Targeting a small but increasingly active south Oxnard gang believed responsible for a series of recent shootings, the city's Violent Crimes Task Force conducted a predawn raid of 11 houses Wednesday and arrested several leaders of the organization, police said.
Though the gang is relatively small--60 members, compared with 1,500 in the city's largest gang--its members are suspects in shootings, robberies and assaults since last November, FBI Special Agent Rick Kelly said.
"We're hoping to quell the violent spike and ultimately dismantle the gang," said Kelly, who oversees the task force.
By Wednesday afternoon, seven gang members were arrested on suspicion of illegal weapons possession and/or possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. Authorities said they are looking for evidence to connect the men to crimes ranging from a shootout at an Oxnard liquor store to a gun battle between gangs at a local Kmart.
Some Leaders of Gang Among Those Arrested
Taken into custody were Oxnard residents Cesar Bautista, 20; Louie Bautista, 27; Fidencio Hernandez, 26; Adrian Mendoza, 24; Roberto Martinez, 21; Romero Pardo, 25; and Harry Cabral, 50.
Some of those arrested are considered leaders of the gang, Kelly said.
Authorities also seized several magazine clips used with high-powered rifles and more than 20 handguns and shotguns, Oxnard Police Det. Terry Burr said. It is a federal offense for a felon or a registered gang member to own a firearm.
Burr said the department would conduct ballistic tests on the seized weapons to compare them with evidence found at the scenes of the shootings to determine whether there are any matches.
The raids, which began about 5 a.m. Wednesday, involved 120 officers from the FBI, Ventura County Sheriff's Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Oxnard, Ventura and Port Hueneme police departments.
Agents, some dressed in bulletproof vests and camouflage gear and accompanied by police dogs, pounded on doors, arousing many of the suspects from sleep.
At a house in the 3000 block of M Street, bullet holes riddled the plaster beneath windows in the front and side of the home. Authorities said the house had been struck many times in drive-by shootings. Residents had installed two video cameras on the roof and a monitor inside. Agents knocked down the cameras before entering the house.
Inside, police reported finding a handgun and methamphetamine. As police took their suspect away in handcuffs, the man's mother sat on the front porch smoking a cigarette and wiping away tears.
It was nearly the same scene across the street, where police arrested two men. A small girl stood in the doorway of her home and watched her loved ones being escorted to a police car. It was picture day at school for her, said Sgt. Ben Chavez, and police volunteered to help her get ready.
The sweep culminated a two-month investigation following a string of violent incidents in the Oxnard area, Kelly said.
The shootings began last November when a 19-year-old Port Hueneme man was hit twice while talking with friends outside a liquor store on Channel Islands Boulevard in Oxnard. Investigators said the shooter simply walked up to Eric Loya and fired into his chest. Loya survived the attack.
Gang Suspected in Series of Shootings
The incident was followed by a fight on Halyard Street in Port Hueneme, when gang members beat a man walking home from a store. Later that month, investigators say, three men from the same gang shot a man several times as he stood in the courtyard of an apartment complex. The victim collapsed as he ran from his attackers, but he later recovered.
Police believe some members of the gang fired gunshots at a car in Oxnard in July and were involved in a car chase and shooting in a Kmart parking lot in Oxnard in September. No one was injured in either incident.
"We hope today we recovered enough evidence to solve some of these crimes," Kelly said. "We have an opportunity here to significantly disrupt the activity of this gang."