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Killings May Point to Decay of Gang Truce

August 29, 1995|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a rash of five killings in the San Fernando Valley over the weekend--part of an outburst of 29 shooting deaths countywide--police are speculating that the long-cherished truce among Valley Latino gangs is collapsing.

"They keep saying the gang truce is holding but we're not finding a whole lot of evidence of that," Los Angeles Police Capt. Ronald Bergmann, commanding officer of the Foothill Division, said Monday.

"The truce was only between Hispanic gang members and that seems to be falling apart."

The Foothill Division polices the northeast corner of the Valley, where four of the five killings occurred and which has experienced an increase of more than 70% in gang-related crime this year. One particular weekend shooting, in which the victim and the suspected killer were young Latino men, specifically roused fears that the gang truce is unraveling.

The 29 gunshot deaths throughout the county were six times the average weekend toll.

"It was a pretty heavy-duty weekend," said Scott Carrier, a county coroner's spokesman. "Usually there are about five firearm-related homicides on an average weekend."

The bloodshed in the Valley began Saturday night when a 20-year-old Pacoima man was shot to death in his car, apparently following a confrontation with an unknown gunman in the 1400 block of Fox Street. His name was not released.

Two hours later, Oscar Palis, 17, of Arleta was shot inside his car after he and seven friends came under fire from two carloads of gunmen, authorities said. The incident is being investigated by the Police Department's Asian Crime Unit.

Within hours of the Palis shooting, Jesus Salazar, 24, of Pacoima was gunned down after an argument broke out at a party in the 13900 block of Louvre Street. Police said the Salazar shooting, as well as another that left one man dead two weeks ago, involved Latino gang members killing each other, evidence the truce may be falling apart.

"The truce had been holding [last year], but it's really been deteriorating this year," said Lt. Joe Garcia, who heads the detective bureau at Foothill Division. "We've got some people working hard at the truce; hopefully they'll be able to get people back in the fold."

Steve Martinez, a former gang member whom police credit along with other volunteers for trying to preserve the truce, acknowledged that there has been escalating violence in recent weeks, but contends that the truce is still in effect.

"Obviously there have been a lot of shootings," Martinez said. "We're trying to figure out who's involved."

Martinez said he and other volunteers were out Sunday night talking to gang members in San Fernando, Pacoima and other neighborhoods. He said the recent rash of violence appears to have taken gang members by surprise and that they do not know who is doing the shooting.

"It's a hard battle out there," Martinez said. "We're trying to slow things down, but it has been two years that the truce has been in place and there are a whole bunch of new players now that we're trying to get to know."

Bergmann of the Foothill Division said his gang officers have determined that the "truce has gone south," but that the bulk of gang-related crimes reported in his division are the work of one particular gang, which he declined to name.

One problem, Bergmann said, is that it has been difficult for his officers to identify leaders of the gang. Moreover, police said that the truce is supposed to bind Latino gang members not to perpetrate crimes against each other, but says nothing about committing crimes against the public at large.

"The citizens and gangs have not had a truce," Garcia said. "The citizens have been victims all along."

In the first seven months of the year, Los Angeles police had tallied 27 gang-related killings in the Valley. There was a 23% increase in all types of gang-related crimes for the first six months of the year.

Police and community activists have blamed the upsurge, in part, on growing numbers of renegades who are not parties to the truce, and also on a burgeoning number of Asian and African American gangs.

Two other fatal shootings, neither of which appeared to be gang-related, were also reported Sunday evening. Los Angeles police officers shot and killed David C. Hernandez, 38, who had rampaged through a Sylmar apartment complex with a semiautomatic pistol.

A 34-year-old North Hollywood man also fatally shot one man and seriously injured another Sunday night after they entered his house in the 11300 block of Miranda Street and beat him with a club and a machete, police said.

The victim, whose name was not released, was watching television with his 5-year-old daughter when two men pulled up in a truck and walked into his house uninvited, LAPD Detective Mike Coffey said. The men told the victim that "they were going to kill him and take care of business," Coffey said, and then began beating him with a billy club and a machete.

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