A gang expert testified Monday in the murder case against Adrian Robles, the 22-year-old Santa Barbara man accused of fatally stabbing Robert Burke Simpson at Arroyo Burro Beach in April 2010.
According to testimony in the trial so far, it appears Simpson was stabbed after arguments escalated between his group of friends and Robles’ group at the beach.
Robles is also accused of street terrorism and committing the homicide to benefit a criminal street gang, so the prosecution brought forward Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Detective Jarrett Morris, a member of the gang enforcement unit, to testify.
Morris said Robles’ involvement in the Westside gang, which is considered a criminal street gang by local law enforcement, is indicated by his tattoos and criminal history.
Robles has a “WS” for Westside gang tattooed on the back of his head, “tiny locos” for his clique within the gang and an Aztec-style ruin with stairs, which Morris said is indicative of association with the Surenos — gangs within the prison system that are connected to the Mexican mafia.
Gang members and associates have to prove themselves before they can identify themselves with such tattoos, Morris said.
“You need permission for tattoos like this,” he said.
The placement of tattoos can cause fear or intimidation by the general public, Morris added. Robles has tattoos on his head and neck, and had a shaved head at the time of the alleged crimes and his arrest, so they were all visible.
Morris also testified about law enforcement’s knowledge of the Westside gang, which includes men and women who have claimed the area of Santa Barbara that is south and west of State Street to the Mesa neighborhood, and from Las Positas Road to the ocean.
Members or associates of the gang have been known to commit assaults with deadly weapons, fight rival gang members, and commit witness intimidation and homicides, Morris said. He added that local gangs are highly territorial and often carry weapons to protect their turf or themselves when they travel outside their own neighborhoods, for work, school or just going to the store.
“Santa Barbara’s Westside is a small area — there’s not a lot of shopping there or restaurants there,” he said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, who is prosecuting the case, asked Morris if he knew of at least three Westside gang members, since the penal code defines a criminal street gang as three or more members with common symbols, among other things.
“I know of three just in the Robles family,” Morris said, naming Adrian Robles, his younger brother and his mother.
Dozer and Morris also went through Robles’ criminal history, which includes fights, stolen property and witness intimidation since 2004.
In a Jan. 2, 2008, incident, he and his brother Elias were yelling death threats at a victim, who was also an Eastside gang member, and Robles was found to be in possession of an illegal switchblade when he was arrested, Morris said. Witnesses and victims — even gang members — are often intimidated so they don’t testify or cooperate with law enforcement, Morris added.
Robles was convicted and sentenced to prison for that crime.
Defense attorney Steve Balash has argued against discussing Robles’ prison time in this trial, but Judge Brian Hill said it was relevant information for Robles’ gang involvement and activity, which relates to some of the enhancements and street terrorism charge.
Robles had to register as a Westside gang member at the Santa Barbara Police Department later in 2008, where he had his picture and fingerprints taken and answered gang detectives’ questions. Authorities require all people convicted of gang-related crimes to do so, Morris noted.
Robles also has identified himself as a Westside gang member while being housed at the Santa Barbara County Jail, both in March 2010 after a parole violation — from a traffic stop — and in April 2010 in connection with Simpson’s murder.
Classification deputies ask people questions before placing them in jail housing, to avoid conflicts. Gang members are usually not housed with transients or UCSB students, Morris said. Robles also admitted that he was associated with the Westside and Surenos when he spent time in the state prison system, Morris said.
While in custody facing the homicide and related charges, Robles asked to be housed near another documented member of the Westside criminal street gang and got into trouble — along with another Westside gang member — for harassing a chaplain making rounds in the gang housing unit, Morris said.
At a break in Morris’ testimony on Monday, Judge Hill told the jury they can’t use the evidence of Robles’ gang activity as a character reference or as proof of a predisposition to commit murder. He addd that they can use the information to consider the street terrorism allegation, gang enhancements and as a possible motive for committing murder.
The trial’s testimony is expected to conclude this week, Dozer said.