'Where Is Edward Quinones?'

The case of the missing Santa Ana inmate

The U.S. presidential election wasn't the only thing screwed up on Nov. 7. That morning, Eddie Quiñones, an 18-year-old inmate at the Santa Ana jail, failed to show up for his scheduled hearing in front of an Orange County juvenile-court judge.

Too bad for Quiñones, who is four months into a six-month sentence for possession of a pocketknife —a relatively minor violation of his gang probation. It's possible Commissioner James Odriozola might have released Quiñones last week—if he had only shown up.

So where was Edward Quiñones?

Because Quiñones is still officially considered a juvenile, neither the judge, the district attorney's office nor the public defender's office would comment on his case. But his mother, Cindy Quiñones, and grandmother, Emma Balderama, charge that police intentionally refused to transport him to the courtroom.

According to his mother and grandmother, Quiñones' hearing began with a few moments of awkward silence. Odriozola finally asked, "Where is Edward Quiñones?" Cindy Quiñones said the prosecutor simply shrugged her shoulders and declared that because Quiñones had turned 18 while in custody, he no longer needed to show up in juvenile court.

"The judge was confused because he had Eddie's paperwork, and he said it was all in order," Cindy Quiñones recalled. "He seemed disappointed."

Balderama told the Weekly she asked the public defender to explain why her grandson was missing.

"You know, I am really busy," she reportedly answered. "Here's my card."

According to Balderama, the judge asked no further questions and moved abruptly on to the next case.

"The whole thing lasted not even three minutes," she estimated. "If Eddie was there, I think the judge would have released him that day."

That possibility may have had everything to do with Quiñones' absence.

"Nobody wanted to bother to bring Eddie to juvenile court for his progress review," his mother charged. "Eddie was all ready to go. When I saw him in jail the next day, he said, 'Mom, what happened? I was waiting! I was all ready to come!'"

At press time, Quiñones was still waiting for an opportunity to meet with Santa Ana police officials to discuss her son's absence at the courtroom. While it may have been an innocent mistake, a series of nasty coincidences surrounding his stay at the Santa Ana jail suggests otherwise.

A former Anaheim gang member and high school football player, Eddie Quiñones was determined to go straight this year. But then his life took several disastrous turns. On July 14, his father, an ex-felon and gang member, was arrested on weapons charges. Two weeks later, during a police search of his father's home, Quiñones himself was arrested for carrying a pocketknife. According to a recent complaint filed against the Anaheim P.D. by the Quiñones family, one of the officers allegedly said to Eddie, "We are going to bring you down."

Quiñones says he was so afraid of being entrapped that he showed up to juvenile court a week before his hearing on the knife charge and asked the judge to sentence him early. On July 19, Quiñones got what he asked for: six months in juvenile hall. Police transferred him to the Santa Ana jail on Aug. 5, his 18th birthday ("The Wrong Profile," Oct. 13).

Once behind bars, Quiñones' life seemed safely on track. But not for long. Within a week of his transfer to the jail, Anaheim police detectives confronted him with evidence tying him to a stolen car. Quiñones was their prime suspect—until he pointed out that the crime took place two days after he had entered juvenile hall.

After that, the Weekly made three consecutive requests to interview Quiñones at the Santa Ana jail. On the first visit, I waited for several minutes in the visiting chamber, but—in a fashion similar to Quiñones' Nov. 7 nonappearance in court—Quiñones didn't show. Jail officials apologized, saying they had approved the request without asking Quiñones beforehand, adding that he had been showering and had refused the visit.

Foiling a second interview attempt later that week, jail authorities apologized again, explaining this time that it was a visiting day—for everyone but Hispanic inmates.

On a third attempt the following day, I was finally allowed to meet with Quiñones. During the course of the interview, he denied that jail authorities had ever alerted him to previous visits, insisting that he was quite eager to talk.

Significantly, one of the last things Quiñones mentioned in that interview was that he was looking forward to his Nov. 7 hearing and thought he stood a good chance of getting an early release. Explained Quiñones, "The judge really likes me."