After a jury found that two brothers from Nipomo violently attacked a motorist in a January 2015 incident that prosecutors said was related to the street gang Nipomo 13, one brother will serve almost a decade in prison while the other will only serve probation.
Noe Chang Leon, 24, was sentenced by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice to nine years in state prison Nov. 29, five years of which stem from a criminal gang enhancement charge, according to court documents.
On Tuesday, Leon’s 20-year-old brother, Javier Chang, was sentenced to eight years in prison by Trice, who then followed a recommendation by the San Luis Obispo County Probation Department to suspend that sentence so Chang can complete school.
Chang — who was also convicted of the gang enhancement and required to pay fines and restitution — will avoid prison if he successfully completes five years of formal probation.
The county’s assistant district attorney, Lee Cunningham, wrote in an email Wednesday that the District Attorney’s Office was “disappointed” in the lenient sentence for Chang and said an eight-year sentence would have been a “more just result.”
“We believe that Mr. Leon’s background and conduct in this case was similar to Mr. Chang’s,” Cunningham wrote. “Nevertheless, the power to fashion a sentence rests with the Superior Court judge, and we have to respect the judge’s decision.”
The brothers’ cases stem from a Jan. 22, 2015, incident in which they and two others were accused of attacking a passing motorist and hitting the driver with beer bottles when he confronted them for pouring beer on his car. The county Sheriff’s Office said at the time that they found the victim with serious head injuries in the 200 block of South Oakglen Avenue in Nipomo.
Leon, Chang and Francisco Encinas Mendoza (then 19, also of Nipomo) were arrested after returning to the scene when deputies were still investigating. The victim was treated for his injuries at a local hospital.
A fourth suspect, Fredrico Lazaro, skipped bail shortly after the incident and currently has a warrant for his arrest.
According to court documents, the victim told police one of his attackers held up a gang hand signal and yelled, “Nipas, homie!” Another suspect reportedly said, “If you call 911, it will only get worse.”
Following a weekslong trial in August, jurors found Leon and Chang guilty of assault (Chang pleaded no contest to one count), with Leon additionally being found guilty of attempting to dissuade a witness. Both admitted to one criminal enhancement for participating in a street gang.
Mendoza was found not guilty on all charges.
According to Probation Department reports for both Chang brothers, the victim identified Chang as the one who poured beer on his car, hit him with a beer bottle, participated in the assault and displayed the gang sign. Leon, the victim said, participated in the beating and told him not to call police.
However, the Probation Department recommended that Leon receive the harsher sentence because of his lack of remorse for the crimes, his admitted use of marijuana and methamphetamine, and the fact that he was on probation when the attack occurred. Leon reportedly told the department that the motorist started the fight and that Leon was only protecting his brother.
The department recommended no prison time for Chang, however. In her report, probation Officer Diana Hannah wrote that Chang told her the attack occurred on the day he was to take his GED exam. Feeling that he would not pass the test, he told her, he hung out with a friend and drank straight vodka instead, until he was “blackout drunk” and was unable to recall the events leading to his arrest.
Even though both brothers admitted to gang enhancements, both denied being a member or associate of Nipomo 13, though Chang admitted his marijuana dealer was a member.
“He insisted that neither he nor Leon are or have ever been associated with (Nipomo 13),” the report reads. “He was adamant that (the brothers’) only connection to the criminal street gang was simply to procure drugs.”
Unlike his older brother, Chang had two unidentified individuals contact the probation officer to speak in support of him, had no prior criminal history and was holding down a job at the time of his arrest. He also had indicated to the probation officer that he would complete his high school education and attend college, if granted probation.
“He expressed that he wants to improve his life and make something of himself and that this whole incident has opened his eyes,” Hannah wrote.