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Major police raid targets L.A.'s notorious Avenues gang

Gang

Hundreds of police officers and federal law enforcement agents launched a major assault on the Avenues gang this morning, hoping to deal a blow to an elusive group they say is responsible for some of Los Angeles' most notorious street crime.

Under the cover of darkness around 3 a.m., roughly 1,200 heavily armed officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and several other agencies dispersed from a command post near the LAPD’s training academy in Elysian Park.

Warrants in hand, they descended on dozens of homes in search of 53 alleged members or associates of the Avenues gang wanted on an array of federal charges related to extensive drug dealing, unsolved murders and other crimes.

Forty-three suspects already are in custody on unrelated charges. The operation was aimed to bring new charges against 88 Avenues members or associates, a significant share of a gang that is believed to have about 400 members. 

Some suspects were sought elsewhere in the city, but the sweep focused on Glassell Park and other neighborhoods in the northeastern reaches of Los Angeles -- the center of Avenues territory since the gang first surfaced in the 1950s.

There were no reports of officers encountering armed resistance. San Bernardino sheriff's officers say they shot two aggressive dogs they encountered at one location.

It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects had been found at their homes and taken into custody. The names of the suspects and the crimes they were accused of also were not immediately known, pending the unsealing of the indictments.

The arrests culminated a yearlong investigation of the gang run by a unit of LAPD detectives that specializes in gang-related homicides and a DEA task force.

The Avenues came under scrutiny in the wake of the August 2008 slaying of Juan Abel Escalante, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. Escalante, 27, was gunned down outside of his parents’ Cypress Park home early in the morning as he headed to work as a guard at the Men’s Central Jail.

LAPD detectives led the murder investigation into the killing because it occurred within city boundaries. Within days of the shooting, agents from the DEA task force, which had previously investigated the Avenues, came to the LAPD with information they had gathered that indicated members from the gang may have been responsible.

That tip led to the arrest in December of two Avenues members in connection with the murder. Months later, a third member was taken into custody, and charges were brought against a fourth, who remains a fugitive. In the course of investigating the Escalante killing, however, the LAPD detectives and DEA agents delved into the inner workings of the Avenues and began compiling evidence related to a host of other alleged crimes.

Some of the information was collected during interrogations of Avenues members and others from the neighborhood who had been arrested by a special team of 54 uniformed gang officers deployed in the area. Much of the incriminating information, however, came from the suspects themselves as DEA agents secured approval from federal judges for an array of wire taps that allowed them to listen in on gang members’ phone conversations.

"They could have just stuck with Escalante," said LAPD Capt. Kevin McClure, who oversees the detective unit. “They could have said, ‘We got what we came for,’ packed it up and moved on to something that would have been easier. This operation was not a result of me telling them they have to do this. It is a result of this unit saying, ‘There is more here, let’s keep going.’ ”

Over the course of the investigation, cases were built against Avenues members for their alleged roles in six other unsolved murders and four attempted murders, said a top LAPD gang detective involved in the operation. He requested that his name not be used because of concerns over retaliation by Avenues members.

The bulk of the charges are for extortion and other crimes that Avenues members and associates allegedly committed as part of the gang’s extensive drug trafficking in the area, police say. Most of the Avenues members included in the indictment are being charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which allows prosecutors to pursue more serious prison sentences. At a planning briefing last week with representatives from the agencies involved, there was little question as to what had kept the group motivated.

With the auditorium at LAPD headquarters filled with a few hundred officers, a recording was played of the phone call Escalante’s wife made to a 911 dispatcher after discovering him in the street. “If anyone has any doubt about the rationale or reason behind this operation, it was this,” a detective said.

At the meeting, officers reviewed the complicated logistics involved in a gang sweep of such a large magnitude. With more than a dozen targets located on one street alone, the routes each team of officers would take and the order of their deployment had to be painstakingly planned.

Officers were instructed to bring suspects back to the command post for processing wearing only clothes and a pair of shoes. Any jewelry, cellphones or other belongings would clog up what promised to be an already hectic assembly line of alleged criminals.  Staff from the state’s Child Protective Services department would be on hand to handle children found in any of the homes, officers were told.

The gang, named for the avenues that cross Figueroa Street,  has a long, ugly history dating back at least to the 1950s, when it was linked to many shootouts and killings. It is thought by some that the group’s origins can be traced back to some of the hundreds of families displaced from Chavez Ravine, now home to Dodger Stadium, and the Rose Hill areas.

The group’s insignia, which many members have tattooed on their bodies, is a skull with a bullet hole, wearing a fedora. Various cliques of the Avenues claim Highland Park and parts of Cypress Park, Glassell Park and Eagle Rock as their territory. It is linked closely to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, which demands that the Avenues and other Eastside gangs send up a share of the taxes they collect from low-level drug dealers and others selling goods on their turf.

Today’s sweep is hardly the first time law enforcement has taken on the Avenues. In 2002, the city attorney won an injunction against the gang, making it illegal for members to congregate throughout much of Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park and Eagle Rock. A few years later, federal prosecutors won hate-crime convictions against Avenues members for the killings of three black men between 1995 and 2000.

Government attorneys argued that the Avenues launched a campaign of violence to force black people out of the Highland Park area in the 1990s and targeted the men simply because of their race. In 2007, the city used a narcotics-abatement lawsuit to shut down the home of a family at the center of the Avenues' Drew Street clique.

At the time, then-City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo called the house the gang’s “mother ship.” In February of last year, the gang re-erupted into the city’s public consciousness when policy say Drew Street members  gunned down a man as he stood on a curb holding his 2-year-old granddaughter’s hand.

They brazenly took on police in a running gun battle, firing at officers with an AK-47 assault rifle in broad daylight. Most recently, in June 2008, the DEA task force that came to LAPD detectives with information on the Escalante killing conducted a similar, but smaller, operation to the one carried out today. That investigation named 70 defendants.

At the time, LAPD officials assured residents of the area that they would work to keep the gang from reclaiming control of the neighborhoods. Drug activity in the area has slowed considerably in recent months, the detective said, but considering the size of today’s operation, the gang clearly has maintained a commanding presence in the area.

"They’ve owned that community for a long, long time," the detective said. "Only time will tell for sure, but I think this will be a blow that will finally make a lasting impact."

-- Joel Rubin

Photo: Several men suspected of being members or associates of the Avenues gang are held in a booking area after being arrested during a predawn raid. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (204)

Very little will change in these neighborhoods until the people living there demand it. Not too long ago many of the gang infested and crime ridden neighborhoods in LA were nice places to live, go to school, and raise a family.

Its obvious what has changed in those neighborhoods.

"windu" has a valid point. Of course, too many residents in those neighborhoods, understandably, either turn a blind eye to criminal activity or refuse to testify. Perhaps if California had a more liberal carry law, gang members might be a little more polite. They're tough as nails until the gun is pointing at them.

Man reading and logic must not be taught in many schools today. The 43 were already in jail on other charges. The other 53 were picked up on warrants on information gained from information on some of the 43 that were willing to talk and cut a deal. The others were picked up from the information gained in the electronic wiretap.
Its easy moan about the police not doing something in the gang infested neighborhoods but when the police show up and really start doing what it takes to do the job. Working traffic, stopping people walking everyone screams harassment.
If you dont like how your police department is working, go to work for them and change it. If you think your department is full of racist go to work for them and change it. If you cant do that in the least educate yourself about the job before you whine, moan and wring your hands.

Control the illegals and you will have a good starts of stopping the gangs in you city. It is sad to see that a law enforcement officer had to die before this took place. Just goes to show you that the average citizen does not hold much influence. Clean the street of the illegals and keep it going.

Give them all a fair trial, and then a proper hanging.

We still aren't doing enough. I don't understand why gangs are not considered domestic terrorists? They are no different than the people we are fighting over seas except that these street gangs are gutsy enough to terrorize in our own backyard.

Trying to prevent kids from being involved in gang activity by pouring money into after school programs, or schools themselves is a great idea but it won't make any difference right now.

You have to rid the body of all the poison before you can start to heal, and the only way to do this is to define these thugs as domestic terrorists and treat them as such.

You arrest any one with any signs of gang affiliation, no questions asked. Gang activity, promoting gangs by tats or clothing will get you locked up. We don't lock them up in California because they are no longer crminals they are terrorists and so we ship them off to Guantanamo Bay and there they can away their trial.

Once you stop allowing these thugs to have all the power and you start to have "O" tolerance for them, then and only then will it stop.

I'd be willing to enforce Martial Law in some of these cities because you'd see these gangs crumble pretty quickly. That might be a bit extreme for some, but I personally feel it's might right as a tax paying, US citizen to be able to walk down the street and not live in fear.

That one of their own was killed, then the massive response when the gange has been terroizing the neighborhood for a good 20 years?

It is what it is.

88 L.A. gangmembers down, about 100,000 to go. What a joke!

TO THE X-OFFICER: YOUR RIGHT - I HAD SOMEONE INVOLVED IN A CRIME THAT SHOULD OF BEEN A MISDEAMOR BUT BECAUSE ONE OF THE KIDS WAS A KNOWN GANG MEMBER THEY TAGGED EACH KID AS A GANG MEMBER. THE GANG OFFICER THAT TOOK THE STAND LIED, THE OFFICER THAT WAS PART OF THE ARREST ALSO LIED. THEY BEAT THOSE BOYS B4 THEY REACHED THE STATION. ONE KID IS DOING 10YERS FOR STEALING A CELL PHONE BECASUE THEY ADDED GANG CHARGES. SO WHERE WILL HE BE REHABILITED AT IN PRISON? THE LAWYER EVEN STATED THE POLICE DEPT ARE THEIR OWN GANG UNITS WHO LIE AND WILL DO ANY THING TO GET A MINORITY KID OFF THE STREETS. WE HAVE POLITICIANS WHO STEAL AND DO WORSE THEN THE KIDS IN THE STREET. BUT THEY HAVE CONNECTIONS THEY GET AWAY W/THE CRIME.
THE OTHER KID GOT 4YEARS FOR PART OF THIS CRIME OF STEALING A CELL PHONE. WHILE SOMEONE WHO RAPES, MURDERS GETS THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME. WHERE'S THE LOGIC. YES, THE KIDS NEED TO BE PUNISHED BUT FIT THE SENTENCE TO THE CRIME AND NOT MAKE IT WORSE FOR THEM SO WHEN THEY ARE RELEASED THEY ARE ANGRIER AT OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM. MINORITIES NOT MATTER IF THEY ARE AMERICAN BORN ARE SCREWED REGARDLESS.

The time has come for Americans and law enforcement to view these social thugs as armed armies within our borders. Armies that must be attacked and elliminated. Ask yourselves why these thugs would never exist in North Korea, Venezuala,cuba or any other communist country. The answer is that where few freedoms exist, such behavior is never tolerated. Thuggery and murder by gangs only takes place in society where freedoms allow people to take advantage of them. It's time to get tough and elliminate all gangs.

Next problem is the prisons are like crime college resorts. Under the present system that coddles prisoners and lets the gang members hang out together inside, they will come out harder and more dangerous than before.

No more resort prisons! Lock em up, and keep them far apart. If and when they get out they need to know they don't want to go back.

Police are pretty much the same everywhere in this country. I live on the other side of the country, and they do not do the job they were hired to do here either. They will not enforce the law regarding barking dogs or property maintenance. I am sure it is the same for gangs if there are any. Their standard excuse is, “I want to go home to my family.” If they are such cowards, they should be in another line of work. They love wearing the side arms and driving the cars with the red lights, but that is about it.

Why would anybody ever want to live in L.A. ? If its not the wildfires, the threat of earthquakes, the stifling taxes, the loony tree-hugging population, the insane hate america first Speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, then surely the scumbag gangs would make any sane person want to leave.
California has turned into the armpit of America.

LAPD...thank you!

The only reason this happened is because it was one of their own that unfortunately lost his life. When it comes to protecting the private citizen they take the "pen is mightier than the sword approach" and fill out paperwork after the fact vs. taking aggressive action to prevent crime in general. Thank goodness for the 2nd amendment and for smoke detectors. Without those we would surely die if our lives were left up to the civil servants for protection. That's why when they start screaming about their budgets and the threat to "public safety" if they have to participate in an economic recession, I yawn. Please, I have been a victim of crime 11 times in 14 years without a cop in sight. I'll take care of myself, thank you.

Once upon a time, criminals lived behind bars. Now...the animals control the streets & the citizens live behind bars to keep the animals out.

I'm glad to see that at least some of these scum will be off of the street. Keep on the DA's office & keep up the pressure on the judges to impose the heaviest sentence that CA allows! These two-legged animals count on light sentences & all of the perks that they recieve in jail! Too bad CA doesn't have the death penalty anymore.

One gang fighting another...great!

There is no place for this trash. You deport them, they come back. You jail them, we flip the bill for there lodging and meals while they continue to kill and sell drugs in prison.

We are overpopulated as it is.

Just exterminate them or send them to an new offshore supermax facility with 3 x 3 cells before they do in all of us.

Those of you berating Law Enforcement because you think they wouldn't do anything 'until one of their own was killed' obviously didn't read the whole article. They've been doing sweeps and working this particular gang since long before the assassination of the Sheriff's Deputy.

Law Enforcement agencies are woefully under staffed compared to the vast numbers of gangs and sheer numbers of gang members out there, and not just in L.A., but everywhere. Add to that the calls for service and investigations for every other criminal event they have to handle each and every day. Much like a patrol officer's/deputy's calls for service during their work shift, everything has to be prioritized in Law Enforcement because there is just far too little precious resources to draw from.

They were currently working this gang, and have been for decades. But, when that group of human excrement went so far as to assassinate a law enforcement officer, the urgency became apparent and it was time to launch a massive raid such as this. It was prioritized to the top of the gigantic stack of things they have to do today.

One need only look a few miles to the South into that wholly corrupt cess pit of a country, Mexico, to see what can and will happen if assassinations of law enforcement officers and officials is allowed to go unchecked.

When Barack Hussein Obama and our Democrat government gets done spending trillions upon trillions of dollars on self-entitlements and feel-good legislation that serves only to keep them in office and in power, maybe they'll spend a few bucks on Law Enforcement so we can have the staffing we need and the equipment we need and the jails we need to see these gangs and criminals rubbed out and destroyed and caged like the reprobate animals they are once and for all.

The cops also need to get rid of the violent black gangs in LA.

If Kalifornia just enforced illegal immigration laws there would be no problems there. Kalifornia is going broke from supporting these illegals from welfare to the prison system.

Kalifornia needs to enforce the illegal immigration laws. Kalifornia is going broke from supporting illegals through welfare and the prison system.

Close the Boarder
Close the Boarder
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Close the Boarder
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Close the Boarder
Close the Boarder

JM: How naive. We have spent all themoney in the world on the schools. Unless the kids have parents that teach them values to study, do their homework, etc., etc., all the fancy computers and new books in the world won't teach the kids anything. It's not about money. It's mostly about the lack of fathers in the home. Look at the statistics: the overwhelming majority of rapists, thieves, murderers, people in prison, drug addicts, etc. grew up without a father.

While I commend the LA police and other police organizations for their efforts I must ask why it took nearly fifty years and a slain 27 year old officer to finally motivate them,or are they like the law enforcement officers (not all) in Hellinois who use crime activity and criminals as job security.It seems that many jurists are also culpable in returning these thugs to society....IMHO.

 
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