All Chaos on the Home Front 

Luis and Frances get a big break, and begin the rebuilding. Then things fall apart

Thursday, Nov 11 2004
Photos by Anne Fishbein

It is a question of strength, of unshed tears, of being trampled under, and always, always, remembering you are human.

—Jimmy Santiago Baca, “Oppression”

In the first days after Luis bails himself out, no one wants to think about what will happen if criminal charges are re-filed in three weeks when Officer Rudy Chavez, the prosecution’s primary witness, returns to town. Frances and the children are mostly awash with relief at having the adult male of the family back in the house. After six and a half months without him, they are reluctant to let Luis stray far from their sight. Estephanie piles into the car unasked each time he runs an errand. The three littlest boys — Frankie, Elijah and foster child Mando — follow Luis into the bathroom, duckling-like, if he tries to grab a solitary shower. Even Gennisis the baby can now identify her father’s voice and has taken to emitting a series of insistent little yelps when he enters a room she occupies.

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Frances is less demonstrative than the kids. She and Luis tiptoe around each other emotionally, neither wanting to damage this honeymoon period with a quarrel. Yet, during random and distracted moments, seemingly without conscious notice, Frances leans in his direction, as if giving in to the deeper part of herself that has longed to have someone else to lean against these past months, rather than always being the person on whom everyone else depends for absolutely everything.

Luis’ own moods tend to whiplash between euphoria and fluctuating waves of free-floating anxiety of the sort that often accompanies release from incarceration. On top of this undifferentiated angst, Luis also copes with the very real fear that his freedom is merely a chimera that will soon vanish if and when he has to go back to trial.

The Family So Far This is part of a yearlong series focusing on the Aguilar family — Luis, Frances and their children — of East Los Angeles. In Chapter 5, Luis came up with $8,000 bail and arrived home for the first time since the police raid in January. He still faced the prospects of trial on the drug charge, creating uncertainty and tension for the family. And, as he knew too well, the police were keeping a close eye.

In addition to all the obvious reasons Luis prays the D.A. won’t re-file, there is the messy matter of his bail. It turns out that his $8,000 bail fee applies only to the original case — not any future re-filing. If prosecutor Lou Parise again charges Luis with drug dealing, as he has said he will upon Officer Chavez’s return from vacation, Luis must come up with new bail. But there’s one loophole. If the charges are filed within 15 days, then the original bail fee will remain in effect.

At the last court date, the prosecutor finally says that he’ll do his best to make the decision within 15 days. “I don’t want to do something that will cost Mr. Aguilar any more than necessary,” Parise says. Luis’ attorney, Mark Overland, also gets the prosecutor to agree to a meeting at which Overland will argue that there are major problems with the prosecution’s case.

To help prepare for the meeting, Overland has asked Luis to make a videotape showing the vantage point that Officer Chavez would have likely had from his surveillance post. But there’s a problem: The cops have been resolutely unwilling to reveal the location of the surveillance post to anyone but the prosecution.

Officer Chavez dropped a few clues during the preliminary hearing. For instance, Chavez described his angle of observation and estimated his distance from the Aguilars’ back door. Most importantly, he said that he had an unobstructed view of the Aguilars’ upper rear entrance and could clearly see Luis accepting paper money and handing the drug customer a small unknown item. All this, according to Chavez, without the aid of binoculars or the like.

Luis has read the transcript of Chavez’s testimony so many times he can recite most of it from memory. After scouting around the neighborhood, he narrows the options down to a single area in the northwestern corner of the yard belonging to the neighbor living directly behind the Aguilars.

The spot in question is part of the grounds of a small, impeccably maintained cluster of free-standing apartments managed by a 40-something schoolteacher named Pat Glas, whose mother actually owns the place. Although their respective properties abut each other, Luis has never formally met Glas, so the next time he spots her in the yard, he lopes over to introduce himself, explaining his case and the proposed video. To his relief, Glas is cordial — even friendly. She tells Luis she has no objection at all to his filming from her property, and says she’s positive that Officer Chavez used the yard for surveillance. “He called my mother to ask for permission,” she says. Glas says that she was never actually present when the police showed up, due to her work schedule. But other tenants likely saw the cops, she says.

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