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Local inmates convicted of jail attack

Roberto Carlos Beltran and Edgar Araujo Mendez, two members of the Norteno criminal street gang, have been convicted after a jury trial of violently assaulting another inmate while they were incarcerated at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in west Ceres.

While incarcerated in the county jail on Jan. 10, Beltran, 34, and Mendez, 25, ambushed a 26-year-old inmate as he came down stairs during a routine housekeeping. Witnesses, including a Modesto Police Department Gang Unit investigator, testified that the attack took place in full view of multiple other inmates. The weapon used was a sharp jail-made weapon, commonly called a “shank.” The pair sliced the victim’s face, causing significant injury. Such a slashing attack on a gang member’s face is often used to humiliate or punish that member for not conforming to gang commands or rules, said Deputy District Attorney Patrick Hogan who prosecuted the case.

The attack ended when custodial Sheriff’s deputies intervened. The victim was subsequently removed from the housing unit for his own safety.

The two inmates were charged with committing mayhem along with enhancements for personally using a deadly weapon and having prior violent or serious felony convictions.

After a two-week jury trial before Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves, a jury on July 5 declared both defendants guilty of attempted mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and participating in a criminal street gang. The jury also found true an enhancement on each count for committing the crimes for the benefit of a criminal street gang.

According to District Attorney Birgit Fladager, laws passed by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Newsom have made it more difficult for prosecutors to convict gang members who commit criminal acts. Her officer said that many district attorneys around the state have struggled with these prosecutions, especially after a new law took effect in January.