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Police detail Santa Rosa stabbing suspects' alleged white supremacist ties


A knife attack on two black men outside a Santa Rosa McDonald's was carried out by ranking members of a white supremacist gang whose numbers are growing in Sonoma and Lake counties, a detective testified Tuesday.

Salvatore Bordessa, 33, of Windsor and Aaron Welch, 27, of Clearlake are charged with the August assault in which one of the victims was stabbed in the leg and shoulder.

Bordessa is suspected of being treasurer of the Sonoma County chapter of the Barbarian Brotherhood while Welch is the vice president of the Lake County chapter, Santa Rosa police Sgt. John Cregan testified.

The hate group was founded in Petaluma in the 1980s and has grown to about 150 members in the two counties, he said. Another 50 members are in other counties, jails and prisons throughout the state, he said.

Barbarian Brotherhood members wear black and red clothing, sport racist tattoos and are frequently involved in drug dealing, robberies and assaults such as the one outside McDonald's, Cregan said.

"This is the most clear-cut case I've seen in my time as an investigator," Cregan testified in a preliminary hearing for Bordessa and co-defendant Vanessa Michaels, 25 of Novato, who is charged with trying to prevent the victims from calling 911.

Judge Gary Medvigy ruled there was enough evidence for Bordessa and Michaels to be tried on all counts. They each face in excess of 16 years to life if convicted by a jury.

Welch accepted a plea bargain with prosecutors and is expected to be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The attack happened after the two black men -- Sonoma County correctional deputy Benjamin Edwards and his younger brother Sterling Edwards -- arrived at the Santa Rosa Avenue McDonald's in the early morning hours of Aug. 26.

They spotted two white men in a pickup at the 7-Eleven across the street yelling insults at a pregnant woman walking on the sidewalk, another detective testified.

When Sterling Edwards came to the woman's defense, they turned their attention on him, getting out of the truck and running toward him with knives in their hands, the detective said.

Witnesses said both men shouted racial slurs and allegiance to the gang, the detective said.

And Welch, who was shirtless, had "white power" and swastika tattoos on his chest, the detective said.

The brothers and a girlfriend who was with them fled on foot to a nearby used car lot where they were confronted by their attackers, later identified in a photo lineup as Bordessa and Welch, the detective said.

At some point, witnesses said Sterling Edwards fell to the ground. Welch and possibly Bordessa jumped on top of him, stabbing him, the detective said.

When the younger Edwards' girlfriend tried to call for help on her cellphone, Michaels stepped forward and snatched the phone out of her hand, the detective said.

She was able to get it back within seconds, he said.

The attack ended after the younger Edwards got free and bolted over a chain link fence into the McDonald's drive-through line, the detective said.

He jumped into the passenger seat of a customer's car and asked for help, the officer said.

Witnesses said Bordessa, Welch and Michaels fled in the truck, heading north on Highway 101, the detective said.

They were identified weeks later after police showed pictures of suspected white supremacist gang members to the victims, Cregan said.

Michaels was arrested in December. Prosecutors pointed to her past relationship with Welch and a brass knuckles tattoo on her wrist as evidence of her gang ties. They charged her under an aiding and abetting theory.

Her lawyer, Rebecca Linkous, argued there was no proof Michaels was in the gang or had any knowledge of plans to commit a hate crime. Linkous downplayed her role as misdemeanor interference.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.