Tam Trong Nguyen didn't sport any Asian Boyz criminal street gang tattoos. Nguyen wasn't known to flash gang signs or wear gang paraphernalia. He didn't answer to a gang moniker and cops never spotted him at any known gang hangout.
Nonetheless, Joe Pirooz, a veteran Long Beach police officer who has extensively studied the gang, offered 2010 trial "expert" testimony that while Nguyen didn't display the normal signs of Asian Boyz membership, he was still definitely in the underworld organization.
Cops found Nguyen with five known Asian Boyz hoodlums–Hung Bui, Long Nguyen, Sam Min, Huan Nguyen and Tuan La–during a botched 2005 home invasion robbery in Fountain Valley near Mile Square Park.
In other words, Nguyen's presence at the scene of the crime meant the gangsters trusted him and if they trusted him, then he must have been one of them, according to Pirooz.
That opinion translated to an additional decade of incarceration for Nguyen, who has been trying to undermine the officer's stance and overturn his conviction as a violation of his constitutional due process rights.
William E. Gilg, Nguyen's attorney, mocked law enforcement for using a faulty guilt-by-association argument that's "conjecture" and "speculation" when stripped of "the pomp and pageantry" Pirooz enjoyed as a declared gang expert.
"Are we to take such expertise so seriously as to believe their expert can, without so much as ever having made the acquaintance of an individual defendant, speak emphatic truth as to the three elements of the gang enhancement?" Gigl argued in court.
The answer is yes, according to federal officials.
In March, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick determined that "a rational juror" could have accepted Pirooz's opinion as fact because Nguyen and two of the gangsters (Bui and Min) had "Vietnam" tattooed on their bodies; Nguyen and his girlfriend, Quyen Nguyen, shared a home with Min; Natoma Boys gang members sometimes visited their house; and the defendant asked Quyen to falsely tell police she'd dropped him off at the home invasion home to attend a party.
Noting the appellate rule that he has to view the evidence in the most favorable light to the prosecution, Eick found no federal constitutional violation in the case.
But Gilg attacked a second prong of Pirooz's stance: That the home invasion was committed to benefit Asian Boyz because gangs like to instill fear in the community to gain respect.
According to the defense attorney, the bandits, who wore masks, never once shouted the gang's name or flashed gang signs during the crime that ended when one of the victim's secretly called 911, police quickly surrounded the house and the defendants surrendered.
"Given that there is literally no evidence whatsoever that there were any gang-related ambitions behind this crime, the state has absolutely no basis to impose the gang enhancement," Gilg opined. "How can any expert, let alone one wholly unacquainted with the particular circumstances of [Nguyen's] personal life, and the individual characteristics of his psychology, have the gall to speak with dispositive authority to his motivations?"
But U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal didn't buy the argument. This month, Bernal sided with Eick, denied the appeal and closed the case.
Upshot: Nguyen, 42, will continue to serve his 40 years to life sentence inside California State Prison in Lancaster.