struck another gang guy with a homemade billyclub.
Earlier this year, on Monday the 26th of August, Sanchez was arrested on charges of beating and stabbing his 20-year-old girlfriend in the middle of Fort Bragg. He'd already beaten the girl for two hours in the home they share. She was finally able to run outside where Sanchez caught up with her and beat her some more, topping off the assault by stabbing her.
Mr. Sanchez is a member of the Sueños — the Crazy Vatos Controlas — the crazy dudes in control of Fort Bragg's street life. Sanchez's latest victim was a gangbanger from the opposing team, the Norteños Richard Wayne Olstad, who seems to have become an honorary Mexican, at least for gang purposes.
Some of you may remember Richie Olstad from a series of stories a year ago featuring Fort Bragg’s self-anointed “most dominant female” gangbanger, Alyssa Colberg. Maricruz Alvarez-Carrillo, another gangster and formerly significant other to Ivan Sanchez, went to prison for chopping up Miss Colbert with an axe.
Go ahead. Pinch yourself. "You mean these people live in Fort Bragg? You mean they keep doing this stuff?
And they're repeatedly let out of jail to do it again and again.
Olstad, being housed at the jail on burglary charges, was waiting to testify against Sanchez in a holding cell in the bowels of the County Courthouse. He was brought up after everyone was seated, which took a ridiculous amount of trouble due to the “eccentricities” of Lewis “Screwy-Lewie” Finch from the Office of the Alternate Public Defender.
Finch had called for a private meeting with Judge John Behnke and Deputy DA Shannon Cox. He wanted to switch tables. Prosecution usually sits at the table to the judge’s right, and the defense sits to the left. But Finch, for some obscure reason, wanted the change and everyone had to go in His Honor’s chambers for Finch to explain his desire for table turning.
The request was granted and Olstad was brought up to testify. He wore a gang tattoo for the red gangbangers, but said he had given up gang life. Back in May, he said, he’d gone out shopping at the Fort Bragg Safeway with his girlfriend, Cheyenne. Apparently the alpha femme fatale, Fort Bragg's dominant female, Ms. Colberg, had dumped Richie for a more exciting guy.
Olstad and Cheyenne got some grub and were headed home, pushing a bicycle along Franklin Street when they encountered Ivan Sanchez.
At this point Olstad’s testimony became highly reluctant. Simple yes or no responses took an inordinate amount of time for him to formulate, and when he managed them they were muttered or mumbled in a barely audible, hushed tone.
DDA Cox asked, “Did you know Ivan Sanchez?”
Olstad glanced quickly at the defendant then cut his eyes away, falling silent.
Ms. Cox waited. No response from Olstad.
“Had you at least heard of Mr. Sanchez?” Cox prodded.
“Surely you must at least have heard of him,” she persisted.
“Yeah, I saw him around town,” Olstad eventually muttered. “But I didn’t really know him.”
Olstad had helped put Sanchez's ax wielding girlfriend in prison and here he was saying he scarcely knew the man.
“Did you know he was affiliated with a gang?”
“Objection, your honor,” Finch chirped. “Relevance.”
Judge Behnke looked at Finch. The charges were gang-related — how could gang affiliation not be relevant?
“Overruled,” Behnke said.
“Yeah,” Olstad eventually mumbled.
“So you knew Mr. Sanchez was a member of a gang,” Cox repeated for the record in case the court reporter hadn’t heard correctly. “Did he approach you?”
“Did he say anything?
“Do you remember what was said?”
No response, other than some nervous fidgeting, no eye contact.
“So he approached you… Then what happened?”
“Uhh… a couple of things.”
“Well, what happened first?”
“Uh… (silence). Uhh… (more silence). Uh, he kinda stopped.”
“Did he come close to you before he stopped?”
“I, uh, think so.”
“Did he say anything?”
“Did you say anything?”
“I think so… not sure… I think I was probably angry… or being defensive.”
Judge Behnke was getting impatient. “How close did he come to you?”
“A foot or two,” Olstad answered.
“What happened next?” Cox asked.
“Uh… (silence). He, uh… (silence). He, uh, grabbed something.”
“From where did he grab it?”
“From his pocket.”
“Can you tell the court what it looked like, this something he grabbed from his pocket?”
“Uh, a stick.”
“So this stick that he grabbed from his pocket, what did he do with it?”
Judge Behnke suggested, “Just try to picture it in your mind, then describe for us what happened.”
Unfortunately, Richie Olstad’s mind was already full of pictures of what was going to happen to him for snitching on a gangbanger, and another long silent pause ensued. “He swung the stick,” the witness finally said.
“Do you remember what the stick was swinging for?”
“Where did it hit you?”
“On the shoulder.”
“How did that happen?”
“Had you not moved, would the stick have hit you in the head?”
“Objection,” Finch said. “Calls for speculation.”
“It doesn’t take an expert to tell he’s about to be struck in the face with a stick, counsel,” Judge Behnke said. “The objection is overruled.”
Prosecutor Cox asked Olstad, “What did you do?”
“I started running, which was kinda hard with the groceries and a bike.”
“Had you had any problems with Mr. Sanchez in the past?”
“Not really,” Olstad temporized inanely.
“Can you describe the stick? How long it was?”
“About a foot.”
“Where did you go?”
“To Cheyenne’s house.”
“What happened next?”
“The police came and took me to jail.”
“Do you recall what was said to Officer Mason?”
“Objection,” Finch said.
“Overruled," the judge said. "What prosecution is doing is laying foundation, counsel. I anticipate it’s in preparation to calling Officer Mason.”
“I want a standing objection, then,” Finch sniffed.
Cox said, “Do you remember telling Officer Mason that you didn’t want to fight with Sanchez?”
“You don’t really want to be here today, do you?”
Mr. Finch began his cross.
“Do you remember talking to the police officers on May 16th?”
“Had you used meth?”
“Not that day.”
“The day before?”
“Remember how much?”
“You use it every day?”
“With someone else?”
“No, by myself.”
“But you know someone named Cheyenne?”
“Yeah. She’s my girlfriend.”
“Were you doing meth with her?”
“I don’t remember that.”
“So you don’t remember what really happened, do you?”
“I’m not retarded, I remember what happened.”
“Are you on any meds now?”
“Have you been charged with anything lately?”
“Yes. This last summer.”
“Around the time of this incident?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Had you smoked any marijuana that day?”
“I have a doctor’s recommendation for that.”
“Were you stoned, then?”
“Is this something you need every day?”
“Yes. I have anger problems, and it helps me. But, no, I didn’t use any that day.”
“But when you do use it it helps you with your anger?”
“Yes, it does.”
“You had a bicycle with you — wait, strike that. You said you were hit on the shoulder?
“Were you focused on the stick?”
“You were looking at it, correct?”
“Did you push your bicycle into Ivan?”
“It came into contact with him, didn’t it?”
“Was anyone with you other than Cheyenne?”
Finch flipped through some pages of his legal pad and said, “Jut a couple more questions… Were you on probation?”
“When was the last time?”
“I dunno. Probably some time, like, after July… I’m pretty sure.”
“What was that for?”
“When were you arrested for that?”
“It was, like, July… I’m pretty sure."
“These anger problems you keep having — that occurs when you’re not smoking pot?”
“Yeah. I get frustrated easy.”
“And you were not smoking on May 16th when this incident occurred?”
Deputy DA Shannon Cox called Officer Jeremy Mason of the Fort Bragg Police Department.
Mason said he’d been dispatched at 7:30 on the evening of the 16th to the scene of an assault in progress, involving a weapon, on Franklin Street.
“When you arrived, what did you see?”
“I saw an individual in a blue T-shirt and khaki pants with a blue bandanna hanging out of his back pocket. He also had a small bat with a chain hanging out of his pants. He denied being in any fight, but he was perspiring as though he’d been doing something physical.”
“Who was the reporting party?”
Officer Mason gave her name.
Cox asked, “Did she describe the suspect?”
“Yes; her description matched the individual I had seen, the defendant, Ivan Sanchez.”
“What happened then?”
“I received a domestic violence call and went to 140 East Oak Street [the home of Cheyenne], where I found Mr. Olstad who said he was the victim of an incident. They [Richie and Cheyenne] were arguing about the incident. She [Cheyenne] and Olstad told me that he’d been hit on the shoulder and they had fled.”
“Did Mr. Olstad tell you he knew Mr. Sanchez?”
“He did. He said he’d had problems with him before, and that Cheyenne had been sleeping with Ivan Sanchez’s brother.”
“Did you arrest Olstad?”
“Yes, I did.”
“He had an active arrest warrant.”
“Did you notice anything about his sobriety?”
“Yes. I detected signs of meth use and a subsequent urine analysis revealed opiates in his system.”
“What did [the witness] tell you she saw?”
“She said she saw Richie with a female, and Ivan, for no apparent reason, pulled out a weapon and struck Richie. She specified that he did not fight back in any way and was retreating.”
“Did she describe the weapon?”
“She said it was a baton or wooden stick he pulled out of his pocket. She was with her daughter, and the daughter also saw Sanchez hit Olstad and saw Olstad flee. Then she said Sanchez made gang signs with his hands. The daughter also saw these hand signs — which they recognized from TV were gang signs; she said Mr. Sanchez had a tattoo of the number 13 on the back of his head.”
“What did you do?”
“I went to the Sanchez home the next day.”
“Were you able to make contact with the suspect?”
“I was, yes. At first I thought I would have to force the door, but there was a vicious dog being very unfriendly, and Mr. Sanchez came out to protect the dog — he was afraid we would harm the dog, and he wanted to take care of it, but he was not allowed to do so. Another officer with a catch pole caught the dog and restrained it.”
“Did you search the residence?”
“Yes, we did. We found the clothing he’d been wearing the day before and located a wooden bat or club that fit the description of the one used against Olstad, and a blue bandanna.”
Judge Behnke said, “Cross, Mr. Finch?”
“Briefly, your honor. You say [the witness] and her daughter saw my client display gang signs that they recognized from TV?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“But they were in a car, weren’t they?”
“And they could see all this from a moving vehicle?”
“They came to a stop at the corner of Chestnut and Franklin.”
“And the things my client did with his hands appeared to them to be gang signs?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Based on what they’d seen on TV?”
“But she was driving a car?”
“Then how could they see all this?”
“They came to a stop at the stop sign and observed it unfolding right before their eyes.”
“I have no further — no, wait! There’s one further avenue I haven’t explored: The domestic violence call to the address on Oak Street. They were crying over the incident, is that your understanding?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“How did you learn that information, that Cheyenne had been intimately involved with my client’s brother?”
“She told me that.”
“And the stick you found at the residence, how big was it?”
“It was one and a quarter inches in diameter, 11 inches long and appeared to be sawn off from a piece of dowling used in closets to hang clothes from.”
“How much did it weigh?”
“It weighed 160 grams.”
“When you arrested my client on the 17th did he have any weapons on him at that time?”
“And how many people live at that residence?”
“At least three brothers.”
“And how many of them are on parole?”
“At least one.”
Deputy DA Cox called Sergeant Andrew Kendl, Fort Bragg’s gang expert, to the stand. He had taken a photo line up of some gangbangers to the witness her daughter and they had both — separately — picked Ivan Sanchez from the line up. Sgt. Kendl said he’d had numerous contacts with Ivan Sanchez and knew him to be a member of the Crazy Vatos Controlas, Fort Bragg’s blue gangbangers, the foot soldiers for the Mexican Mafia prison gang. He estimated there were approximately 20 of them in Fort Bragg and that they used assault, vandalism, intimidation, and other forms of violence to promote their colors.
“Does Mr. Sanchez have a special moniker, an alias or street name?”
“Yes,” Kendl answered. His moniker is “Silent.”
“Let me ask you a hypothetical question, Sgt. Kendl,” Ms. Cox said. “If someone was a member of this gang and they saw a person with a rival gang tattoo — such as Mr. Olstad’s — would he be inclined for any reason to attack this person?”
“He would, yes.”
“And why is that?”
“Doing so would add prestige to himself and the gang; it would show loyalty, and provide him with status in order to move up in the gang hierarchy. It would help if he wore the gang colors while doing so, and gave the gang signs with his hands to show that he doesn’t fear the consequences — that he has no fear of repercussions; and that he has no fear of the rival gang nor of law enforcement.”
Finch wanted to use the same hypothetical question, but he seemed to lose track of the point he was trying to make and ended up quarreling with the witness.
Finch said, “If a person whose brother is sleeping with a female who’s with another person wouldn’t that arouse passions that are not related to the gang?”
Kendl said, “Why would he attack someone who was with someone his brother had once slept with, wearing all his gang colors and giving gang signs if it wasn’t gang related?”
Finch jumped to his feet: “Objection, non-responsive!”
“So it’s possible my client was acting out of some motive entirely unrelated to the gang, isn’t it?”
“I couldn’t really see that as possible given all the other gang-related evidence we have in this incident.”
“But he could have just been stepping up for his brother, isn’t that correct?”
“Not really; not in this case; not with all we know, now.”
“But hypothetically, if someone was sleeping with your brother and then you saw her with someone else, it could be he was just stepping up for his brother, couldn’t he?”
“If neither were in a gang I’d say that could, possibly, be correct.”
“Just because he was in a gang it doesn’t mean he couldn’t be stepping up because his brother once was sleeping with this woman that he later saw with this other guy, and”—
The judge said, “Mr. Finch, you are free to argue that point in closing, but all you are doing at this point is arguing with the witness, which you are not free to do.”
Finch said, “My client’s brother had slept with the victim’s current girlfriend and isn’t it possible that that was the reason for the incident and that his being in a gang had nothing to do with it?”
Kendl said, “It’s all gang related. When Mr. Sanchez is wearing gang colors, and giving gang signs when he attacks a rival, that’s gang related whether his brother slept with the rival’s girlfriend or not.”
Finch kept beating the table with a rag he’d chewed to ribbons. I wondered if we'd get some foam, too. Everyone looked on amazed.
As they say, and as Finch was again establishing, when the facts are on your side, pound the facts; when the law is on your side, pound the law; when neither is on your side, pound the table.
Finch finally ran out of wind.
Judge Behnke said, “Any more argument, Mr. Finch?”
“Briefly, your honor. What I’m getting at is there’s the possibility that the assault was not gang-related. We have two lay witnesses who say hand signs they think were gang signs based on what they saw on TV, not actual fact.”
Behnke said, “I agree, but that’s relatively minor in the totality of the evidence.”
Finch said, “Then I’m ready to submit.”
Cox said, “The People are asking for a holding order on the assault with a deadly weapon; and also on the special allegation that this incident and the defendant was affiliated with a violent street gang, using threats, assault, intimidation, vandalism and weapons for the promotion of the street gang.”
Judge Behnke wrapped it up: “I find sufficient cause to hold the defendant on the 245 9a.0-1 and also that it was gang related. Obviously, this is a street gang. Whether it was avenging his brother over a former girlfriend or not, he was wearing gang colors and the crime has all the elements the law requires. Those are all met. He’s an active participant and the assault was on another gang member. So I do find evidence to hold him on count two. As for the civilians, the signs were something even a layperson attributes to a gang. So I’ll hold him on both counts and we can arraign him on this information when he comes in on the 15th for the attempted murder prelim.”