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Massive raid in Glassell Park nabs 44 Avenues gang members

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Under the cover of darkness this morning, about 1,200 heavily armed officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and several other agencies launched a major assault on the Avenues gang, hoping to deal a blow to one of Los Angeles' most notorious criminal groups.

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Warrants in hand, teams of officers departed a massive command center in Elysian Park around 3 a.m. and descended on dozens of homes in search of 54 alleged members or associates of the Avenues gang who were wanted on an array of federal charges related to the gang's extensive drug dealing, unsolved murders and other crimes.

Within hours, 44 of the men and women were in custody, according to LAPD Capt. Kevin McClure, who is overseeing the operation. The others remained at large and are being sought. Among the arrested was Tammy Armstrong, a state corrections officer accused of aiding members of the gang currently incarcerated. Several weapons were also confiscated.

With more than three dozen other suspects already in custody on unrelated crimes, the operation aimed to bring fresh criminal 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 and in other counties, 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 violent resistance. San Bernardino County sheriff's officers shot two aggressive dogs they encountered at one location, police said.

More typical of the morning was the scene that unfolded on Estara Street in Glassell Park. LAPD SWAT team members quietly surrounded a home in search of a pair of brothers, Norberto and Roberto Salazar. Using a bullhorn, a SWAT officer ordered the occupants out of the house. Several dazed looking women carrying small children wrapped in blankets emerged and were taken aside for questioning. They were followed shortly by Norberto Salazar, who was walked down the street in stiff plastic handcuffs and wearing baggy white shorts and a white tank top.

On the street corner, beneath a sign advertising check cashing at the El Ranchito meat market, Salazar spoke quietly with detectives for several minutes before being led away to a waiting car. He is accused of directing other Avenues members to commit several violent or drug-related crimes. His brother, who is accused in a beating of a man, was not found at the house.

The operation culminated a yearlong investigation of the gang that had been headed jointly by a unit of LAPD detectives that specializes in gang-related homicides and a DEA task force. The group turned its focus on the Avenues 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 detectives with information they had gathered that indicated members of 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 wiretaps that allowed them to listen in on gang members' phone conversations.

"They could have just stuck with Escalante," McClure said. "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, police said. The bulk of the charges, however, involve 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 and associates 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.

During a final briefing at the command post this morning, however, LAPD Cmdr. Pat Gannon reminded the officers, "This is not about payback. This is about us being professional, doing our jobs and putting people behind bars."

After several weeks of painstaking planning, the sweep went off without any major problems. Once taken into custody, suspects were transported back to the command post, which took on a surreal quality as the day's first light revealed dozens of handcuffed men and women being processed in an assembly-line fashion in the middle of a sprawling parking lot dotted with hundreds of police vehicles and catering trucks to feed hungry officers.

The Avenues 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 area.

The group's insignia, which many members have tattooed on their bodies, is a skull with a bullet hole in it and 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 police said 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 and violence in the area has slowed considerably in recent months, police said, but considering the size of today's operation, the gang has maintained a commanding presence.

More than last year's sweep, today's operation struck deeper at the guts of gang, targeting higher-level members who play central roles in running the day-to-day operations of the gang. Most prominent on the list of suspects taken into custody was Rudy Aguirre Jr. Aguirre had established himself as a crucial bridge to the outside for several of the gang's leaders in Pelican Bay State Prison, said Christopher Brunwin, the assistant U.S. attorney leading the effort to prosecute those arrested.

"The roots of this gang and others like it run so deep that the idea of completely eliminating it is not a realistic goal," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck. "But eliminating its ability to operate as a criminal enterprise is realistic. We have taken a big step in that direction today."

-- Joel Rubin reporting from Glassell Park and Elysian Park

Photo: Law enforcement officers shackle one of the suspects arrested in a pre-dawn raid against the Avenues gang in Los Angeles. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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Video: Times staff writer Joel Rubin describes the scene

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More photos > > >

 
Comments () | Archives (48)

It's unfortunate that it takes an officer's death to initiate a multiple agency collaboration to effectively take down this toxic waste from the community, but this is welcome news.

I've lived in Highland Park all my life and the Avenues have terrorized our neighborhood. Innocent people, men, women and children, have been caught in the cross fire of their madness. At a very early age I began to loose classmates and friends at the hands of these cowards. And unfortunately, I began to adapt to my surroundings, walking home from school and watching my back and making sure I don’t walk home alone. And now as a grown adult, still living in the area, I still watch my back, and I know what streets not to drive down, especially at night!
The ironic thing about living in the middle of this madness all my life, I’ve inadvertently, come across people who are associated with this gang. Childhood friends, neighbors, friends relatives, it touches me, and everyone living this area, whether they know it or not!
The majority of these gang members are 2nd, 3rd, generation. They were groomed to live this life. So I can’t help but wonder about these gang members families, their mother, father, spouse, sister, brother and especially their children. My plea to their family; PLEASE STOP THE MADNESS. PLEASE DO NOT GROOM THE NEXT GENERATION!
When I hear the news that these terrorists are being removed from our street, I applaud the LAPD and all who were involved in this effort! It makes my family and friends much safer. Thank you!

The conduct of these gang members should not be understood to be typical of all hispanics . Just the 99.9% who encourage and enable it . This is cultural war to the death .

They should send the National Guard down there and have them patrol the streets. Those gangs are seriously out of control and I'm sick of them terrorizing communities.

Wonderful....this is just great and I pray that it has an impact within this great community. I remember back to two years ago, when my wife and I were first moving to Los Angeles from Tokyo. Highland Park seemed to be a very highly recommended place. And it was incredibly beautiful. I actually stopped in at least five different Mexican restaurants while house hunting over two days. Rich in culture and scenery. After those two days I thought I had found the perfect apartment...and nearly moved in until the land lord told me he wanted to talk to me on the side. He then told me that even though the vast majority of people in the community are honest, upstanding and hard working, I might possibly run into some issues with some of the Avenues members given my race (black) and also given that the apartment was at the end of a deep cul de sac where known members lived. After listening to him give me a brief rundown on their colorful history he recommended his neighborhood of Silver Lake. I was a little bitter but definitely had no regrets. I hope to purchase a home here someday, though. A beautiful pocket that seems a world away from the city.

I'm waiting to see how long it takes Obozzo to say these cops acted "stupidly".

keep it up LAPD et all!!!

Maybe we shouldn't be jailing these animals. Send them to China and have our friend do the execution. Fast and cheap.

And exactly which overcrowded prison are these gentlemen headed for?

We wouldn't have to be bothered with this if we secured the border a long time ago. This is a direct result of our lax border policy and refusal of govt to enforce our existing immigration laws and end birthright citizenship. The result was very predictable and will continue until something is done to address both legal and illegal immigration.

this is a response to Hagop:
many of these gang members are 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation! I grew up in Echo Park & a proud Mexica-American who can say that no one in my family are gang memebers. Based on your comment below perhaps we should allow Germens into this country as well? Stop being a hater! Let just solve the problems of the city. Thank you LAPD for rounding up these terrorists!

Bravo LAPD! Now please, please, please do the same for the San Fernando Valley before the thugs here get as out of control as those monsters.

To AdoptiveFather: My understanding is that since federal law is the strategy employed, gang members found guilty can go to any federal prision in the country not necessarily just state.

To Hagop: If you read the abbreviated history as outlined in thr article you will evidence that many of these members are not illegals and this is a problem that goes many generation back not unlike the Crips and Bloods, US mafia, white supremisists and other gangs that were homegrown in the U.S. And not to mention, the helpful assistance of one US corrections officer. Now tell me how jsut enclosing the border will help that? I understand there is 600 miles of fencing up now and outside of billions spent, what has that achieved? If our Naiotnal Guard is deployed primarily to foreign wars what does that leave to deploy here? And how does having obvious militarized streets aid the community?

I'm hopeful now that the Feds and local police are using this strategy

To those who think the cause and effect is a lack of border enforcement don't understand the culture and root of gangs. These are 3rd or 4th generation, US-born knuckleheads who take advantage of the rights that US laws provides them. Unless we're willing to suspend our civil rights to go after these pea-brained, low-life's, the neighborhoods will continue to spawn and glorify these dirtbags. Big Ups to the The Law for going after these culero's. My solution: drop them off in a Crip neighborhood and make them fight their way back to Highland Park. That would be a hell of a reality TV show!! "Warriors...Come out to play!!!"

Bravo LAPD!

I second Linda's comment...please come clean up the San Fernando Valley next!

"Posted by: cld | September 22, 2009 at 01:27 PM"


"To AdoptiveFather: My understanding is that since federal law is the strategy employed, gang members found guilty can go to any federal prision in the country not necessarily just state..........."
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Oh great!!! I am sure the rest of the country is thrilled at the idea of paying for prison time for the gang terrorists of Los Angeles.
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Maybe we can get "them" to pick up all of our other unfunded liabilities.


cockroaches

Why exactly did the LAPD wait until now - 30 years on - to do something about this gang? Oh. that's right! One of their own got shot and killed.

Would it be fair to say that until that happened the LAPD really didn't care. Sure, maybe they decried "gang violence" or something with a political spin, but did they do something earlier on?

I don't know. Perhaps it was "Diversity" politics and the La Raza enablers that made them pause? Maybe something else? I wish somebody would look deeper into all this.

L.A Times: you have the beginning of a story here. Now here's your chance to do some real investigation, some genuine digging for the bigger truth in all this. The asking of the hard questions. Asking something like "What about the MS13 gangs? The gangs of East L.A.? Pacoima?" Asking something like "Does it take one of your LAPD own getting shot to deal with - finally and once and for all - the seemingly every growing criminal element in urban L.A.?"

I'm sure many other tough questions can be asked as well. And I for one would like to know what you discover.

Just a thought.

VicB3

We must use the death penalty against those who took the life of an officer.

Thank you and congratulations on a job well done, law enforcement officers! Exterminate the verminous rats. What other purpose do they serve other than to vandalize/graffiti, steal, rape, extort, sell drugs and procure arms for the Mexican drug cartels, and murder, murder, and more murder? Ever heard of an educated or innocent gang member? They're all cases for pro-choice. I'm sick of coddling prisoners and illegals. Off the ilk so we taxpayers are no longer victimized by having to pay to maintain these swine who cheerfully continue to victimize us from behind bars. How refreshing to see that we are mostly in agreement with our comments. There's hope for L.A. yet, Bravo!

If the LAPD can do this about once a week we might put an end to this horrific and deadly form of thug in-breeding. But, unfortunately I'm cynical enough to believe that if there weren't a cop's killer still at large, this photo op for the LAT would have never happened. And, as was pointed out: where we gonna stash 'em? That's 44 beds, and counting?

The neighborhoods of NELA are so full of history and culture, but you have to squint to find them because everywhere you look are the graffiti marks of one more of these baggy-jeaned, white-T-shirt-wearin', shaved head look-alike robots, ruining the view. Yea: NELA's got the world by the tail when it comes to fashion.

The murders and terrorizing that take place within my neighborhood and the rest of NELA are a sad testament to the decline of what could have become one of the richest cultural corners of the country. Instead, it's a place where hope and fear live side-by-side in stuccoed multi-family dwellings, where pit bulls nearly strangle themselves every time someone decides to take their life in their hands and go for an evening stroll. You can almost smell the fact that it's an area that feeds one of the worst drug and alcohol addictions this side of the Rio Grande, and all that goes with that is doing nothing but holding the NELA hoods down by their cajones, esse.

And don't forget: there are plenty of chicas locas working either in front of or behind the scenes: Witness how they drag their little baby bangers
'round the 99-cents store, screaming at them to "shut up" because they can't concentrate on how to spend the dineros with a kid screeching for the very same candy they are used to getting anyway just to stuff a sock in it. Just TRY and let them know that the smack across the face they gave their mijo could land them a seat in SS court. It's the school of F-U for those little guys. I can feel it!

I love being a white girl in a mixed up land. But I hate being a mother and having to tell my adopted son that we can't drive down certain streets because someone might blow his Guatemalan head off. How would I explain that to his birth parents up in the highlands of Zela?

"The roots of this gang and others like it run so deep that the idea of completely eliminating it is not a realistic goal," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck.

Comments like that from a Deputy Police Chief do not make me want to move back to LA. It's scary there are gangs. It's scarier that police give up on the goal of completely eliminating an area gang.

cld:

Thanks for steering Hagop back to the article which addresses the citizenship myth in this case.

One wonders if Avenues started like IRA in its day, a symptom of disgust in the system which saw their farmer families ousted to make way for the Dodgers!

Of course, before the Omalley's, those folks were going to be evicted for another proud urban development project which was cutting edge for it's time....

it only took one officer being shot to get things done.
the moral of the story, obviously, just kill civilians.

If only California and it's Girlyman Governor could assemble some courage and a firing squad, then start the long awaited and deservedly appropriate "Rifle Sonata" upon these 88 drug-dealing, murdering, violent criminal scumbags. They will be painlessly transpoirted directly to the intersection of Judgement Avenue and Hell's Blvd and we will all live safer lives. Instead, thanks to the California Constitution of Cowardice the taxpayers will get to house, feed, and care for these remorseless killers for the next 20 years as they continue to run their criminal organizations from prison, like the entire gangland population of Pelican Bay does. What ever happened to the great American principles we were once proud of? "They sell school kids drugs / enslave teen girls to beds / they drove by and shot my little child right in his head / so when we caught them / out we pulled the rug / then tied them to a post and shot them all dead." BANG! End of problem.

 
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