Oregon State Bar Bulletin APRIL 2016
Edie Rogoway, a criminal defense and civil rights trial lawyer, grew up in Portland and graduated from Sunset High School. It wasn’t until she was in college at USC in 1989, located in south central Los Angeles, that she first learned about gangs while interning for the state parole department in Inglewood, Calif. Later, she worked as a case manager in a federal halfway house with inmates coming out of prison. Rogoway recalls, “Many of my guys were high-level crack cocaine dealers and gang members who did 5-10 years in federal prison on conspiracy cases. I learned a lot during my time there, including how many of the federal cases involved L.A. street gangs accused of branching out all over the country, sending gang members to other states to start selling crack.”
From there, Rogoway went to law school and immediately started working for a prominent criminal defense attorney. She soon realized that she wanted trial experience, so she became a public defender for seven years handling major felonies. To round out her resume, she practiced civil litigation for a few years and then started her solo firm, Rogoway Law, five years ago to focus on what she loves: criminal defense and civil rights law.
In 2014, Rogoway decided to take on her first gang murder case. During the three-week trial, her client’s beloved oldest brother was killed on the battlefield fighting against ISIS in Iraq. “This was my client’s mother’s fifth son to die, as three froze to death during the Kurdish genocide when Saddam Hussein was gassing the Kurds, and another died of a heart attack,” Rogoway recalls. “The family got the news of my client’s brother’s death literally in the hallway outside the courtroom, and I had to tell my client five minutes before giving my opening statement,” she continues, “and that made for a tough day.”
Rogoway’s client, the youngest son in the family, was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life. Reflecting on the case, Rogoway says, “Often refugees are placed in really dangerous neighborhoods riddled with gangs because they are placed in Section 8 housing. This family fled persecution only to have the youngest child get caught up with gangs. This is a young man who grew up as a Middle Eastern Muslim, post-9/11. Muslim Americans have endured terrible racism and stereotypes since. The Norteños [gang] made him feel part of something. Accepted. It’s a common story.” Rogoway notes that to her, it’s about the family, the child that found his way to the gang, and the idea that “everyone deserves redemption.” Additionally, Rogoway feels passionate about solutions to gang membership and violence. “We have to engage the shot callers, the Original Gangsters, and treat them the way they are treated in the gangs — with respect and deference,” she suggests. Further, Rogoway proposes, “We also need to engage the kids — through midnight basketball, or anything that keeps them active at night. We give them ways to feel part of something without gangs.”
Joe McFerrin II, the president and CEO of Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), is running an organization that puts Rogoway’s suggestion into action. Under the array of services offered by POIC, which includes education, employment and training, transition support and family services, it also has a gang outreach initiative (pictured below). The team also works the light rail system and is partially funded by TriMet. In addition to a variety of activities for gang members, it also provides a plethora of referrals to programs that connect them to services in the community, such as housing, resources to keep youth engaged in sports teams and services that address their hardships. “Our goal is to disrupt violence and work with gang members to get them options,” says McFerrin. “We go where the kids are to help them find other ways to survive.”
Looking at gang activity as a whole, McFerrin points to studies that trace back to the 1980s, when crack cocaine hit the streets and Portland saw a huge spike in gang activity. POIC saw the effects of drugs in our community and responded with programs to assist. “One of the main components of gang affiliation is poverty,” says McFerrin. “When poverty hits, and then drug dealing is used as a way to make money, we see the drug dealers get arrested and sent to jail. Many of those sent to jail are fathers, and when their kids are left behind, the cycle begins.”
The next compounding issue is then school. “We see kids getting pushed out of the school system, and then they have nothing to do but hit the streets,” says McFerrrin. “No education means no job, which means no money. Without money, we are back to the poverty epidemic and the hopelessness of disenchanted youth selling drugs and getting involved with gangs for protection. POIC responded to expulsion of youth and created Rosemary Anderson, a high school that works with the kids kicked out of school for being associated with gangs. It has three campuses and more than 500 students today. Overall, McFerrin focuses on intervention and prevention for gang-impacted youth.
Like Rogoway, McFerrin also has an overarching view of gangs: “Systems contribute and fuel gang activity. The kids who are getting involved in gangs are a byproduct of our systems, such as employment, education and the criminal justice system. The systems need to be a part of the solutions — job opportunities need to be created, and education needs to embrace kids that are different and have different needs.”
Working with the police when it comes to gangs is a priority. Sgt. Mike Leader of the Hillsboro Police Department is a member of the Interagency Gang Enforcement Team (IGET), which was established in 1993. Washington County law enforcement agencies pooled their resources, allowing the combined resources of the Washington County sheriff’s office, Beaverton police and Hillsboro police to come together under the umbrella of a single team to track, monitor and investigate gangs and gang-related crime in the county. Recently, IGET has also partnered with the FBI to form a Safe Streets Task Force, which allows for the combined resources and skills of both the FBI and IGET members.
Leader notes that assaultive behavior, including physical fights, stabbings and gun violence, as well as street level robbery, are the most common gang-related crimes his team deals with. “Generally, these crimes are perpetrated against other gang members,” Leader says, “and the rise of electronic communication and social media have changed the dynamics of gang- related investigations.”
To McFerrin’s list of resources, Leader adds, “For underage offenders, the Washington County Juvenile Department does a great job of working with youth gang members on their caseloads and trying to steer them in a positive direction while also holding them accountable for their crimes. And we are very fortunate in Washington County to have the support of the community in our policing efforts.”
One Oregon attorney who spends his time prosecuting violent crimes, some of which are against gang members, is Marion County Deputy District Attorney Matt Kemmy. More than 17 years ago, he started out prosecuting misdemeanors, including gang tagging, criminal mischief and shoplifting. In 1998, he tried his first gang case, and now he has prosecuted dozens of gang crimes. “Gang crimes are harder to prosecute than other crimes because of the fear of retaliation, so it’s my job to work with the victims and build rapport,” Kemmy explains. “If the victim is a rival gangster, those are the most difficult to prosecute, due to the gang’s code and desire to handle it themselves — in addition to the fear of retaliation.”
Today, Kemmy sees an increase in murders, shootings and beatings. “In the late 1990s, a lot of gang members went to prison on Measure 11 crimes, and then when they were released we experienced a wave of increased crime,” Kemmy reveals. Overall Kemmy says, “Those released from prison tend to be more likely to commit new crimes. And then sometimes those released are the targets of gang violence.”
Kemmy agrees with McFerrin that poverty is a contributing cause of gang affiliation, as well as the breakdown in family structure. “Some kids are really just born into gangs,” Kemmy says, making it hard for them to ever get out. “We are all responsible for our own decisions, but the situation you are born into can affect who you turn out to be.”
Jesse De La Cruz is one of those gang members with the routine that Kemmy identified: De La Cruz went to prison, was released, committed another crime and went back to prison — he committed multiple felonies and was in and out for years. Today, De La Cruz works as a gang consultant/expert witness in gang cases, including Rogoway’s gang trial. He is also the author of Detoured: My Journey from Darkness to Light, which details his life story. Chapter one begins in 1996, as he is pacing his Folsom State Prison cell before an upcoming release. He explains how nerve-wracking being released from prison is, and how homelessness and substance abuse are common among those released, including himself.
However, De La Cruz rehabilitated himself and earned an education. In 1999, as he explains, “I was contacted by an attorney who wanted to talk to me about the possibility of me testifying as a gang expert in an alleged white gang in Siskiyou County. The individuals in this case were charged with 187 special allegations, one of which was a gang enhancement therefore making it a death penalty case.”
In California, committing a crime in the direction of, for the benefit of or in association of gang members is a crime (i.e., Penal Code186.22.). De La Cruz explains that “… in California, if you get arrested for a robbery and then charged with a gang allegation and you are found guilty of the robbery and the gang allegation, you will get seven years for the robbery and an additional 10 years for the gang allegation. So, what I do is defend people against the gang allegations being made against them and refute the testimony concerning the gang element in the case.”
De La Cruz also agrees with McFerrin and Kemmy regarding gang affiliation: “A main cause for gang affiliation is lack of hope. Individuals who live in impoverished areas where gang activity is prevalent often feel that they must join a gang to be part of something.” However, De La Cruz’s insight on getting out of gangs is unique to him: “Anyone who wants to get out of a gang can walk away as long as they don’t ‘snitch’ or use the name of the gang as a form of power to get what they want for themselves. There have been cases when individuals who walked away from the gang have been killed by the gang, but if we investigate the causes, we find that there are other underlying factors that had nothing to do with that person walking away from the gang.”
The Salem Police Gang Enforcement Team (GET), similar to Leader’s IGET in Hillsboro, is led by Sgt. Steve Elmore, and senior officers Jesse Rios and Chad Basaraba. “With a significant increase in serious gang-related crimes in the late ’90s, local law enforcement agencies banded together and created our multiagency gang team to address the concerns and dangers of rising gang activity,” they said in a statment, which echoes Kemmy’s experience as a Marion County deputy district attorney.
In a conversation with the Bulletin, Elmore, Rios and Basaraba continue: “In 2003, the team was disbanded due to the team’s work in substantially reducing criminal street gang activity … Within the past 10 years, Salem and the surrounding communities have not seen or been subjected to the serious nature of criminal street gang activity that was present in the late ’90s.”
Salem partners with local law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, churches and community groups to create programs for youths and adults, and at-risk offenders. Within the Salem area, numerous programs have been established through alliances with the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, ministry groups, Mano a Mano (an empowerment program) and city-funded youth camp groups. There are also programs for the at-risk juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system, such as STAR Court, which creates a strict and structured set of guidelines that youth offenders need to follow and maintain to avoid incarceration while serving as an intervention in hopes that the juvenile would leave the gang lifestyle and stop the cycle.
As to why the GET believes people join gangs, Elmore, Rios and Basaraba assert: “Gangs are joined for personal reasons, but traditionally it is for the basic need of acceptance. As gang enforcement officers, we attempt to reach out to those involved in the criminal gang lifestyle to educate them about the pitfalls of gang membership.” The GET sees disassociation among gang members who “chose to leave the gang lifestyle for personal or family reasons, or out of necessity. When active gang members leave their respective gang they look for support from family, outreach programs, church or social groups. Many ex-gang members will become an advocate and work within their community to educate and mentor the youth who have turned to gangs as a way of life,” much like De La Cruz.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OSB member Traci Ray is the executive director at the employment, labor and benefits law firm of Barran Liebman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2016 Traci Ray