White supremacist group tied to attacks against Hemet police
A Riverside County task force arrested 23 people Tuesday while serving search warrants at dozens of locations as part of an investigation into suspected attacks by a white supremacist group against Hemet police officers and city property, according to law enforcement authorities.
Tuesday's operation by a local, state and federal task force took the suspects into custody on suspicion of narcotics, weapons and parole violations, the Hemet Police Department said.
Hemet police Capt. Dave Brown said some of the 23 people arrested have gang affiliations. But citing the ongoing investigation, he declined to specify whether the suspects were involved with street gangs, prison gangs, motorcycle gangs or white supremacists groups.
A law enforcement source familiar with the probe said task force members believe that the attacks -- including booby traps set up at police facilities and the torching of several city vehicles -- appear to be the work of a white supremacist gang.
"We think right now it's tied a supremacist group. ... That's where we're leaning," said the source, who asked not be named because of the ongoing investigation.
Hemet police Capt. Dave Brown said task force members targeted locations they believe are connected to the attacks. But he cautioned that authorities were still interviewing the suspects Tuesday evening and had not determined whether they took part in the recent string of attacks.
The task force includes members of the Hemet Police Department, the Riverside County district attorney's office, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the FBI.
Last month, authorities arrested 33 alleged members of the Vagos motorcycle gang. After the operation, Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco said in an interview that the Vagos were "an extreme threat to law enforcement."
Beverly Hills attorney Joseph Yanny, who represents the Vagos and some of its members, said Tuesday that none of the 33 people arrested were Vagos members. He also said the group was not involved in the attacks against police.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is nothing but politics," Yanny said. "They know none of the people arrested were Vagos."
In response to the attacks, the Hemet City Council approved an emergency resolution to award $165,000 in no-bid contracts to "harden" Police Department headquarters and City Hall with buffers including plexiglass shields and surveillance equipment.
In recent months, the attacks have involved booby traps set at the headquarters of the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force, officials said. In December, a gas utility line was redirected to fill the offices with gas. Officials said a spark could have triggered a devastating explosion.
In February, a "zip gun" was hidden by the gate to the task force office and rigged to fire. When a gang officer opened the gate, the weapon went off, the bullet narrowly missing him, authorities said.
In early March, police said, a "dangerous" device was found near the unmarked car of a task force member. That was followed by an arson attack on four city code enforcement trucks March 23.
Authorities were also investigating whether an early-morning fire last week at a Hemet police shooting range was another attack on the department. The fire at the remote training facility off Warren Road broke out shortly after 2 a.m. Much of the building was destroyed in the blaze.
-- Robert J. Lopez and Andrew Blankstein
Photo: Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana arrives at the police headquarters. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times