Dillon Lee Mansell who is on parole and was allegedly caught by police walking down the street with a loaded gun denied that he was a Ventura Avenue gang member.
But shortly into his preliminary hearing, Mansell became exhibit A, so to speak.
The 20-year-old who was recently released from prison has a tattoo that is about an inch high across his left cheek -- "Avenue," it states.
Detective Todd Hourigan testified at today's preliminary hearing that Mansell also has a gang tattoo on the right side of his neck and on both the left and right forearms.
"He also has 'Ventura' across his chest," Hourigan told the court.
Mansell was spotted by a police officer on patrol walking eastbound in the 300 block of West Ramona and "was kind of hiding" behind a tree. The officer turned his vehicle around and eventually found Mansell hiding behind a red pickup, according to Hourigan.
The officer found a gun nearby that was wrapped in a blue bandana, said Hourigan. The weapon had a round in the chamber and there were nine rounds inside a magazine, Hourigan said.
During the preliminary hearing, prosecutor Anthony Sabo pointed out to the judge that Mansell who is out of custody brought an L.A. Dodgers baseball cap to court.
Hourigan said the Ventura Avenue gang uses the sports attire of the Los Angeles Dodgers to identify themselves as gang members because the blue baseball cap has the letters LA on the top of the cap. Avenue Gang members claim that the letters stand for "La Avenue," according to Hourigan.
Hourigan testified that he has had as many as 25 contacts on the street with Mansell and named several Ventura Avenue gang members who were seen with Mansell.
Mansell had agreed as part of his probation terms before being sent to prison for assault with a deadly weapon that he wouldn't associate with gang members.
Mansell's attorney Rebekah Mathis, who works with the Public Defender's Office, said Mansell could, indeed, be a gang member. But she said to prove that her client was an active gang member, prosecutors would have to provide more evidence than what was presented in court today.
She noted that Mansell's cousin is a gang member, that he grew up in that neighborhood, went to school, hung out and lived among many gangsters.
"He may be a gang member but that doesn't mean he is an active gang member," Mathis argued in court.
"Nothing shows that he is active," said Mathis.
Sabo disagreed, pointing to the tattoos, the LA Dodger baseball came he brought to court, having multiple contacts with police and he is just out of prison.
"He's active," said Sabo.
In this country, however, people can be Nazis, criminal street gang members, motorcycle club members, the Mexican Mafia or Aryan Brotherhood members etc. because it isn't a crime to belong or associate with gangs.
Still, some defense attorneys argue that police simply accuse many Hispanic youngsters as being gang members because they have shaved heads or tattoos or both.
So what constitutes an active membership? I ask Sabo.
(Right then, I am thinking that it's like a credit card. You call an 800-number, listened to the recorded instructions and punch in some personal information to activate your VISA card membership. :) )
Seriously though, Sabo explained how it works.
In an interview, Sabo said authorities consider several things including how long was a person's last contact with police and crimes committed.
"You can be an active gang member on one incident," said Sabo.
Adding that in this case, the gun incident makes it a gang incident, according to Sabo.
But an active gang member might not have any arrest or incidents because he has managed to "stay under the radar" because he gets other people do his bidding, Sabo explained.
During the preliminary hearing, Judge Matthew Guasco ruled that there was a "strong suspicion" that the crimes were committed and held Mansell for trial.