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Bullets end attempt to escape mean streets

Gang members open fire in a gym, killing a Carson man who had hoped for a better life.

February 04, 2007|Amanda Covarrubias and Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writers

Growing up in a rough neighborhood near Watts, Demetrius Perry's goal was to get out for good.

But his effort was cut short Jan. 26 when three Latinos -- members of a gang known to target African Americans -- stormed into a middle school gym, shouted expletives and began firing randomly. About 20 children and adults involved in an after-school program were inside the gym on Compton Avenue, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The spray of bullets missed everyone but Perry, 23, who was visiting a friend who coached in the Drew Middle School program. They had just finished a game of pickup basketball when Perry was killed.

On Saturday, Perry's friends from his car club, the All-Star Hot Boys and Hot Girls, held a car wash and peace rally at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on East 52nd Street to raise money for Perry's family and to increase awareness about the need for unity in a neighborhood plagued by racial strife.

"We need to stop the violence," said Perry's friend, Chris, who didn't want his last name used for fear of repercussion. "This neighborhood needs unity, not people shooting one another."

Gang violence was also the subject of another South Los Angeles event Saturday: a news conference by Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton to discuss the second time in two days that police officers were fired upon by suspected gang members.

The chief said there is no evidence of a deliberate campaign to target officers. But gang members are becoming increasingly brazen, said Bratton, who joined Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the LAPD's 77th Street Station. Serving as a prop was the bullet-marked police car that had been hit about 10 p.m. Friday near Figueroa and 46th Street.

Two bullets pierced the back window of the undercover Buick Century, which had been carrying Officers Mike Pace, a six-year veteran, and Danny Mendez, a nine-year veteran, who were working undercover for the 77th's criminal surveillance team. Neither officer was injured.

The alleged gunman, Anthony Dale Lavell, 21, of Southgate was struck six times by return fire and was in serious but stable condition at California Hospital Medical Center.

So far this year, LAPD officers have been fired at on four occasions, resulting in injuries to two of them. In 2006, 23 officers were shot at and three were injured.

Also Saturday, police announced the arrest of Felipe Sanchez, 19, on suspicion of shooting at two officers during a traffic stop last week.

The alleged gang member, who was wounded in the Thursday incident, will be charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Neither officer was injured.

Bratton and Villaraigosa said they would announce next week an initiative to address the nearly 14% spike in gang violence in 2006. They laid the blame on readily available firearms, school dropouts with too much time on their hands, and repeat criminals.

"When police officers are fired upon in the city of Los Angeles after identifying themselves as police officers, that's a situation we will not and cannot tolerate," said Villaraigosa.

In the gym shooting, the Sheriff's Department could not confirm Saturday what gang was responsible, but officials said the men shouted a gang name and expletives before firing. Chris and Perry's 20-year-old brother, Arbra James, said it was F13, or Florencia Trece, which is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia.

Perry, a 2001 graduate of Fremont High School, was not a gang member, said James, who was in the gym when the shooting started and hid in a bathroom.

"He was a nice guy," said Chris, who co-founded the car club with Perry six years ago and organized Saturday's fundraiser. "He didn't gang bang, had no tattoos and wasn't affiliated with anyone. He always had a job and always worked."

Perry would often drive his 14-year old sister, Deshara, and his 9-year-old brother, Mustafa, around in his black Nissan Maxima, said Chris, who attends the Baptist church.

"It was just a car with rims and TVs in it," he said.

Unfortunately, the car could not carry Perry far enough.

"His goal was to get out of South-Central L.A. and move somewhere better, safer," Chris said.

James said Perry was "like a teacher" to him and the two "hung out like best friends."

"He was dedicated to shooting higher than staying in this area," James said. "He was not trying to get caught up in the criticism and the stereotypes around us."

The brothers worked for a warehouse in Carson, where they lived with their younger siblings and their mother and stepfather. Perry wanted to become a sheriff's deputy, and he and James planned to go into business together one day.

"Clubs, restaurants, bowling alleys, things like that," James said. "We had lots of ideas."

James said the pair had just finished playing basketball when the three Latinos -- who police said were 17 to 20 years old with shaved heads -- walked into the gym and started firing. Children scattered, running for the doors. James said he ran diagonally, but Perry ran straight and into the line of fire.

James hid in the bathroom and emerged about 10 minutes later when the ruckus stopped. Until then, he didn't know his brother had been hit.

"He was on the ground," James said. "It seemed like he wasn't breathing. I think he died before he got to the hospital."

James called the racial climate in the neighborhood "very bad."

"There's a lot of racial threats," he said. "I hear it and see it all the time. It's just the black and the brown shooting at each other. It goes both ways."

amanda.covarrubias@latimes.com

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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