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Police Testify at Hearing for Accused Gang Member

Court: Officers describe events leading to 1999 beating death outside a Ventura apartment. Ramiro Salgado, 20, is charged in teen's slaying.


When a fight erupted in the courtyard of his apartment complex, 18-year-old William Zara stepped outside and yelled at the brawlers to knock it off. In turn, they grabbed him, kicked him and beat him with a shovel until he died.

On Tuesday, Ventura police officers who responded to the September 1999 attack testified during the first day of a preliminary hearing for one of the defendants accused of delivering those deadly blows.

Ramiro Salgado, 20, faces charges of murder, conspiracy and a violation of the 1988 Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, which makes it a felony for a gang member or associate to help other gang members commit a crime.

Prosecutors say Salgado was among a group of west Ventura gang members who jumped Zara in front of his small apartment near Ventura Avenue after mistakenly concluding he had called police to complain about a loud party.

Zara was stabbed with a knife, kicked, punched and beaten in front of neighbors, who were prevented from coming to his aid, police said.

Prosecutors secured grand jury indictments last year against seven gang members and associates, who also face charges of murder, conspiracy and violation of the street terrorism act. A trial date is pending.

Salgado, meanwhile, was arrested and charged earlier this year, and prosecutors decided to proceed to a preliminary hearing rather than take the case to the grand jury.

On Tuesday, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox launched her case by calling an expert on the gang allegedly behind the slaying.

Ventura Police Det. Richard Payne testified the turf-oriented Ventura Avenue Gangsters have developed a fast-hitting attack style in which members join in a fight, then run away to evade police.

"They have learned over a period of time," Payne said, "that the quicker they can get in and out, the better chance they'll have to get away with the crime."

The gang's members typically have grown up in the working-class Ventura Avenue neighborhood and earn respect by committing crimes and backing up their fellow gang members in fights, Payne said.

"The more violent the crime, the more status it carries with the group," he said, adding that not joining in a gang fight can be cause for retaliation.

"It is considered disrespectful to stand by and watch," he said.

Payne said police records show Salgado has been an active member of the Ventura Avenue Gangsters for at least four years.

Salgado was twice arrested in 1996 on suspicion of vandalism and illegal gun possession, the detective said, and was caught by police and probation officers wearing clothes with gang insignias.

Two other officers testified Tuesday about the events leading to the attack on Zara.

Officers Matt Liston and Derrick Brunk responded to the 200 block of East Warner Street about 9:30 p.m., after receiving a call complaining about a loud party. Liston testified that the officers confronted resident Rosana Olvera, who had been twice cited for loud parties. But, Liston said, she told police her neighbors were making the noise.

Liston said the two officers found no evidence of a party at the neighboring apartment and questioned Olvera a second time, telling her the neighbors said she was having the loud party. The officers then left.

Brunk testified the two officers were called back 20 minutes later on a call reporting a fight and an injured person.

Liston said he found Zara on the ground, unconscious in a pool of blood and suffering severe injuries. The officers testified that neighbors identified Olvera as the instigator of the fight, and they said several young men who were at her house were identified as the assailants.

The motive for the attack, the officers testified, was a mistaken belief someone in Zara's apartment complex had "ratted" on Olvera and her friends to police.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today.

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