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Cops Keep it Gangsta
The Central Coast Gang Investigators Association (CCGIA), having just come off of a major training in San Jose this summer, is an association that formed in 2001 to train law enforcement officers in techniques of apprehending gangs throughout the state. In 2004, their existence became known to the public due to a surveillance job gone wrong in San Jose that involved Agent Michael Walker, a CCGIA board member, in the shooting death of Rudy Cardenas.
Cops Keepin It Gangsta
Secretve Anti-Gang Training Raises Community Concern
Story by Clarissa Baines // September 26, 2006
Some groups want to remain hidden from any spotlight. The Central Coast Gang Investigators Association (CCGIA), having just come off of a major training in San Jose this summer, is one of them. They are an association that formed in 2001 to train law enforcement officers in techniques of apprehending gangs throughout the state. In 2004, their existence became known to the public due to a surveillance job gone wrong in San Jose that involved Agent Michael Walker, a CCGIA board member, in the shooting death of Rudy Cardenas.
CCGIA is comprised of those who work in the criminal justice field -- police officers, probation officers, undercover agents, and others in similar occupations – who have come together to exchange intelligence, resources, and give trainings on tactics and strategy. Each member holds the position of a public servant, yet they hold trainings that are closed to the public, receive payments for their trainings from public employees, and are unsupervised by any public agency.
Although some believe that officer training is what San Jose needs more of, many ethnic community leaders are growing concerned with the ethnically specific targeting of CCGIA's training, and what officers are learning behind closed doors.
Richard Konda, Director of the Asian Law Alliance and a member of the Coalition for Justice and Accountability, says that the community already knows the dangers of CCGIA due to the case of State Agent Michael Walker. He says, “We need to remember that Michael Walker shot an innocent man – the wrong man. He's a product of the training, and his failure in the Cardenas case is a failure of this organization.” Konda's concerns are not only about Walker, but about CCGIA's capacity to train other officers. He says, “If we look at the conduct of Michael Walker as a product of the training of this organization, it's clear that the training they offer can become problematic with the community.”
The San Jose Police Department had many officers attend the past training in June. When contacted, their press officials said that none of the officers who attended the training this June wanted to talk about their involvement in CCGIA.
Bad to the Board
Two of the five CCGIA board members – State Agents Michael Walker and Brian Link -- were involved in the street chase that led to the death of Rudy Cardenas in February 2004. Walker and Link were in San Jose for a meeting, and were asked to do surveillance on a San Jose resident, David Gonzales, who had not checked in with his parole officer.
The officers positioned themselves near the Gonzales residence while they received background information. Shortly after Walker parked his car diagonally across from the home, Cardenas drove by the Gonzales residence in a van. Walker claimed Cardenas made “visual contact” with the Gonzales home, even though there were multiple homes in the unit. In an unmarked car and wearing plainclothes, Walker then proceeded to start a chase after Cardenas. The chase ended near 4th and St. John in Downtown San Jose, without much contact with his partners or SJPD. Cardenas ran down an alley and behind an apartment building while Walker chased him. During the trial, Walker insisted that he “feared for his own life” and shot Cardenas in the back from over 30 yards away. Cardenas was not David Gonzales. He was older and much shorter than Gonzales; their only similarities were being Latinos with a mustache. Michael Walker was indicted by a grand jury, but found not guilty after the 3-month trial.
Not only did the tactics used by Walker shock the Cardenas family, but the larger community also questioned the procedures employed that day. Concerns arose as to the kind of trainings he and the other state agents involved in the chase were drawing upon at the time of the chase and shooting. San Jose police officers testified that the chase itself went against normal law enforcement protocol.
Regina Cardenas, the eldest daughter of Rudy Cardenas, has been propelled into the spotlight since the murder and has been very vocal in searching for the truth of the events of that day. “I just don't see how the community can allow such law enforcement officials to train other officers, especially after being indicted for shooting an unarmed man in the back. What types of officers are even taking these courses held by him? What does that say about them?” she asks.
Shortly after Walker was indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter, CCGIA held a conference in San Jose at the Doubletree Hotel. Having just heard about the existence of the organization due to court proceedings, the Cardenas family and supporters staged a week-long demonstration in front of the hotel. They began the protest with a coalition of ethnic and religious leaders asking the Doubletree to not allow the CCGIA to convene at their hotel. After the Doubletree refused, the coalition held a candlelight vigil for Rudy Cardenas. Officers leaving the training actually flipped-off the demonstrators, which included Cardenas family members, as they drove by.
Gang Class 101 -- Latinos, Asians, and Muslims
This past June, CCGIA held another training at the San Jose Doubletree Hotel. The trainings were, as always, closed to the public and only allowed law enforcement related individuals to attend. At this particular training they had presentations on topics that included: “Nuestra Familia – Life After Operation Black Widow,” “Mara Salvatrucha - A Nationwide Epidemic,” “Islamic Extremists,” and “Asian Gangs in California.” They also had procedural trainings such as “Search Warrant Preparation and Techniques.” What has startled community leaders is the racially targeted trainings, leading many to be concerned about innocent people becoming victims because of such large ethnic groupings. The concern has been escalated by a recent grand jury investigation that confirmed that racial profiling in San Jose has been on the rise -- -- a 33 percent increase since 2003, according to the Independent Police Audit.
Samina Faheem, Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice, says that CCGIA will only spread more hysteria about immigrants and Muslims. “It will create fear and hatred further,” and adds that having groups like CCGIA is, “terrifying because these people are going to further alienate immigrant communities that are already criminalized and paying a high price.” She suggests that CCGIA open up its sessions to the community and really hear what the problems are and how to solve them.
If it Looks Like a Gang, Acts Like a Gang…
There are local, regional, state and national gang associations. CCGIA is part of the California Gang Investigators Association, which in turn is part of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators that was formed in 1998 and represents over 15,000 gang investigators across the country.
Ironically, many of the gang associations have logos that draw images from gang culture itself. Some are written with graffiti lettering. The Orange County association has a depiction of a skull wearing dark glasses, and the Central Coast Gang investigators symbol is the joker faces. During the trial of Walker, several CCGIA members came in wearing the symbol on their shirts, a sign of solidarity with their colleague on trial for manslaughter.
As CCGIA continues its training this fall, more questions are surfacing, namely about jurisdiction. On September 11th, CCGIA plans a daylong training entitled, “Islamic Extremists -- Who Are They and How to Identify Them.” They will only disclose the San Jose location in the return confirmation letter to participants. James Biesterfeld, a retired Special Agent of the U.S. Army Intelligence, is teaching this course. Although there is national debate about the role of local police involvement in national security issues due to civil liberty concerns, CCGIA is not waiting for any decisions to be made before initiating trainings.
CCGIA is now on the radar of the local community and is operating under the concerned eye of the public that continues to question its operations and tactics.