The teenager who allegedly gunned down a California Highway Patrol officer aspired to be a member of one of the San Gabriel Valley's largest and most ruthless gangs, authorities said Thursday.
The 12th Street Pomona gang -- also known as the Sharkys -- uses the symbol of a shark, dates back generations and has about 1,000 active members, with several hundred more in jail or prison, according to prosecutors and police.
In the inverted world of street gangs, the youth aspired to infamy, according to law enforcement officials, and hoped to gain status from the commission of senseless acts of violence.
But with the killing of CHP Officer Thomas Steiner, the traditionally insular gang appeared to have achieved a new degree of notoriety sure to bring sustained scrutiny from law enforcement.
"I would imagine they are going to get some special enforcement, and they should," said retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Wes McBride, president of the Assn. of California Gang Investigators. "If they shoot an armed police officer, they wouldn't think twice about shooting an ordinary citizen."
The 12th Street gang, which authorities say has ties to the Mexican Mafia, has grown from its origins on the south side of Pomona -- which has a population of about 150,000 -- to become one of the city's largest gangs. It claims as its turf the courthouse where the CHP officer was shot.
The gang recruits vulnerable school-age children from broken homes, said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Camacho. Initiation rituals have been known to include shooting enemies or rivals of the gang, including racially motivated murder, police said.
According to Camacho, the San Gabriel Valley has thousands of gang members, and some of the most fierce infighting plays out in Pomona.
"Pomona is a hotbed of gang activity, and it's not just 12th Street," said Camacho, who heads hard-core gang prosecutions in the San Gabriel Valley. "There's African American, Asian and Latino gangs, and none of them get along. They settle their differences with guns."
Like the 16-year-old suspect in the Steiner killing, 12th Street member Tony Barron was looking to move up in the gang when he committed his first murder at the age of 15, Camacho said. Barron was eventually charged with four murders, and was convicted last month of two hate-crime killings of African American men.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Hearnsberger recalled a 1997 case in which gang members walked into two homes and killed four people, apparently in a dispute over drug profits.
But Hearnsberger said he would be surprised if any gang leaders in 12th Street authorized a hit on a police officer.
"There is a hierarchy, but you have to recognize these gangs don't operate under Robert's Rules of Order," he said. "Any given member or couple of guys could get together and do what they want, whether it's beneficial to the gang or themselves."
In many ways, 12th Street is like any street gang, defining itself and its territory by streets and blocks, the prosecutor said.
"They commit violent crimes, have dealings with drugs and firearms and shootings, and shoot rival gang members," Hearnsberger said.
Police said gang members congregate in Madison Park, which has developed into a hangout known as "Shark Park."