Suspected gang member speaks out
Suspected gang member speaks out
VISTA —- A suspected Escondido gang member targeted in the district attorney’s latest request for a civil court order to fight gangs said he understands what prosecutors and police are trying to do, but he believes they are going too far.
Alonso Bautista, 18, who denies that he is a gang member, is in jail in connection with an altercation unrelated to the civil court order. In a recent interview at the Vista jail, he said the court order against the Diablos gang covers too large an area of Escondido and unfairly will prevent him from associating with a childhood friend.
Sitting behind a pane of glass in the visiting area of the jail and speaking through a sometimes crackling phone, Bautista spoke of being in the Boy Scouts as a child and of plans to join the military, if possible, after his release from custody.
Those aspects of Bautista’s life stand in stark contrast to the allegation from prosecutors that Bautista is one of the 21 most active members of the Diablos gang, whose activities should be restrained to improve public safety.
Last month, prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit asking for court orders restricting the activities of 21 suspected Diablos members, including Bautista, and 22 suspected members of the Westside gang in Escondido. Law enforcement authorities say the two gangs have been at war for years and are linked to five homicides in two years.
Superior Court Judge John Einhorn has issued temporary orders prohibiting the suspected gang members from making loud noises, associating with one another, wearing gang clothing and engaging in other activities within the areas court documents identify as Westside and Diablos territories.
The restrictions can become permanent after a civil trial or by default, which occurs if the suspected gang members do not respond to the district attorney’s lawsuit.
“I don’t gang-bang,” Bautista said. “They have no proof that I do. … My crimes have never been gang-related.”
Citing a written declaration an Escondido police sergeant filed in support of the court order, Deputy District Attorney Susan Mazza said Bautista has Diablos gang tattoos and told officers three times in 1997 that he was part of the gang.
Police reports also state that an Escondido man reported in June that Bautista struck him in the head and threatened that Bautista’s “homies” would get the man if he reported what happened to police, Mazza said.
That incident resulted in Bautista’s most recent arrest June 2. Prosecutors charged him with battery, vandalism and threatening another person with great bodily injury or death.
Bautista pleaded guilty July 18 to a charge of threatening a witness. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped all of the original charges and agreed that Bautista can be released from jail when he is sentenced Wednesday, with credit for the time he already has served in custody.
In the jail interview, Bautista said he did not commit the crime to which he pleaded guilty. He said he agreed to the plea bargain only because his attorney told him he would have a “strike” under the “three strikes” law if he were convicted at trial.
Bautista declined to discuss the August 1999 shooting death of 19-year-old Juan Soto in the 1600 block of East Washington Avenue, which a prosecutor described as part of an ongoing war between the Westside and Diablos gangs.
Bautista was one of five people initially charged with murder in Soto’s death. Prosecutors dismissed the murder case against Bautista in August 2000 after concluding he did not participate in the planning of the killing or aid others in carrying it out.
Outspoken at the first Superior Court hearing where suspected Diablos members appeared in response to the district attorney’s request for a civil injunction restricting their behavior, Bautista called prosecutors’ actions in the civil case unfair during the jail interview.
“I live in this area,” Bautista said, referring to the section of Escondido that prosecutors identified in court documents as the Diablos territory. “I understand this is good what they are trying to do. I understand their point.”
But prosecutors are seeking to restrict behavior in too large an area, have included men who are not involved in gangs in the injunction, and are violating the rights of the suspected gang members because they cannot afford attorneys and don’t have the same legal education prosecutors have, Bautista said.
“To take a fair chunk of the city and violate the constitutional rights of others is wrong,” Bautista said. “That whole chunk is not filled with graffiti and riddled with violence and gang activity.”
Bautista said another suspected gang member named in the requested injunction has been a friend of his since second grade, and both participated in Boy Scouts together.
“If this (the injunction) goes through, it will be illegal for us to be together,” Bautista said. “They are making another constitution —- one that’s already been made and one little constitution that applies to us.”
Bautista said he cannot afford an attorney, but he plans to fight the injunction as long as he can.
“I’m not going to accept what they are doing,” Bautista said. “I’m going to speak out myself if I can.”
Contact Scott Marshall at (760) 631-6623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.