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Street vendor activists accused of violence and assault remain in prison

A Superior Court judge on Thursday again denied bail to a group of activists nicknamed “Justice 8” who have been in jail for two weeks facing charges stemming from protests in San Bernardino County and elsewhere.

Prosecutors say Edin Alex Enamorado and other street vendor advocates used intimidation tactics, showing up at the workplaces and homes of people targeted in his social media campaigns, in an effort to publicly shame customers who attack sellers or those who make racist comments.

Enamorado, 36, and seven other activists were arrested Dec. 14 as part of what authorities described as a months-long assault investigation after a Sept. 3 protest in Los Angeles County and another in Victorville on September 24. cities in the Inland Empire, including Upland, Fontana and Pomona, which claimed the suspects were involved in other “violent acts during protests” in those cities.

On his Instagram accounts, which have hundreds of thousands of followers, Enamorado has shared videos of street vendors being harassed, elected officials making racist remarks and police officers making violent arrests.

But San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said after their arrest that members of the group manipulated videos to pose as crusaders. And in doing so, Dicus said, they harassed the subjects of their videos for attention, views and financial profit.

“This group is not in the business of protecting the human condition,” Dicus said at a news conference earlier this month, “but rather in click-baiting for money.”

Charges against the group include false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault, vandalism and illegal use of tear gas, according to court documents.

Besides Enamorado, those arrested were his partner, Wendy Lujan, 40, of Upland; David Chavez, 28, of Riverside; Stephanie Amesquita, 33, of San Bernardino; Gullit Eder Acevedo, 30, of San Bernardino; Edwin Pena, 26, of Los Angeles; Fernando Lopez, 44, of Los Angeles; and Vanessa Carrasco, 40, from Ontario. All were accused of committing violent attacks against three victims, according to court documents.

Luhan was not in court Thursday; she is due to appear next week.

Prosecutors have repeatedly tried to keep these individuals behind bars, saying they pose a danger to the public. Last week, a judge ordered the group held without bail. At a hearing Thursday, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office made the same argument.

Judge Melissa Rodriguez granted bail to only one defendant: Acevedo. The teacher was ordered to have no contact with anyone else involved in the case, including the alleged victims. Acevedo will be required to wear an ankle monitor and stay away from social media.

“No contact means no contact,” Rodriguez said.

The other defendants were held without bail after being deemed dangerous to the community as well as the victims in the case. Prosecutors referenced an image of a piñata with a victim’s face superimposed on the object. Another victim feared protesters would show up at her home and hid, according to prosecutors. A new hearing was scheduled for January 3.

Enamorado’s attorney, Nicholas Rosenberg, said outside the courthouse Thursday that he disagreed with the judge’s assessment of his client, calling Enamorado an important member of the community.

“Look, the fight is not over,” Rosenberg said.

Carasco’s lawyer, Damon Alimouri, called the court’s non-release decision “scandalous” and unconstitutional.

Enamorado started out as a political organizer but is known for his activism with street vendors. In June, he posted a TikTok video that has since been deleted, showing the mess created after two food carts overturned outside a concert at SoFi Stadium.

Enamorado told the Times he did not witness the incident, but the vendors told him a stadium employee asked them to move off the street and then became angry when they had ignored his instructions. The worker, who SoFi Stadium officials said was employed by a third-party vendor, was later fired.

In September, Enamorado organized a large protest on the Santa Barbara police steps after a viral video showing a racist exchange between a white woman and a Latino man shook the city.

He and the other members of the group face 17 charges in San Bernardino County – the majority of which are felonies – stemming from two September incidents. On September 3, prosecutors say several members chased a security guard at a supermarket and pepper-sprayed him while he was on the ground. They then beat the guard, authorities said. On September 24, Enamorado and the others staged a protest after a viral video showed a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy throwing a girl to the ground during a fight at a football game in high school.

Lawyers representing Enamorado and the other defendants say they were protesting police brutality and harassment of a street vendor at the time.

Times staff writer Jeremy Childs contributed to this report.

California Daily Newspapers

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