Judge denies bail for activists known as the 'Justice 8'

A San Bernardino County judge denied bail to six of the "Justice 8" members.

December 29, 2023, 5:27 PM
Christian Contreras, attorney for Edin Alex Enamorado, speaks at a press conference in Victorville, Calif., on Dec. 18, 2023.
Christian Contreras, attorney for Edin Alex Enamorado, speaks at a press conference in Victorville, Calif., on Dec. 18, 2023.

A group of California activists, arrested following a sprawling multi-agency investigation into their alleged actions at protests, are seeking justice after a judge recently denied bail to a number of them -- a move that sparked outcry from the community.

Officials alleged that the group, dubbed by supporters as the "Justice 8" after they were arrested, were responsible for a "brutal assault" on a motorist at a Victorville protest in September "and other violent acts during protests in San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties." Attorneys for the activists deny the allegations.

San Bernardino County officials allege that instead of social justice, the group used manipulation and racism to stage videos for clicks and profit. The activists face several charges including assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and conspiracy.

Those being charged are David Chavez, Edwin Peña, Stephanie Amesquita, Fernando Lopez, Vanessa Carrasco, Gullit Acevedo, Wendy Lujan, and Edin "Alex" Enamorado. Their next court appearance is Jan. 3.

Christian Contreras, attorney for Edin Alex Enamorado, speaks at a press conference in Victorville, Calif., on Dec. 18, 2023.

Enamorado became known as a social media influencer, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok and Instagram for helping street vendors in Los Angeles who were targets of racism, hate and violence. The seven other activists are also known in the community for their support of street vendors.

In a press conference following the arrests on Dec. 14, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon D. Dicus painted a different picture of the activists.

"What this group does is not protected by the First Amendment. It's illegal to assault someone who doesn't agree with you," Sheriff Dicus said.

But civil rights attorney Christian Contreras said at a conference on Dec. 18 that the group is being targeted for its activism. Protests in support of the activists have also been growing.

"San Bernardino County and these law enforcement agencies are criminalizing First Amendment activity. They are criminalizing the right to protest," Contreras said.

ABC News station KABC in Los Angeles reported that the Victorville protest took place on Sept. 24 after public outrage over a video showing a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputy allegedly using excessive force on a teenage girl.

Leslie Espina, who is married to activist Peña, said she was at the protest and witnessed a "car driving super recklessly ... almost [running] over a handful of the protesters," she said.

Seven of the activists have been accused of assaulting the motorist.

When asked by ABC News about the driver of the vehicle, Mara Rodriguez, a San Bernardino Sheriff's Department Public Information officer, responded: "The driver and passenger in the vehicle you are speaking of are victims in this case and were not arrested or cited."

A woman speaks at a press conference about Edin Alex Enamorado and the Justice 8, in Victorville, Calif., on Dec. 18, 2023.

Nicholas Rosenberg, the criminal defense attorney representing Enamorado, told ABC News that the criminal report by the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department is "not very specific" when it comes to detailing the alleged "assault.""I can tell you that the sheriff's report is written from the point of view that the driver of the car did nothing wrong, and that's really concerning," Rosenberg said.

San Bernardino County Judge Shannon Faherty initially ordered all eight defendants to be held without bail during their arraignments on Dec. 18. The judge's decision was due to "concerns about the safety of the public," but did not elaborate on what the concerns were, according to a transcript of the arraignment.

A petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed by Contreras, calling the detention of the activists "unconstitutional." The Court of Appeals denied the petition.

"Judges aren't allowed just to make categorical blanket assertions of public safety, they have to make particularized findings in order to even say that … Frankly, there wasn't an express finding that public safety was at jeopardy," Contreras told ABC News.

On Thursday, San Bernardino County Judge Melissa Rodriguez also denied bail to Enamorado, Chavez, Amesquita, Peña, Lopez and Carrasco. Acevedo was granted bail of $40,000. Lujan had her bail review postponed until Jan. 2.

A spokesperson for the San Bernardino Superior Court declined to comment about the proceedings or the judge's decisions.