Federal prosecutors in San Francisco earlier this month triumphantly announced the indictments of three alleged MS-13 gang members for the murder of a Daly City man last June.
However, at least one of the suspects, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was already known to federal immigration authorities and under supervised release at the time of the murder of 26-year-old Alexander Temaj-Castanon, a restaurant worker who police say may have been mistaken for a rival gang member.
Davie Jimmy “Loco” Mejia-Sensente, 27, of Daly City, had first been arrested in May 2009. Members of the San Francisco gang task force and Daly City police raided his apartment.
Officers found ammunition, marijuana and MS-13 drawings in Mejia-Sensente’s room, and cocaine in other parts of the apartment, according to police and court records. Police later recovered a revolver from the home, which Mejia-Sensente said he needed for protection.
Police described Mejia-Sensente as having “numerous” MS-13 tattoos.
Daly City police Sgt. David Mackriss said in a recent interview that investigators were familiar with Mejia-Sensente from “prior contacts.”
“We know he’s a gang member,” Mackriss said.
Days after the arrest, San Mateo County prosecutors rejected filing a drug charge against Mejia-Sensente, citing insufficient evidence, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took custody of him and began deportation proceedings.
But “Loco” — despite being an illegal alien associated by local police with a dangerous street gang — wasn’t deported. Instead, ICE officials released Mejia-Sensente pending the outcome of his immigration case, which still remains unresolved.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Mejia-Sensente was given supervised release after it had been determined that he had no prior convictions.
“It was our decision based upon a thorough review of his case,” Kice said.
Under the terms of his release, Mejia-Sensente had to wear an ankle bracelet that tracked his whereabouts, according to a court filing by his immigration attorney. The ankle bracelet was later removed, but he was still required to check in regularly with ICE agents in person.
On the evening of June 21, 2010 — 12 days after Mejia-Sensente’s bracelet was taken off, according to ICE — Temaj-Castanon was shot in the head getting off a Muni bus on his way back from work to his home in Daly City, police said.
The killing remained unsolved until the arrests on Sept. 10 of Mejia-Sensente and another man, Carlos Mejia-Quintanilla, of San Francisco, for the crime. But San Mateo County prosecutors again declined to file murder charges, citing the need for further investigation.
ICE again took custody of Mejia-Sensente on Sept. 17, and four days later, federal prosecutors took up the May 2009 case against Mejia-Sensente, charging him with being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. The charge was later amended to possession of ammunition.
In court filings challenging Mejia-Sensente’s request for bail, federal prosecutors now described him as a member of “a notoriously dangerous street gang” implicated in multiple acts of violence, and thus a flight risk and a danger to the community. Bail was denied.
On May 5, federal prosecutors announced that Mejia-Sensente and two other men had been indicted in Temaj-Castanon’s slaying, as well as on conspiracy, racketeering and firearms charges.
In federal court Wednesday, Mejia-Sensente pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to his attorney. If convicted, he could face life in prison or the death penalty, prosecutors said.
‘Loco’ described as ‘respectful’
While prosecutors paint Davie Jimmy Mejia-Sensente as a dangerous gangster responsible for the murder of a man and other crimes, his attorneys and friends describe him much differently.
Mejia-Sensente — aka “Loco” — told police that he left the gang when he came to the United States at age 17 in 2001, but could not remove his MS-13 tattoos for fear that if he went to jail, members of the gang would try to kill him.
Mejia-Sensente’s attorneys declined requests for comment on this story, but in court filings said prosecutors had presented no evidence Mejia-Sensente was an active gang member, and that he had stable work at a restaurant, cared for a young son, and had applied for political asylum.
Though it’s not uncommon for suspected gang members to ask for asylum, Irvine-based immigration attorney Jay Nuñez said requests claiming the danger of gang retribution are often not approved.
“It’s kind of a floodgates thing, where if they set a precedent ... then anyone would be able to follow that precedent,” Nuñez said.
In one court filing from the defense, a Richmond couple sent a letter to the court saying that a family friend had invited Mejia-Sensente for Bible study at their home, and described him as “warm and respectful.”
“Never in the time that we have known him have we ever felt that he is someone that would ever want to harm anyone,” the couple wrote.
Timeline of a murder case
May 7, 2009: San Francisco and Daly City police raid Davie Jimmy “Loco” Mejia-Sensente’s home in Daly City, seizing drugs, ammunition and gang “indicia.” Mejia-Sensente is arrested; a gun is later recovered.
May 13, 2009: Mejia-Sensente is taken into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after his incarceration in San Mateo County on drug charges.
May 15, 2009: Mejia-Sensente released under ICE supervision.
June 21, 2010: Fatal shooting of Alexander Temaj-Castanon, 26, of Daly City, at a Daly City bus stop.
Sept. 10, 2010: Mejia-Sensente and Carlos Mejia-Quintanilla arrested by Daly City police in Temaj-Castanon’s slaying.
Sept. 17, 2010: San Mateo County prosecutors decline to file murder charges; Mejia-Sensente taken back into ICE custody on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm.
Sept. 23, 2010: Mejia-Sensente taken into custody of U.S. Marshals Service after U.S. Attorney’s Office formally files weapon’s possession charge.
April 7, 2011: San Mateo County prosecutors reopen Temaj-Castanon slaying case against Mejia-Sensente and Mejia-Quintanilla.
May 5, 2011: Federal prosecutors in San Francisco announce murder indictment against Mejia-Sensente, Mejia-Quintanilla and a third man. All three remain in federal custody.
Sources: ICE, San Mateo County District Attorney, federal court filings