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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)

For all those that complain or have the perfect answer to solving these issues become a cop yourself and end all societies problems. You guys think its easy to just say do this and do that and everything will get solved. Its not magic. Plain and simple if you want to be part of a gang you will be, if you want to do good in life you will. Like black and white. I dont want to hear its the schools, society, lack of jobs, this and that it's just a bunch of excuses. Stay your ass in school and get your degree and you will make a decent living. If you dont like the cops, then dont call them for nothing or ask for their help at all, do it on your own. I support all types of law enforcement because without them who will we call for help.

Welcome to Mexico!

Good for the police for finally doing something about gang violence! I hope that they continue to quell this terrorism inside within the United States that has been ignored for too long without having any other police officers getting murdered. Start going after The Bloods and The Cryps now. Then the Latin Kings and Vice Lords. I could go on but I bet the police could go on longer. Again, great job guys, but don't stop there.

There must be some law that could be used to take members of known criminal gangs off the street. Ten years in a Gitmo style camp somewhere out on the desert, half in isolation, would take the edge off them.

I agree with windu. Why should it take the killing of a cop to arrest people for breaking the law?

Bless all of those law enforcement men and women.

The cost of Mexican immigration, right here, buddy. By the way, their kids aren't going to college; they're going to follow daddy's footsteps into crime and welfare dependence.

Gang activity is only a small portion of the responsibilities of the LAPD. So easy to criticize when they get passionate when they lose one of their own. I personally don't mind if the police get motivation through the emotion of a loss. That emotion has won wars. Remember, unless you are a criminal, when police lose one of their own, we've lost one of our own. For the most part, police protect us.

"Yet, we never really address the core issues when it comes to gangs. Those issues are important; poverty, lack of resources/education, xenophobia/bigotry/oppression, even issues of gentrification and pushing the poor people out, regardless of race/country of origin.

It's long past time to really do something about this issue at the source, or core. We have to collectively lift the youth up, not toss them under the bus or train, just because they are poor, brown/black, etc. "

This it total liberal drivel nonsense. Why don't you see gangs and murders left and right in Appalachia? They have much less access to opportunity than those "oppressed" in one of the richest area on the planet.

Gov. Arnold should proclaim a new law that states "Gangs are Urban Terrorists". The damage they do to property (graffiti- vandalizing), Peace of Mind, Freedom of Movement, economic prosperity, to name a few would have most of the people in the state behind such a law. The people have spoken and are saying enough is enough. As tax payers we should demand a final clean up now. Start with the school system, mandatory uniforms for all K12 students. Then go after Viacom (MTV) and other media outlets that glorify these low life thugs and fine them as Co-Conspirators under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for promoting violence and hate.

keep it up. Also, the city needs have housing standards and the ability to kick out anyone with gang connections. Don't give them a place to live.

Good Job, LAPD! Maybe next week do the same to MS13, then 18th St., etc., etc. Clean up all that scum that has plagued your city for decades. Maybe then some other cities around the country will follow suit. Its good to see that some people still have some backbone even in cities where liberalism festers like a petulant sore.

1200 copes to arrest 53 people... Nice use of tax payer money. Hope your cases are solid.

Awesome... Simply awesome. Gang bangers can go rot

X- Officer, you ARE NOT an officer! Your language skills, or lack thereof, give you away to anyone with any common sense. No, you are probably a wannabe gangbanger who would love to make the true hero's in this mess look bad. Sorry, X-officer get a life and an education if you are capable of understanding plain english.

One who knows better ....

Every American is an illegal alien, learn your/our history and philosophy. A gang is nothing more than family and/or community. Fundamentality is not reality. Fundamentia is the real problem...

I'm glad to see somebody take on these thugs! Don't stop there: get the rest of the gangs off the streets and show the other 49 states it just takes guts to act like you're proud of your country and want to keep it safe...

"Lets use force to attain peace."

I doubt that the Avenues will see this as a reason to pack up and find a different lifestyle - Killing and imprisoning their brethren will only fuel more hatred for the police, the system, the white man, and will further galvanize gangs into societal groups instead of just small bands of organized 'crime'.

I hope that the LA taxpayers will be offended by this military action taken upon their own people who have done nothing wrong but associate with a group that promises to take care of them. Violence itself is what should be being punished and avoided, not gangs per se.

In any event, enjoy another decade of poor race relations and lawless communities - if the police wanted to help, if the State wanted to help, there is a better way than by stealing guns and property, killing, and imprisoning. A good first step might be to end the prohibition on guns and drugs - effectively killing the black markets for these commodities and taking away the gangs' revenue sources and major points of contention with others.

"Lets use force to attain peace."

I doubt that the Avenues will see this as a reason to pack up and find a different lifestyle - Killing and imprisoning their brethren will only fuel more hatred for the police, the system, the white man, and will further galvanize gangs into societal groups instead of just small bands of organized 'crime'.

I hope that the LA taxpayers will be offended by this military action taken upon their own people who have done nothing wrong but associate with a group that promises to take care of them. Violence itself is what should be being punished and avoided, not gangs per se.

In any event, enjoy another decade of poor race relations and lawless communities - if the police wanted to help, if the State wanted to help, there is a better way than by stealing guns and property, killing, and imprisoning. A good first step might be to end the prohibition on guns and drugs - effectively killing the black markets for these commodities and taking away the gangs' revenue sources and major points of contention with others.

Didn't matter how many civilians they killed, it wasn't until they killed a cop that the other cops cared enough to do something about it. How typical. How disgusting. I'm just so tired of cops who just don't care until it involves one of their own.

This is only going to make the problem worst some gangs are orginized once that organization is broken their will be smaller fraction of those gangs roaming the streets of L.A. Look at the bloods and crips once those gangs where disorginized they spread out and it was more concentrated groups of gangs in different areas of L.A. have you people not learned anything from history.

Great job LAPD. Now please send 'em to Guantanamo

Will the Judges and Immigration follow through, or is this just another big show for the voters?? PD's are sick of the revolving cell doors!

I really love those comments disparaging the LAPD and other agencies involved. The claims that the police only acted because one of their own were killed. The need for the best computers and teachers in the local schools. The usual "gangsta" whining comment that the LAPD is the biggest "gang" in the city. My question to those who have nothing to say but negative comments to say, is: What have you done to improve your community? You're probably the same person that complains when the cops "hassle" someone with a shaved head and wears size 40 Dickies. I'm sure your the same people who have done nothing but take from society, yet are the first to rail the police for any action they take. A community (as a whole) will always get the police service they ask for and deserve. The Hispanic community, through their lack of support for police (along with their unwillingness to properly raise their children) has led to their community turning into the cesspool it currently is. The police aren't going to make your community better. That's your problem. The police will only be able to occassionally remove a small percentage of those who are a blight on the community. Keep up your third world lifestyle down there and you can continue to wallow in your third world slums.

I really love those comments disparaging the LAPD and other agencies involved. The claims that the police only acted because one of their own were killed. The need for the best computers and teachers in the local schools. The usual "gangsta" whining comment that the LAPD is the biggest "gang" in the city. My question to those who have nothing to say but negative comments to say, is: What have you done to improve your community? You're probably the same person that complains when the cops "hassle" someone with a shaved head and wears size 40 Dickies. I'm sure your the same people who have done nothing but take from society, yet are the first to rail the police for any action they take. A community (as a whole) will always get the police service they ask for and deserve. The Hispanic community, through their lack of support for police (along with their unwillingness to properly raise their children) has led to their community turning into the cesspool it currently is. The police aren't going to make your community better. That's your problem. The police will only be able to occassionally remove a small percentage of those who are a blight on the community. Keep up your third world lifestyle down there and you can continue to wallow in your third world slums.

 
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