VICTORVILLE, Calif. (KABC) -- Eight suspects are in custody with no bail following an investigation into assaults and other violent acts during protests in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
The suspects say they are activists who defend street vendors and exercise their First Amendment rights. But authorities allege their violent tactics go beyond the boundaries of protected free speech.
"This investigation began in late September, when we investigated a brutal assault that occurred at a protest in the city of Victorville," said Sgt. Tony Romero with the Victorville sheriff's station. "The investigation quickly became a multi-agency investigation when we discovered our group of suspects were responsible for violent acts during other protests in both San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties."
Among the suspects is Edin Enamorado, a well-known activist who goes on social media to defend the rights of street vendors. Videos show confrontations and protests outside the home of the mayor of Fontana and the Victorville sheriff's station among other locations.
Enamorado's attorney, Christian Contreras released a statement that read: "The arrests of the Victorville 8, including Edin Alex Enamorado, were clearly done in retaliation for such activists exercising their First Amendment rights. The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department's press conference regarding the arrest was absurd and resemblant of conduct in a third world country. Criticizing elected officials and law enforcement officers should never be criminalized and that it what the sheriff's department has done in this case. I will be in court Monday to fight these baseless charges vigorously."
San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said the group's activities go beyond free speech.
"What this group does it not protected by the First Amendment, it's illegal," Dicus said.
In one incident, the sheriff said, the suspects stopped a group of people at a carwash, surrounded their vehicle and attacked them, then released an edited version of the video.
"This group manipulates videos and photos on social media in an attempt to make them look like they are protectors of underrepresented people. However they use racism to threaten and intimidate their victims, causing them to get on their knees and beg for forgiveness while still assaulting them."
"This group is not about substance for the human condition, but rather click bait for cash," the sheriff said.
The group of eight suspects is expected to appear in court on monday.