Street vendor activists motivated by videos on social media plead guilty to assault

SANTA BARBARA, CA-NOVEMBER 30, 2023:Activist Edin Alex Enamorado, protests outside of Santa Barbara Superior Court during the arraignment for Jeanne Umana, a woman caught on two separate videos, using racist language to Latino men. Enamorado wants her to be charged with a hate crime. Her arraignment was continued until January 3, 2024. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Activist Edin Alex Enamorado protests outside of Santa Barbara Superior Court in January 2024. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

A group of six activists accused of attacking people they say harassed street vendors in Southern California reached a plea deal with prosecutors on Friday.

The six defendants — part of a group of eight led by co-defendant Edin Alex Enamorado — were accused of felony assault, conspiracy to commit a crime, unlawful use of tear gas and false imprisonment, among other charges, according to San Bernardino County prosecutors.

They pleaded guilty or no contest Friday to assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury and were given credit for time served in custody, according to court records. Prosecutors have not yet reached a deal with the two remaining defendants: Enamorado, who remains in jail, and Gullit Eder Acevedo, who is free on bail.

Over the last few years, Enamorado, 36, has staged protests outside the homes and workplaces of people he believes deserve public shaming, either because they were recorded saying something racist or because they were accused of attacking street vendors.

In December, Enamorado and the other seven were arrested and charged for carrying out a series of violent attacks and intimidation tactics during protests in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The group was charged with multiple felonies in connection with three incidents that took place in September.

On Friday, Wendy Lujan, who is Enamorado's partner, Vanessa Carrasco, Stephanie Amesquita, David Chavez and Fernando Lopez pleaded guilty to felony assault charges, according to court records. Edwin Peña, another named defendant, pleaded no contest to the same charge.

Lujan, Carrasco and Amesquita were ordered to report to a county probation officer, according to court records. Sentencing in the case has been scheduled for early December.

County prosecutors accused the group of carrying out acts of violence under the guise of protest. Enamorado's attorney, Nicholas Rosenberg, said his client was being singled out by prosecutors and law enforcement because of his vocal criticism of police.

Read more: He defends street vendors. Now he's on trial. Did he fly too close to the sun?

During pretrial hearings in January, prosecutors played a video of Enamorado livestreaming himself outside the Pomona Police Department, where he demanded to speak with an on-duty watch commander. Enamorado was upset because a security guard attacked a street vendor outside a Pomona supermarket and police had not arrested a suspect several days later.

“We’ll be holding him accountable,” Enamorado said in the livestream, chastising police for not investigating the attack.

Prosecutors said that Enamorado's style of accountability was a coupling of "ritualized harassment to gain notoriety" and violence under the guise of activism.

Rosenberg told reporters outside the San Bernardino County Superior Court in Victorville that his client meant to hold the security guard accountable for his actions.

"Accountable means getting bad actors fired," Rosenberg said. "My client has been instrumental in getting bad actors fired in the past."

Prosecutors said that after Enamorado shared the video of the attack, he and the other activists confronted the guard Sept. 3 as he sat in his car and then again when he approached the group as they protested outside a Pomona supermarket where he worked. Prosecutors allege that the guard was later beaten inside the market and pepper sprayed by some of the activists.

The case against Enamorado and the other defendants included two other incidents.

On Sept. 24, Enamorado and other protesters blocked the entrance to a San Bernardino County sheriff’s station in Victorville, prosecutors allege, and at least one off-duty sheriff’s deputy felt threatened when the group approached his civilian vehicle. The group’s rally focused on a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy accused of body-slamming a 16-year-old girl at a high school football game. The incident was captured on video and shared by Enamorado and his supporters.

Another two men who were simply in close proximity to the protesters were also attacked, prosecutors allege. One victim was at a Pomona police station on Sept. 3, and the other confronted protesters as they walked in front of his wife’s car near a car wash in Victorville on Sept. 24.

"The actions of these groups, despite their message, tears the fabric of society,” San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jason Wilkerson said during a January court hearing.

Enamorado garnered widespread attention on TikTok and Instagram for his viral videos that called attention to episodes where people attacked street vendors, made racist comments or engaged in acts of police violence. After the group's arrest in December, Enamorado's supporters referred to the activists as the Justice 8.

Rosenberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment about his client's case. Enamorado is due back in court on Aug. 9.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.