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Supporters rally around reputed gang member

Supporters rally around reputed gang member

Mar 20 2004 12:00AM

By KATHERINE MORRIS 

Teen facing possible return to state youth authority

For Loreto Arizpe, the memories of 15 months he spent in the California Youth Authority are strikingly similar to the stories that have recently surfaced around the state as the CYA system has come under fire.

"There were at least 10 fights a day; it's incredibly violent and everything happens at night in the dorms where three and four bunk beds are stacked on top of each other," said Arizpe's former Renaissance High School teacher, Jennifer Laskin. "He also talks about getting tear gassed by the guards and being put in lockdown in a cage for 23 hours a day. The thing about the cage is that he actually felt safer in there."

Due to a recent conviction for an attempted homicide that occurred in November 2002, the 18-year-old Watsonville resident could be looking at another multi-year sentence in the CYA system.

That possibility has mobilized Laskin and others around Santa Cruz County into action. They're urging the District Attorney's Office and the sentencing judge to explore facility alternatives. The group is calling on the public to show its opposition to the CYA - the place they say is largely to blame for Arizpe's sordid history - by writing letters, sending faxes and phoning the courts and the District Attorney's Office.

"What we want for Loreto is a facility where he can receive an education - a place where he can finish high school, receive his diploma and maybe even start on college work," Laskin said. "We also want him to be somewhere where he can receive adequate counseling to deal with his past. More importantly, we want him to be at a place where he doesn't feel threatened. That is the No. 1 issue."

When asked earlier this week about where he feels Arizpe should serve out his time, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee said he'd yet to make any decisions.

"My job is to do two things: one, to protect the public and, two, to try and find a place for this individual where he will receive the rehabilitation he needs so he doesn't end up back in the court system again down the road in his adult years," Lee said.

Lee said his decision would be influenced by a tour he's expected to take of several CYA facilities this weekend. Several weeks ago, he issued a moratorium on sending any youth offenders to CYA until the investigation into the system was completed and changes had been made.

"We hope to interview some of the youth from our area who are in those facilities to see how they are doing and get a better idea of what the conditions are," Lee said.

"I recognize that the CYA has problems, and it's likely at this point that this sentencing may be waived until we can find another place for him that will protect the public," he added.

Prosecutor Christine McGuire said she, too, had yet to come up with a sentencing answer.

"Loreto has to take some responsibility for what he's done," McGuire said, pointing out that he was charged with a misdemeanor just last week for a gang-related fight he was involved in while in custody in Santa Cruz County Jail. "He's an adult now, not a juvenile, and has demonstrated that he's still making bad decisions. He still has been affiliating with gangs. He needs to be in a locked-down facility."

McGuire said the attempted murder conviction stems from an incident in November 2002 in which Arizpe stabbed a man who was in Watsonville visiting family as he was walking to the store on East Beach Street on a Sunday.

"It happened so fast," McGuire said. "Arizpe just missed the victim's major artery by a couple centimeters. He was fortunate to have survived."

Regardless of what happens, both Lee and McGuire said they were encouraged by the support Arizpe was receiving.

"Do you know how many times in my 20 years of doing this that I've looked over to see the defendant's side of the room and seen it completely empty?" McGuire asked. "It's such a bad sign when you see that no one is there to support you or cares enough about you to be there. I hope (Arizpe) appreciates the people he has supporting him."

Laskin said she has seen a different side of Arizpe, a side that makes him a "born leader, an articulate young man and someone who can help other young people caught up in the system."

"He wants to help other people and to make changes in his life," Laskin said. "I don't know much about his case, but I do know that it would be a crime to send him back into this system that failed him so miserably for the first time."

At this point, Laskin said, Arizpe has already resigned himself to the fact that he'll probably end up back in the CYA.

"He told me that he's starting to mentally prepare himself," Laskin said. "He said you have to stay really strong or you'll die (in CYA). He said you have to harden yourself and that you can't give a (expletive). I know he's afraid, though."

Arizpe is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on Thursday.

©Register-Pajaronian 2004

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