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MS-13 gang member charged in latest attack on transgender woman in MacArthur Park

People gather outside at MacArthur Park on Nov. 19, 2020 at 5:00pm. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
MacArthur Park has been the site of numerous gang attacks on the transgender community in recent months.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A member of MS-13 was charged this week with assaulting a transgender woman Thursday in MacArthur Park, the latest in a string of attacks allegedly committed by the gang against members of the LGBTQ community in the area, prosecutors said.

Gabriel Orellana, 19, was charged with one count of battery likely to produce great bodily injury in connection with the attack, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Ceballos. Orellana and another suspect — who has yet to be arrested or charged — are believed to have approached the victim, asked why she was there and yelled derogatory remarks before knocking her to the ground and striking her repeatedly in the head and torso, Ceballos said.

The woman was treated at an area hospital and required stitches, Ceballos said. It was at least the fourth time a member of the gang had been linked to violence against a transgender woman in the park since August 2020.

Last year, prosecutors filed three counts of attempted murder against MS-13 member Donoban Fonseca, who is accused of stabbing two transgender women in separate incidents between August and October. He also is alleged to have physically assaulted one of the women last September, authorities said.

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Police and prosecutors have said the assailants made derogatory comments about the victims’ sexual identity or gender, in one case yelling, “We don’t want gays in the park.” Though gender identity and sexual orientation are different, LGBTQ activists say people who show hatred for one or the other often conflate the two.

Orellana was arrested by LAPD officers on suspicion of attempted robbery on March 20, just five days before the latest alleged assault, jail records show. But he was released after prosecutors rejected the case because the robbery victim was uncooperative, Ceballos said.

A man is charged with attempted murder as well as hate crime and gang enhancements against transgender women in MacArthur Park, authorities say.

Orellana pleaded not guilty during a brief court appearance Monday. A preliminary hearing is slated for April 9, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

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LAPD officials have in recent weeks expressed concern about violence against transgender women in MacArthur Park. Just two days before the attack, the LAPD held a “midnight stroll,” with community leaders walking through the park alongside police, offering food and other resources to transgender residents.

“Midnight stroll has been a strategy that the department has worked with the transgender community for some years, typically much later in the evening and typically in the Hollywood area of our city,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the city’s civilian Police Commission last week. “But given the outlandish attacks on two transgender women that occurred in the MacArthur Park area just months ago, and the underlying incidence of gang violence and intimidation in that community, we thought that it was appropriate to have that outreach and that engagement in that park.”

LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala, the department’s liaison with the LGBTQ community, said she’s been involved in several meetings with transgender advocacy groups and service providers in recent months, including the Trans Wellness Center in Westlake, to try to determine how the department can best assist women who are feeling targeted in the area.

“They’re asking for the ability to be out in public, to not feel that every time they’re out there, no matter what time of day it is, that they are being judged or feeling vulnerable,” she said.

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Girmala said the recent spate of attacks may be driven by the fact that coronavirus restrictions have shuttered a number of businesses where transgender women used to socialize in the neighborhood, leading them to the park, which MS-13 claims as part of its territory.

“[MS-13], they’re in and out of that park and probably saw what they would think is a target of some kind,” she said of the attacks. “That’s something we’re feeling and hearing from the community.”

Ceballos, who is prosecuting both cases, said he filed hate crime enhancements against both Fonseca and Orellana. Although L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón barred the use of sentencing enhancements when he took office last December, he has since walked back the policy in cases involving “the most vulnerable victims.”

George Gascón ordered a number of major changes to the Los Angeles County D.A.'s office when he took office last week, but some of his directives are meeting resistance from judges and prosecutors.

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Still, Ceballos expressed frustration that he could not also charge Orellana with a gang enhancement under Gascón’s policy.

“It was clearly a gang case. The gang allegation should have been filed,” said Ceballos, who briefly ran for district attorney last year and has been one of several prosecutors to openly criticize Gascón’s policies. “But I wasn’t allowed to do so.”

Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.


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