Rosie Iraheta arrived to Orange County Superior Court yesterday morning for the latest Townsend SanTana gang injunction hearing wearing a shirt with the image her late son Angel Arellano (no relation to our own Arellano). The 17-year-old was named in the injunction before police say he was gunned down just within its boundaries on Christmas Eve, a point Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas used to bolster the injunction's case in the press. He openly wondered that had the injunction and curfew been in effect for him, Arellano might still be alive today.
"I don't want my son's name to be used to push their agenda," Iraheta told the Weekly before the hearing. "I want my son to rest in peace. The gang injunction was imposed on him, not the person that killed him," she added. "I don't think it would have saved his life."
The 37-year-old Costa Mesa resident became active in the fight against the injunction, joining with Chicanos Unidos, a grassroots group that's challenged the injunction even before it was filed. Iraheta did this despite readying herself for chemotherapy treatments for terminal cancer. "Rosie found us through Facebook after the first hearing," says Carolyn Torres of Chicanos Unidos. "We met and worked on getting her son a lawyer."
The night of her son's death, she dropped him off at a relative's home near Townsend before lending a helping hand at the Chicanos Unidos toy drive in the neighborhood. "He was rebellious at times," Iraheta said of her son, "but he was a good kid."
It was a message she planned to give before Judge Franz E. Miller's courtroom after enduring an unusually long line to get into court and a two-hour wait for the hearing to begin. Community supporters with the Chicanos Unidos filed in with shirts declaring their opposition to the injunction. Iraheta didn't get a chance to deliver her message during the first hearing after her son's death.
"The death of Angel Arellano brings the stay into focus," said Judge Miller in the only comments addressing the slain youth. "It's a terrible thing to happen."
The hearing was dominated instead by arguments between Deputy District Attorney Susan Eckermann and defense lawyers for individuals named in the injunction challenging their inclusion. Nine deemed "non-intervening" sought the same due process rights as those mounting an active legal dispute. Eckermann stated before Judge Miller that the notion "flies in the face of reason," deriding one man named by claiming "he has done nothing but follow the herd into court!"
Judge Miller ruled that he would lift the stay on the preliminary injunction on just two of the nine. Nevertheless, anti-injunction activists were pleased with the results yesterday.
"Aside from the two, the judge has otherwise shown a willingness to set a precedent for due process rights," Torres told the Weekly afterward. "The other thing to note is how the DA is trying to paint a picture that everybody they've listed are hardcore active criminal gang members and that's the reason why the injunction needs to be rushed."
But the legal battle continues. Later on in the day, Judge Miller held a hearing on whether or not Miguel Benitez is an active participant in the Townsend gang. Benitez didn't show up, but an attorney asked to specially appear argued that he's been making a good faith effort to secure stable legal representation. "I'm not inclined to penalize him," Judge Miller said. Eckermann lobbied to have the continuance scheduled for today, but Miller set the date for the morning of January 28 instead.
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By that time, Iraheta had long left the courtroom. She coughed incessantly throughout the morning hearing and noted her fatigue afterward. The grieving mother taped the message outside Superior Court that she didn't have the opportunity to deliver inside. Iraheta's fight will continue.
"Her bravery is inspiring," Torres says. "To compound her battle with cancer with the loss of her son and still have the strength to show up is amazing to me."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2