Prosecutor: Bird Rock Bandits showed ‘pattern of gang activity’

By Dana Littlefield
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

8:48 p.m. May 7, 2008

SAN DIEGO – Five men accused of fatally beating a professional surfer in La Jolla last year are members of a group that attacked and threatened people in the area over the past three years, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

A string of violent incidents, linked to a crew known as the Bird Rock Bandits, indicate a “pattern of gang activity” that ultimately led to murder, said Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach.

Her comments came on the first day of a San Diego Superior Court hearing, during which prosecutors are expected to present evidence supporting charges including murder, assault and battery.

Defense lawyers stressed their clients are not gang members.

“They are a bunch of young men who should not have been drinking and getting into fights,” said Mary Ellen Attridge, who represents one of the defendants.

The men – Seth Cravens, 22; Eric House, 21; Orlando Osuna, 23; Matthew Yanke, 21; and Henri “Hank” Hendricks, 22 – were arrested last year in connection with the May 24 attack on Emery Kauanui Jr., 24.

Judge John S. Einhorn is expected to decide at the end of the hearing whether there is enough evidence for the men to stand trial. If convicted, they could be sent to prison for life.

The hearing is expected to last up to four days.

Roach said the five defendants and Kauanui were at a La Jolla bar the evening of May 23. About 1 a.m., Kauanui spilled beer on House and the two got into an argument. Workers at the bar intervened and asked Kauanui to leave.

Later, House and others talked about retaliating and drove to a Draper Avenue home where Kauanui lived with his mother, the prosecutor said. Outside the home, House and Kauanui got into a fight. A witness said Cravens stepped in and punched Kauanui, causing him to fall.

The sound of Kauanui’s head hitting the pavement was described as “sickening,” the prosecutor said.

Witnesses told police they saw a group of men punching and kicking Kauanui as he lay on the ground. He suffered a fractured skull and died at a hospital four days later.

Roach also described earlier events dating to 2004, which she said have been linked to the Bird Rock Bandits. The incidents – many of which are not charged in the case – involve accusations of assault, battery and witness intimidation.

For example, a La Jolla man was punched in the face in July 2005 during a confrontation outside his home, prosecutors said. According to testimony, the attacker and several other people – including Cravens – returned to the home a week later and threatened to kill the people inside.

Attridge, who represents Cravens, said the Bird Rock Bandits have no common colors, signs or territory and are not a gang.

She asked police officers and detectives who testified at the hearing if they had heard of a gang called the Bird Rock Bandits before Kauanui’s death.

They said they had not.

Defense attorneys said Kauanui was winning the fight with House, who lost a tooth in the struggle. They said Kauanui’s body had no injuries other than the skull fracture, indicating it was not a group melee.

“It was a one-on-one fight between an intoxicated Mr. House and an intoxicated Mr. Kauanui,” said Richard Gates, who represents Hendricks.

The defense attorneys said they would ask the judge to dismiss many of the charges and gang allegations at the end of the hearing.

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