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Hemet police are optimistic that arrests will provide new leads on attacks on officers

Hemet police said Thursday they are confident that raids earlier this week that led to the arrests of 23 people would help in identifying those responsible for potentially deadly attacks against police.

“We are getting close,” said Hemet Police Capt. David Brown, who released the names of those arrested. During Tuesday’s raids at 35 locations across the Inland Empire, he said, investigators also seized 12 handguns, three rifles, numerous martial arts weapons, gas masks and drugs.

Sources have told The Times that investigators believe the attacks – including booby-trapping local police offices – were tied to a white supremacist gang with roots in the area.

Brown said the 23 arrests were on allegations unrelated to the attacks on the department and included 17 people arrested for felonies and six for misdemeanors. Six people were booked on weapons charges and 10 others were parolees.

Law enforcement officials have been cracking down on white supremacist gangs in the area in recent years. Experts who study hate groups said there are at least a dozen such groups operating in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Four members of a local skinhead gang known as the Comrades of our Racist Struggle Family are scheduled to be tried for attempted murder next month for the beating of a Latino man in November 2008.

The raids by local and federal law enforcement officials this week are the latest effort to solve the attacks directed at police, which began last year when a utility line was redirected to fill the local gang task force’s 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 and the bullet narrowly missed 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 on March 23.

Those arrested during the raids on suspicion of a felony included Joseph Zito, James Tielens Jr., James Tielens Sr., Ronald Potter, Patrick Nugent, Ryan Stobaugh, Jessie Reynolds, Darren McGraw, Christian Lewis, Anthony Ross, Rhonda Thomas, Derrick Yates, Alfred Morris, Sheri Dillon, Kelley Jackson, Brandon Garciduenas and Christopher Felber. Those arrested for misdemeanors include: Jon Felgen, Erin Kaiser, Ryan Gray, Keith Garron, Jarett Mejia and Chris Burton.

-- Richard Winton   

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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