By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
The activist who fought the Orange gang injunction feels targeted by police after a traffic stop results in two of her kids being fingerprinted for allegedly being with a gang member
On the hot Saturday of July 11, Yvonne Elizondo was the guest of honor at a pool party and barbecue hosted by Santa Ana Human Relations Commissioner Albert Castillo. The day was meant to celebrate the efforts of Elizondo, a youth counselor and director of the local nonprofit chapter of the Bridge, in challenging what many felt was an overly broad gang injunction in the city of Orange (see “Uprising,” May 27). Among the politicos mingling with Elizondo and her three kids were Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez, county supervisor candidate and La Habra Councilwoman Rose Espinoza, and congressional candidate Christina Avalos.
Late in the afternoon, 22-year-old David Elizondo—who was still in his bathing suit—asked his mom if he could borrow her Toyota Camry to drive a fellow guest to his home, a few miles down the road. Yvonne was still recovering from major surgery under her arm just two days earlier, and it was too painful for her to drive. Piling into the car with David were her 15-year-old daughter, Toni; David’s girlfriend, Araceli Ramirez, 20; Araceli’s 3-year-old son, Raymond; and the teen boy who needed a ride home.
Yvonne waved goodbye and didn’t think much of the short trip. When an hour had gone by and she couldn’t get through to her daughter on her cell phone, Elizondo grew worried. After two hours, she received a call from an Orange Police Department officer telling her to come down and pick up Toni, whom they had detained on a curb.
In February, the Orange County district attorney’s office, with the help of Orange P.D., served its second injunction against alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress gang. Such civil lawsuits, which are filed by a DA’s office against a police-identified street gang and individuals they and the police conclude are “associates,” don’t ask for damages or restitution, but instead for the implementation of permanent restraining-order-like prohibitions that carry criminal consequences (jail time, fines, probation) if the terms are violated. Elizondo helped many in the Old Barrio Cypress neighborhood legally challenge the injunction. And after several court hearings, community protests, petitions and the recruitment of high-profile defense lawyers (including from the ACLU), the DA in mid-May dismissed its injunction against all those who had filed petitions denying they had any affiliation with the Orange Varrio Cypress gang. But in June, the DA served a repackaged permanent injunction to dozens of the same individuals and bound them to the terms of the previous injunction.
Because of her very public role in challenging the injunction, Elizondo had feared for the safety of her kids, so she sent them to live with relatives in other parts of the county for several months. The family had recently reunited and moved into a new apartment on a quiet street in Orange.
On that Saturday, a panicked Elizondo got a ride from a friend at the barbecue to the intersection of Tustin Street and Adams Avenue, where she discovered that her car had been towed and that her kids and Araceli had been forced to sit on the curb in the sun and be questioned for hours; the officers had also photographed and fingerprinted them. “I was furious,” she says, because that treatment didn’t seem to have anything to do with the traffic citations.
According to David, after he’d dropped off the other teenage passenger, he headed for his mom’s house to pick up the car seat. “I noticed a cop behind us, but it was no sweat, you know? I wasn’t doing anything unusual,” he says. He then heard the sirens. “As soon as I was pulled over, 10 to 12 cop cars surrounded us, including two motorcycle cops.” That’s when, he says, he noticed two unmarked vans behind the bushes near the Village Theatre on Adams Avenue—undercover gang-unit officers.
Traffic tickets were issued by the uniformed police without incident, say David, Toni and Araceli.
Sergeant Dan Adams, public-information officer with the Orange P.D., says he could not release the police report because the gang unit had not cleared it from potential ongoing investigations and that officers involved that day were not available for comment. According to Superior Court records, David was issued a misdemeanor ticket for driving without a license, and both he and Araceli were cited for not having a car seat in the car for Raymond (minor infractions). “The regular lady cop was being pretty cool about it,” he says. “She said they were going to let us drive home to get the car seat and told us to call our mom, to let her know everything was all right.”
But David did not get the chance to make that call. All but three police cars and the gang-unit vans then dispersed. The gang unit then began examining the car, David says. “The undercover cop was coming around the car, checking the VIN number and the license-plate number. And then he said to the other undercover cop, ‘Yeah, this car is registered to Yvonne Elizondo. This is the Yvonne from the Bridge.’ I heard him say it clearly, and I looked up.”