Judge denies bail for activists known as the ‘Justice 8’

A group of California activists arrested following a wide-ranging interagency investigation into their alleged actions during protests are seeking justice after a judge recently denied bail to a number of them, a move that sparked community outrage.

Officials say the group, dubbed by supporters the “Justice 8” after they were arrested, was responsible for a “brutal attack” on a driver at a protest in Victorville in September, “and other acts of violence during protests in San Bernardino and Los Angeles County’. Lawyers for the activists deny the allegations.

San Bernardino County officials say that instead of social justice, the group used manipulation and racism to place videos for clicks and profit. The activists face several charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and conspiracy.

The defendants are David Chavez, Edwin Peña, Stephanie Amezquita, Fernando Lopez, Vanessa Carrasco, Gullit Acevedo, Wendy Lujan and Edin “Alex” Enamorado. Their next court appearance is on January 3.

Enamorado rose to prominence as a social media influencer, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok and Instagram for helping street vendors in Los Angeles who were targeted by racism, hate and violence. The seven other activists are also known in the community for their support of street vendors.

At a news conference after the Dec. 14 arrests, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon D. Dikus painted a different picture of the activists.

“What this group is doing is not protected by the First Amendment. It is illegal to attack someone who disagrees with you,” said Sheriff Dicus.

But civil rights attorney Cristian Contreras said at a Dec. 18 conference that the group was under attack for its activism. Protests in support of the activists are also growing.

“San Bernardino County and these law enforcement agencies are criminalizing First Amendment activity. They are criminalizing the right to protest,” Contrera said.

ABC News station KABC in Los Angeles reported that the protest in Victorville took place on September 24 following public outrage over a video showing a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy using excessive force on a teenage girl.

Leslie Espina, who is married to activist Peña, said she was at the protest and witnessed “a car driving super recklessly … almost [running] over a handful of protesters,” she said.

Seven of the activists are accused of assaulting the driver.

When asked by ABC News about the driver of the vehicle, Mara Rodriguez, public information officer for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, said: “The driver and passenger in the vehicle that you are talking about are victims in this case and have not been arrested or cited . “

Nicholas Rosenberg, the criminal defense attorney representing Enamorado, told ABC News that the criminal report from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department was “not very specific” when it came to the details of the alleged “assault.” “I can tell you that the sheriff’s report was written from the standpoint that the driver of the car did nothing wrong, and that’s really troubling,” Rosenberg said.

San Bernardino County District Judge Shannon Faherty initially ordered all eight defendants held without bail during their Dec. 18 arraignment. The judge’s decision was based on “public safety concerns,” but did not specify what the concerns were, according to a transcript of the indictment.

A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed by Contrera, calling the activists’ detention “unconstitutional.” The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

“Judges are not allowed to just make sweeping general statements about public safety, they have to make specific findings to even say that … Frankly, there was no express finding that public safety was at risk,” Contreras told ABC News.

On Thursday, San Bernardino County Judge Melissa Rodriguez also denied bail to Enamorado, Chavez, Amezquita, Peña, Lopez and Carrasco. Acevedo was given a $40,000 bond. Lujan’s bail review was postponed until Jan. 2.

A San Bernardino Superior Court spokesman declined to comment on the proceedings or the judge’s rulings.

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