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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Crackdown on Gangs Continues

Police: Authorities from two counties raid 11 homes in response to shootings that left one man dead and another hurt at a Newbury Park housing complex.

May 05, 2000|ANNA GORMAN and TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Prompted by last weekend's shootings, scores of police officers from Ventura and Los Angeles counties swept into 11 residences occupied by suspected gang members Thursday in a continuing crackdown on gang activity that has terrorized a Newbury Park condominium complex.

More than 100 deputies, investigators and gang intelligence officers from six agencies, including the Ventura County Sheriff's and Los Angeles Police departments, participated in the early morning searches of homes in Van Nuys and Newbury Park.

Authorities said they found evidence linking the shootings, which left one man dead and another wounded, to a Van Nuys gang, but refused to say what was found. No arrests were made.

Sheriff Bob Brooks said the raid sends the message that gangs won't be tolerated in Ventura County.

"I don't think there is any greater threat to public safety than gang violence," Brooks said. "So we don't want to leave any step untaken when resolving these issues."

Police have arrested 10 men in connection with the two shootings, which occurred last Friday and Sunday, the second as mourners were going to a memorial service for the dead man.

No more arrests are planned, authorities said Thursday. But they called the operation a success and said the evidence seized will help prosecutors make cases against those already in custody. Police searched eight residences in Van Nuys and three in Newbury Park, including homes belonging to some of those arrested.

Police believe last weekend's violence was a culmination of rivalries between Salvadoran gang members and Mexican residents at the Conejo Creek condominium complex, a 540-unit development.

Edgar Cruz, 19, was shot and killed Friday when Salvadoran gang members from Van Nuys pulled up in a car and raked the complex with gunfire as families watched in horror. Andres Morales, 18, was injured in the shooting. No one was hurt in Sunday's shooting.

As the search warrants were being executed Thursday, Ventura County prosecutors filed felony charges against three suspects in Sunday's shooting.

Marcos Garcia, a 22-year-old Canoga Park construction worker, was identified by authorities as the shooter. He was charged with assault with a firearm, use of a gun and committing a gang-related assault. He is being held in lieu of $140,000 bail and faces up to 18 years in state prison if convicted.

His brother, 25-year-old Javier Garcia, was identified by authorities as the getaway driver. A Canoga Park painter, Javier Garcia was charged as an accessory after the fact and faces the same gang allegation. He is being held of lieu of $55,000 bail and faces up to six years in state prison if convicted.

Authorities say the brothers have criminal records, including for theft and battery, in Los Angeles County. Javier Garcia is now on probation.

The third suspect, 25-year-old Melvin Bonilla, was charged with assisting a criminal street gang and giving false information--in this case, his name--to a police officer. Prosecutors say Bonilla, who is on parole for selling drugs, was in the car during the shooting. He is being held in lieu of $60,000 bail and faces up to three years in state prison if convicted, authorities said.

All three men were arraigned Thursday afternoon on the charges in Ventura County Superior Court. Standing side-by-side in blue jail uniforms, each pleaded not guilty. A preliminary hearing is set for May 18.

The seven suspects in Friday's killing were rearrested Thursday on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, police said, but a date has not yet been scheduled for arraignment.

They are Jose Torres, 29; Carlos Molina, 24; Adan Gonzalez, 24; Mabrisio Rodrigues, 26; Francisco Alberto Rodriguez, 28; Roberto Guerra, 20, and Jesus Miranda, 21.

Ventura County sheriff's deputies have stepped up their presence in the complex this week. Residents held a community meeting Wednesday night to demand that police stop the violence.

Senior Deputy Harold Hanley said he hopes the massive operation Thursday shows Newbury Park residents that the Sheriff's Department is responding to their concerns.

"We are not going to stand by and let the crime be rampant," he said. "We are going to be proactive."

The searches began at 7 a.m. in Los Angeles and Ventura County and lasted about three hours, authorities said.

Because the Ventura County Sheriff's Department believes the shooters belong to a Salvadoran gang based in Van Nuys, the agency asked Los Angeles police for help. About 50 LAPD officers and gang intelligence investigators assisted the Ventura County sheriff's major crimes unit in the Los Angeles County searches.

"We just wanted to help them out," said LAPD Valley Bureau Det. Woodrow Parks. "We know the area better."

Other agencies involved include the Simi Valley, Oxnard and Ventura police departments, as well as the Ventura County district attorney's office.

"It was a big operation," said Eric Nishimoto, Ventura County sheriff's spokesman. "It demonstrates how much effort and attention we're putting into the investigation."

Residents said they are pleased the police are giving the shootings so much attention.

"I cannot say enough good things about the police," said Joel Murillo, who has lived in the complex for about 10 years. "They've responded very quickly. And it makes the people feel safer around here."

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Times staff writer Edgar Sandoval contributed to this story.

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