Two reputed Latino gang members are facing federal hate crime charges for allegedly carrying out racially motivated attacks on four black youngsters as part of a wider campaign of terror aimed at forcing African Americans out of a west Compton neighborhood, the U.S. attorney said Friday.
Jeffrey Aguilar, 19, and Efren Marquez, 21, were indicted Thursday by a grand jury on five felony civil rights charges in connection with a series of incidents that began New Year's Eve. Authorities allege they beat a young black man with a pipe and then turned their threats and racial epithets toward members of a black household where he fled. They pleaded not guilty in a downtown L.A. courtroom Friday.
"No one should have to look over their shoulder in fear because of who they are," said U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte, who announced the charges. "Hate-fueled crimes have no place in our society."
Birotte said the alleged actions of the pair were part of a pattern of racial intimidation of blacks by their alleged gang, including racial graffiti. "The Compton 155 gang has racial animus toward African Americans, and the gang has a practice of harassing and attacking African Americans with a goal of eliminating them from the west side of Compton," he said.
"The gang proudly proclaimed that they are "nk" with 'n' standing for an unfortunate well-known racial epithet and 'k' for killers," he said.
Birotte said that is what Aguilar and Marquez yelled when they jumped out of an SUV and first confronted a 17-year-old black youth on Compton Street.
The teen ran toward his girlfriend's house, where there were three other black youths. Aguilar and Marquez followed him. Aguilar then beat the 17-year-old with a metal pipe on the head and body, according to the indictment. Marquez, who was armed with a gun, briefly chased another youth who came out of the home before the reputed gang members left, prosecutors said.
"Unfortunately the gangsters returned with reinforcement, about 15 strong," Birotte said. "As the four victims were huddled inside the house, a window was smashed and they were met with racial slurs and epithets and warned they did not belong in this neighborhood."
According to the indictment, gang members stood in front of the small rental home and shouted "get out of the 'hood," racial epithets and "this is 155." One of the people inside called his mother, who phoned sheriff's deputies.
In the days that followed, prosecutors allege Marquez and other Compton 155 members drove by the home yelling, "You are going to die over here." According to the indictment, Marquez during a Jan. 25 telephone conversation with another uncharged suspect asked if any weapons had been seized from his vehicle. Sheriff's deputies arrested the pair last month after investigating a complaint from the victims.
The attacks on the family are the latest in a series of violent incidents in which Latino gangs targeted blacks in parts of greater Los Angeles over the last decade. Birotte noted that his office last year charged several Azusa gang members with hate crimes. In the Compton case, both men could face up to 10 years in prison for each of the five charges.
Compton, with a population of about 97,000, was predominantly black for many years. It is now 65% Latino and 33% black, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
Sheriff's investigators who worked with the FBI on the case said the victims are not associated with gangs and were innocent victims.
L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca said that even one hate crime was too many. "Racist-based violence is not only unacceptable but deserves the harshest of prosecutions," said Baca, whose deputies patrol Compton and investigated the case with the FBI.