Thursday, February 01, 2007

Two group attacks, two cities
Where's the justice?

Judge Gibson W. Lee, shown the night he and lawyers visited the scene of the attack. (Christine Cotter / LAT)

All emphasis in following quotations is mine.
San Francisco:

The investigation of the alleged New Year's attack on Yale's Baker's Dozen singing club could finally be headed to prosecutors... Those same sources, however, said they're not sure if what allegedly started as taunting over the singers' rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" inside a Richmond District home and later spilled out onto the street has the makings of a felony assault case.

Attorney Whitney Leigh, who was hired by the Yale victims' families to bring attention to the case when the cops were seemingly slow to investigate, said there's plenty to take to a jury. He said victims and witnesses have identified four local youths who were detained by cops that night as the attackers who allegedly repeatedly kicked Yalie Evan Gogel while he was on the ground....

However, things aren't as clear in a second alleged attack on fellow Yalie Sharyar Aziz Jr., whose jaw was broken in two places.

Leigh said Aziz has identified the person who initially punched him on the street, but couldn't ID any of the attackers who allegedly kicked him while he was on the ground -- which is when the jaw injury may have occurred....

Already four of the potential defendants are lawyered up. Two are from a prominent family with many friends and supporters in town.

... "Even with a conviction,'' said one veteran law enforcement officer watching the moves, "what are you going to get -- probation?''

Long Beach:

...the case against 10 Long Beach youths accused of beating three white women Halloween night hinges almost entirely on identifications made in a Ralphs parking lot the night of the attack.

In a procedure known as a field show-up, police told the victims and a reputed witness that the youths — nine girls and a boy, ages 12 to 17 — were suspects and asked if they recognized them from the melee. In several subsequent police interviews, witnesses were never asked to pick the juveniles out of a lineup that included non-suspects....

"I can't remember ever seeing a case go to trial in which the only identification is a field show-up," said Kathy Pezdek, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and expert witness in the area of eyewitness identification, in an interview. "It's extremely unusual."

Much of what has occurred in the Long Beach courtroom of Judge Gibson W. Lee, however, is unusual. ...Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas has accused the youths of having gang connections, of orchestrating the destruction of a witness' car, of calling the witness "a stupid bitch" outside of court to intimidate her. None of Bouas' accusations are based on evidence in the case, and they normally would have been heard out of the presence of a jury. ...

There are no juries in juvenile court; a judge decides the minors' fate. ...In this case, Lee opened the doors based on the seriousness of the allegations: All 10 are charged with assault with intent to cause great bodily injury, and eight face hate-crime sentencing enhancements.

More from Long Beach:

Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas relied on [victim Loren] Hyman and Kiana Alford, who said she witnessed the attack, to present a narrative that the nine girls and a boy viciously attacked the three women solely because they were white.

Alford, 18, was able to reconstruct the incident in extraordinary detail, describing who in the scrum punched and kicked which woman — including who threw lemons and pumpkins.

"That's the one throwing lemons," she told police of a 14-year-old girl she had never met. "She hit at least two people with them."...

Alford conceded that her observations were made from 175 feet to 300 feet away. And the friend who was with Alford that night testified that they arrived after the assault occurred and hadn't seen any of it. A 911 caller, talking to the victims, described the attackers as males.

Unlike the San Francisco case, which has not yet led to criminal charges, the Long Beach case dating from last Halloween is over. Of the 10 juvenile defendants, all of whom were held in jail awaiting trial, 9 were convicted of assault motivated by race hate. One 12 year old was sent home. The others now face sentencing.

About the only thing these two assaults have in common is that they happened in solidly comfortable neighborhoods.

Somehow San Francisco's privileged white boys allegedly beating up on Yale's privileged chorus just doesn't look like a case that local law enforcement thinks it can win. Lawyers on every side are getting big bucks to argue their points in the media. Early accounts suggested there was a gay bashing angle to this one, but all parties now seem to be minimizing that aspect (if it exists).

Meanwhile, in Long Beach, 10 children sat in jail for 2 months, were represented by $325 flat fee public defenders in an eight week trial, were subjected to a juvenile proceeding where ordinary rules of evidence don't seem to have applied, and now stand convicted of a black-on-white hate crime.

Those kids in Long Beach may be guilty as hell. But side by side comparison newspaper accounts of these two cases makes it very hard to label whatever we have as a "justice system."

UPDATE: 2/7/07: Judge Lee has sentenced all of the convicted young people in Long Beach to community service, house arrest, and probation. That is, after affirming the seriousness of their conduct under a hate crimes rubric, he has given them the lowest sentence possible. The women who were assaulted are outraged by the relatively mild sentences. Again, what kind of "justice system" is operating here?

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