Six men accused of participating in a gang-related attack in the West 9th Street area of Santa Rosa will face trial on five felony counts stemming from the incident, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge determined Wednesday.
Judge Robert LaForge found that there was sufficient evidence to merit a trial for the men, who are accused of assault causing great bodily injury and participation in a gang. The charges resulted from what Santa Rosa police have described as a gang assault on Rockwell Place, a residential street north of Highway 12 and west of Highway 101 where a sure? street gang is active.
Four men claimed they were attacked Jan. 5 when they made a wrong turn down the street on the way to visit a friend and were mistaken for rival norte? gang members because of the red color of their clothing, according to a statement police made at the time.
The altercation resulted in damage to the vehicle and sent one man to the hospital, where he had to get stitches, according to police and testimony from the four men.
Many of the defendants were arrested in a Jan. 16 gang sweep of the West Ninth Street neighborhood. One, Eleazar Aguilera,18, pleaded no contest and was convicted of assault with force and participating in a gang on Feb. 6. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 13.
The other six men, Rocendo Lopez-Ruiz, 19, Juan Manuel Aguileramiranda,25, Brett Javier-Paramo, 19, Luis Fernand Catalan-Espinoza,18, Heriberto Lopez-Ruiz, 21, and Gustavo Lopez-Ruiz, 26, appeared in court this week for a preliminary hearing.
At the end of the hearing, which spanned four days and included testimony from seven witnesses, defense attorneys questioned whether the four men who said they were assaulted truly entered into the neighborhood by mistake.
In particular, they raised the issue of the possible gang involvement of the driver, Havilah Belton.
Belton had earlier testified as a witness and denied that he was involved in a gang. He told the court that the fight began after an object was thrown at his vehicle when he was turning around on Rockwell Place on the way to visit a friend. The friend lived on a nearby street, but he did not know the name of the street, Belton said.
Defense attorney Debra Hoffmann said that a police report, in which Belton acknowledged being a norte? gang member, had not been entered as evidence in the hearing. Had she known about the report, she told Judge Robert LaForge Tuesday, her cross-examination of Belton would have been dramatically different.
The 2010 report showed that Belton had been contacted by an officer in Rohnert Park in the area of a fight that had just occurred and that he was wearing red clothing. He admitted to the officer that he was a norte? gang member, according to the report.
LaForge agreed that the report "completely changes the cross-examination" in a gang-related case and determined that Belton should be brought back to court.
Belton returned for additional questioning on Wednesday, but again denied that he had ever been involved in a norte? gang. He said that he had never told the Rohnert Park police officer that he was a gang member.
Defense attorney Joe Stogner argued that it "strains credulity to the breaking point" that the four men would find themselves in the neighborhood accidentally, especially when many of them were wearing red. The evidence, he said, suggests that the men were there to "provoke, confront and possibly even terrorize the neighborhood."