Sheriff's deputies swept through a Thousand Oaks neighborhood Thursday arresting six suspected gang members in the aftermath of a series of gang-related street fights.
The gang sweep was a part of a follow-up investigation of some fights that erupted between rival gangs in front of a Newbury Park house last week, authorities said. Two suspected gang members were arrested in connection with the fights, and four others were arrested on probation violations, authorities said.
"We've been having a problem with increasing gang activity," said Ventura County Sheriff's Cmdr. Kathy Kemp, who acts as the chief of police for Thousand Oaks. "Sooner or later one of these kids is going to get killed. We have to send a message that that level of conflict and resolution is not going to be tolerated in Thousand Oaks."
About 50 deputies, probation officers and police officers from Ventura and Oxnard police departments divided into teams and raided 10 homes at 7 a.m. as residents were getting out of bed.
No search warrants were necessary because all of the suspected gang members were on probation, said Sheriff's Sgt. Bruce Hansen. As a condition of their probation, they must agree to be searched at any time by probation officers or police officers, Hansen said.
No one resisted arrest, Hansen said, and the raids in the quiet residential neighborhoods took place simultaneously so that no suspected gang members could warn others.
Gang sweeps are part of a regional push by area police agencies that began in 1992 to crack down on the growing strength of street gangs in Ventura County. Most of the sweeps have historically occurred in western Ventura County, where the gangs tend to be more numerous and violent, Kemp said.
But even white-collar communities like Thousand Oaks are not immune to gang activity, said Thousand Oaks Councilman Frank Schillo. He noted that the multi-agency task force has conducted several similar neighborhood sweeps since 1987.
"Thousand Oaks does have a gang problem, and you have to make people see that this won't be tolerated," said Schillo, who has tagged along to witness a gang sweep in 1987.
Schillo said he believes a rude morning awakening and unexpected arrests send a strong message to gang members. And he said Thousand Oaks residents strongly support gang sweeps because they want to see gang activity curtailed, he said.
"A lot of people move here from the San Fernando Valley and they want to get away from crime," Schillo said. "When they hear about gang activity, it's the start of something they don't want to deal with again. There is no such thing as a slight bit of gang activity."
Thursday's gang sweep followed several fights that broke out April 14 on Wendy Drive in Newbury Park.
The fights involved three different rival gangs, and occurred within 30 minutes of each other, authorities said. The first quarrel started when a carload of suspected gang members drove past the Newbury Park house and saw some rival gang members loitering in front.
They exchanged words and shouted at each other before the carload of gang members drove away. Then another group of rival gang members happened to drive by and got out of their van to confront the gang members in front of the house, authorities said. After a brief scuffle, the rival gang members climbed back into their van and drove away.
Meanwhile, the first group of rival gang members returned with a gun and fired at least one shot at the group in front of the house. No one was hurt by the gunfire, but some gang members suffered minor injuries during the scuffle, authorities said.
A few hours after the fight, deputies arrested Brady Willmon, 18, and a 16-year-old, both of Thousand Oaks.
Willmon was arraigned Thursday in Ventura County Superior Court on charges of conspiracy to commit assault stemming from the Newbury Park fight last week.
He had been free in lieu of the $5,000 bail, but was rearrested Wednesday and accused of bursting into into a teen-ager's home and beating him. No charges in that second case have been filed, but a judge set bail at $60,000 for both cases.
Willmon's attorney, Richard T. Ferko, denied his client has any gang affiliations, saying his client spurned the gang efforts to recruit him and had been targeted by them because of that. "Gang members like to go after big guys and get them to join their gang," Ferko said of Willmon, a former football player at Westlake High School.
The 16-year-old suspect is at Juvenile Hall awaiting a court hearing, authorities said.
The two other suspects in the gang fights who were picked up during Thursday morning's raids, were Tam Nguyen, 22, and Michael Jay, 18, both of Thousand Oaks. They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon. Nguyen is also suspected of shooting at an inhabited dwelling.
Jay made bail at Ventura County Jail on Thursday afternoon and Nguyen was being held on $5,000 bail.
Other suspected Thousand Oaks gang members arrested during the sweep for probation violations were:
Caesar Roldan, 18, on suspicion of felony battery and burglary; James Balch, 21, on suspicion of possessing marijuana; David Hernandez, 24, on suspicion of possessing of a dangerous weapon, and one juvenile for violation of probation.
Times staff writer Dwayne Bray contributed to this report.