Girl's assault case triggers debate over gangs

15-year-old said to have been stripped, covered in gang signs and beaten in the face

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

Local attorneys have differing views about whether an assault case working its way through the justice system is tied to a gang.

The defendant is Victoria M. Briseno, a slim, dark-haired girl who turns 19 on July 3.

At 15, Briseno made the honor roll the first semester of 1997 at Juneau-Douglas High School, but her path has been stony since then. Later that year, she was charged with underage drinking and, on Oct. 14, 1997, assigned to the Sitka Youth Home for nine months when other alcohol treatment programs declined to take her, Pam Robinson of the home said.

Then, on May 1, Briseno was indicted for second-degree assault, a felony, against a 15-year-old girl who has no recollection of the incident. According to court documents, Briseno recklessly caused serious physical injury to the unnamed teen.

The assault allegedly took place March 13-14. According to the April report of the state Department of Law, ``The 15-year-old had been stripped naked, the words `bitch' and gang signs written on her back, her hair was cut off, and the bones around her eye were broken.''

The victim was treated at Bartlett Regional Hospital. The emergency room physician suspected that she had been given a date rape drug, the Department of Law report said, but the hospital was not equipped to do a toxicological screen for that type of drug.

Briseno is being held at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center on $2,500 cash bail.

At her arraignment in Superior Court on Thursday, Briseno's court-appointed public defender, Rob Meachum, requested that Briseno be released into her mother's care, but District Attorney Rick Svobodny objected.

Although Briseno has no prior convictions, ``the gang nature of the vicious offense on a young child, (and) the other people convicted already (in this case)'' led him to oppose release, he said. ``We need to control Miss Briseno.''

Judge Larry Weeks scheduled a bail hearing for 10 a.m. Monday.

Meachum also asked to be replaced by attorney Daniel Wayne because some of the witnesses are Meachum's clients.

Local attorneys disagree about gang activity in Juneau.

``JPD is aware of gang indicators, and I have heard anecdotes about occasional indicators (such as) graffiti, people wearing gang colors, people with gang indicators on their vehicles such as statues on their dashboards,'' said city attorney John Corso.

Gang activity ``definitely warrants monitoring'' in Juneau, Corso added, ``but it isn't quite to the problem stage.''

Defense attorney Wayne disagreed there is gang activity in Juneau. He says the issue raises its bandanna-wearing head every three or four years, but has no substance. He felt that merely raising the issue of gangs prejudices any case and could result in a change of venue.

When he worked as a substitute teacher at JDHS for a year and a half, Wayne saw ``no signs of any gangs,'' he said. His mother, a grade school principal, shared with him no evidence of gangs, he said.

``I think gangs are a myth,'' Wayne said. ``I think sometimes we want to imbue our jobs with more drama than is really there, but the only gangs I know about are reports in the Empire quoting the police. Other criminal defense lawyers just laugh at the idea of gangs in Juneau.''

The case has already produced one conviction. Angela D. White, the woman who rented the residence where the assault allegedly took place, was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor in the March incident.

In another incident, which occurred April 22, White was charged with reckless endangerment when a 13-year-old was found unconscious with a blood-alcohol level of 0.52 percent.

White, 30, came before retired Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz, acting in Juneau Superior Court, on May 25 on the two cases. Rabinowitz dismissed two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and 11 counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

White was found guilty of one count stemming from the April 22 offense, of reckless endangerment; and one count of furnishing alcohol to a minor stemming from the March 14 incident. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 10 days in jail, to run consecutively. She had already served this time and was released from state prison on May 25, superintendent Dan Carothers said.

A condition of probation is that no one under 21 is to be in her residence between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. except for White's own children or the children of her boyfriend. The court allowed police to search at any time to determine if minors are on the premises.

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