Photo by James BunoanHi, Tony:
It's been a long time—19 months, to be exact—since my last open letter to you.
Remember "Whiskey Night," my story about the July 2003 shooting incident involving several of your employees who were returning from a Journey/Styx/REO Speedwagon show at Staples Center? The incident that occurred when their drunk pal, a Santa Ana gang-unit cop named Derrick Watkins, pulled out his sidearm and started popping caps out the window of an SUV as they were speeding down the freeway back to OC through Compton?
If Watkins were a Latino teenager with a shaved head, he'd be in prison right now, along with the rest of the passengers, who in the eyes of the law would be just as guilty as the shooter. Instead, no charges were filed and Watkins is back on the job.
Oversimplification, you say?
Hardly. Just ask Gustavo Orejel.
Remember Orejel? He's the young, Santa Ana Latino who was arrested in July 2002 for allegedly shooting at a car full of gangbangers who had just done a drive-by on his house. The only evidence found at the scene were some ammo casings and a bunch of bullet holes in Orejel's house. Nobody was injured, but because two secret witnesses say they saw Orejel shoot at the fleeing car, he faces life in prison for four separate crimes: actively participating in a street gang, carrying a loaded firearm in public, shooting at a vehicle and carrying out those crimes on behalf of the Alley Boys street gang.
I first wrote about Orejel—who denies being a gang member, by the way—18 months ago ("A Tale of Two Shootings," Aug. 1, 2003) because two of his prosecutors, Deputy DAs Alison Gyves and Mark Geller, were passengers in the SUV when Watkins went Grand Theft Auto with his pistol. My next article, "No Gun, No Witnesses, No Problem" (Nov. 28, 2003), pointed out that "for taking potshots at gang members who had just shot at his house, a white, middle-class gun owner might not even be charged with a crime, especially if there was no evidence anyone was hurt."
A few weeks later, I wrote a follow-up story, "Star Chambered," in which I reported that more than a year after charging Orejel, nobody in your office, including Gyves or Geller, had interviewed either of the two mystery witnesses who fingered him. That story also explained how those witnesses were still secret thanks to a state law that allows prosecutors to shield the identities of those testifying in gang-related or violent crimes until 30 days before trial.
You may recall this law, Tony, because long before you were elected DA, you were the Orange County Superior Court judge who helped write Proposition 115, the so-called Victim's Bill of Rights, which included the secret witness provision.
Ah, the memories. Anyway, I'm writing you again because Gyves is back in the news. Two weeks ago, The Orange County Register reported that she dropped all charges against Rodrigo Jose Requejo, who was arrested Dec. 22 for fatally stabbing Justin Ammann and wounding his twin brother, Jason, after a road-rage incident on the Foothill Toll Road in Rancho Santa Margarita. The surviving twin, you may recall, had claimed Requejo ran him and his brother off the road and then started attacking them, shouting, "This is the Hell's Angels."
Within hours of arresting Requejo, your office charged him with murder, attempted murder and the sentence-stretching charge of carrying out those crimes with the intention of benefiting the Hell's Angels. But when it became clear Jason Ammann was lying about the incident and that Requejo was acting in self-defense, Gyves dropped all the charges and Requejo walked out of jail a free man.
So what about Orejel? Okay, supposedly you have two witnesses. But as I reported more than a year ago, one of them only saw Orejel holding a gun, not shooting it, and the other appeared a week later, when she accompanied witness No. 1 to the police station to say she saw Orejel pull the trigger.
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By any standard, that's pretty flimsy stuff. And given that it's been more than two years since Orejel's life was put on hold for a crime lacking any physical evidence or victim, it's about time you ask Gyves to drop this case, too.
After all, you wouldn't want your fine office to be accused of hypocrisy.
And, hey, say hi to the kids.