Wednesday, January 08, 2020

People v. Venegas (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 8, 2020)

Sometimes a tangential item in an opinion piques my interest.  This was one of those opinions.

The holding doesn't especially matter (to me, at least).  Just the facts.  It's about a horrible case of mistaken identity an innocent bystander who gets killed.  Apparently, the Winter Gardens gang and the Fraser Maravilla gang were involved in a border war, so a couple of people in the Winter Gardens gang went out driving along the contested frontier to see if they could find a rival gang member to kill.

The opinion then says that the two gang members then spied a rival, with whom "[t]hey made eye contact, prompting Vargas [the intended victim] to flee towards a nearby casino. . . . Venegas rode to the casino’s entrance and gunned down a man he thought was Vargas but who actually was Acevedo [a bystander]."

So, according to the opinion, the victim was "gunned down" at "the casino's entrance."

As I read that, I wondered which casino the opinion was talking about.  Since apparently it's at a contested frontier between gangs.  So I tried to look up the areas controlled by the respective gangs (Winter Gardens and Fraser Maravilla).  I discover that both gangs are apparently Latino and in East Los Angeles, and that Winter Gardens' territory is basically Olympic to the north, the I-5 to the south, Atlantic to the east, and Arizona to the west.

Now, it just so happens that I've been in that location a fair amount.  (My kids often have sporting events in nearby Commerce and Montebello.)  It's actually a pretty small area; probably less than 20 square blocks total (10 by 2).  It's very close to where the I-5 and the I-710 meet; if you've driven on the I-5 in L.A., it's slightly to the northwest of the Citadel outlets - that big shopping mall that you see from the highway with the huge statutes that sort of looks like a fortress.

But here's the thing:

There's no casino there.

The victim allegedly gets shot at "the casino's entrance."  But then I look up news reports of the shooting.  The victim's actually found (according to the L.A. Times) "in the 1300 block of South Atlantic avenue."  Now, that's in an alley that's indeed right on the border between the gangs.  So it makes sense that that's where the guy was shot.

But there's no "casino entrance" anywhere near there.  The nearest casino is the one in Commerce, which I'm confident is the one to which the opinion intends to refer.  But the entrance to that casino is a mile and a half away from where the victim was found.  No way he crawls all that way after being shot; indeed, it takes half an hour for even someone who's not mortally injured to walk the thing, and you'd have to crawl right past the busy shopping mall etc.

Instead, I feel pretty confident that the guy was instead shot and killed right where he was found.  In the alley on South Atlantic, right at the contested border between the two gangs.

I tried to look up the briefs so see where the reference to the casino was made in the briefing, but I couldn't find them online.  I don't imagine that the Court of Appeal made up that part on its own, so imagine it originated in the briefs somehow.

Still.  I don't think the guy was actually shot at the entrance to the casino.  Seems like he was shot a mile and a half way.

At least as best as I can figure out.

POSTSCRIPT - An informed reader knows the scoop, and helpfully shared it with me.  (Thanks!)  Apparently the relevant place is not a casino.  It's a "casino."  There's apparently an illegal betting shop on the southwest corner of Union Pacific and Atlantic Avenues:  a place that's a known Fraser Maravilla gang hangout.  Now, why you need to have an illegal "casino" -- at which you risk getting arrested and, as here, shot -- when there's a legal (and presumably much more expansive) one just down the street is beyond me.  But there you have it.  That's why the victim was shot at the entrance to the "casino."

Maybe put that word in quotes (or put the word "illegal" before it) to make it clear to uninformed readers like me who aren't otherwise cognizant of the illegal betting place? 

(And thanks again for the reader follow-up.)