Appeals court upholds incarceration of Port Arthur gang member

Steve Korris Oct. 7, 2009, 3:33pm

Gang members can serve time for deadly threats even if it is other members of the gang that pose the threats, Ninth District appeals judges ruled on Oct. 1.

Three justices on the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals in Beaumont affirmed the incarceration of a minor who belonged to Norte 14, a Port Arthur gang that police also know as North Side.

One youth in the case wore wrist tattoos that combined to spell Norte 14. Another pointed a pistol at a man in his own yard and said he was going to kill him.

Their leader, referred to only as I.A.G. in court papers, went to jail and will get out at age 19 if not sooner. He would roam free today if the Ninth District had granted his petition.

On May 7, 2008, a man in his home heard a commotion in his yard, ran out and found a brawl in progress. He stopped it, but in the process he and I.A.G. exchanged blows.

The youth kept saying "north side," a name the man recognized from graffiti.

The youths left, the man called police, and an officer responded.

Later that day the man left the house, but he returned quickly after being notified that individuals had thrown rocks and tire irons in his yard. He called police, but four youths in a Ford Explorer arrived first.

I.A. G. and three others got out. I.A.G. and another held tire irons.

The man's father stepped out to back him up.

The driver pointed a pistol at the man and asked, "Why you hitting little kids?"

The man sent his father inside.

"I'm going to kill you," said the driver, and he repeated it.

The man went inside.

The youths didn't take his retreat as a sign of fear. Suddenly they feared him.

"Go," the leader cried. "Go, he's going to get his gun."

The Explorer sped away, but police responded at last and caught the culprits.

Jefferson County prosecutors charged that A.I.G. engaged in organized criminal activity as a member of a street gang in reckless deadly conduct.

I.A.G. argued there wasn't enough evidence to show that as a gang member he engaged in deadly conduct.

Texas law defines criminal street gang as "three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities."

In a jury trial, a Port Arthur policeman said a drive-by shooter had previously wounded A.I.G. and another occupant of the Explorer at a Norte 14 hangout.

The officer said A.I.G. told him he belonged to Norte 14.

Another officer told jurors he knew all four, and they all belonged to Norte 14. He said he knew from numerous calls where the gang gathered.

The evidence satisfied jurors and District Judge Larry Thorne and on appeal it satisfied the Ninth District.

Justice Hollis Horton wrote that "a person is criminally responsible for the offense of another, and can be convicted as a party if, acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person committing the offense."

He wrote, "Though mere presence does not automatically make one a party to a crime, it is a circumstance tending to prove party status and, when considered with other facts, may be sufficient to prove that defendant was a participant."

Chief Justice Steve McKeithen and Justice David Gaultney agreed.

Eric Houghton represented the state. Ryan Matuska represented the youth.

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