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Apartment vandalism has neighbors on edge

Vacant unit in Compton is set afire after graffiti is sprayed throughout. Gang investigators are probing the break-in as a possible hate crime.

January 07, 2007|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

On Saturday morning, Ollis Morris rushed to move out of his Compton apartment, saying he could no longer sleep in his home of three years.

"I'm petrified," said Morris, 58, a bus driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "A few months ago, the garage was set on fire. Three months ago, I got burglarized. And then, this."

Four nights earlier, the vacant apartment downstairs was set on fire about 8 o'clock after suspected gang members sprayed graffiti throughout the unit. On a backyard driveway, an anti-black epithet was scrawled in blue paint.

There was also gang graffiti on the exterior walls of the apartment building, on the garage and on the concrete wall separating the backyard from a neighbor's.

"I feel like this was racially motivated," said Morris, who plans to temporarily move in with his ex-wife in Carson. "When this [building] is set on fire, with us in it, it's personal."

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives and gang investigators are probing the break-in and vandalism as a possible hate crime, said Lt. Joseph Gooden. The Compton Fire Department is conducting the arson investigation separately.

Latino gang members are suspected in the vandalism, which occurred in an area where there has been an ongoing war between Latino and black gangs, according to the Sheriff's Department. It was unknown why this apartment complex was targeted.

Christin Harrell, 37, an Inland Empire resident who owns the three-unit building on the 200 block of West Raymond Street with her husband, was outraged.

"We've had our apartment building in Compton for four years, and we've never had a problem," Harrell said as she prepared to paint over the blue and orange graffiti. "They graffitied the whole wall, the whole garage, and inside one apartment, the tub, windowsills, the sink, everything."

The attack has left Carla Lee, 43, a day-care teacher who had moved in two months ago, fearful.

"Me and my kids have been staying in hotels," said Lee, who added that she soon will have to move back in for financial reasons. "I probably will move out later on."

Harrell said she thought the apartment, which had been freshly painted and was ready to rent, sustained $15,000 to $20,000 in damage.

Harrell said she was upset that no one at the Compton mayor's office responded to her request to meet with her about the attack. She attributed it to complacency about these sorts of crimes. "The problem that I have is the level of acceptance that this is OK," Harrell said.

Mayor Eric J. Perrodin could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

On Wednesday, Harrell had razor wire installed on the backyard gate where the suspects were seen fleeing.

Elaine Pierre, 40, who has lived across the street for almost a year, said that the tension between the Latino and black gangs had been escalating.

"They don't want no black people here," Pierre said of the Latino gang. "It's bad. It's getting worse."


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