Salinas police target local gangs

BY RIA MEGNIN AND SUNITA VIJAYAN • The Californian • March 3, 2009

In response to a deadly surge in gang violence, Salinas police this past weekend went into “heavy suppression” mode, arresting seven gang members and confiscating an blankault rifle, a police official said.

After three homicides in a 24-hour period late last week, 45 officers from the city’s Violence Suppression Unit, the Monterey County Gang Task Force and officers in Operation CalGRIP took to the streets of east Salinas.

“The whole plan is to be disruptive,” said Salinas police Deputy Chief Manny Perrien, “[to] get gang members out of their comfort zone.

“If they’re going to congregate on the streets, the patrols are going to make it difficult to conduct their crimes. If they’re at their homes, we’ll use probation and parole.”

Perrien, chief of the department’s investigations unit, spoke during Mayor Dennis Donohue’s weekly press conference at City Hall.

The probation and parole searches centered on the Acosta Plaza area, where two men were fatally shot Thursday, and led to the seven arrests, Perrien said. One of the men was previously deported from the United States to Mexico and returned illegally, he said.

“If you’re a deported felon and you’re back in Salinas, especially if you’re a gang member, we’re going to be coming after you,” he said.

Perrien said one of the gang members, Angelo Perez, 31, was tracked to a residence on the 600 block of North Sanborn Road, where police recovered an SKS-style blankault rifle.

He said the find could lead to an investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.

In the meantime, he said, the Police Department will continue its heavy suppression work.

“I want [gang members] to feel uncomfortable,” Perrien said. “I want them to think that the police are watching them, because we are.”

He said police are working with the county Probation Department and state parole, tracking known gang members to “safe houses” where drugs and weapons may be kept.

“That’s how we found that SKS blankault rifle,” Perrien said. “We were able to find a place that we did not know about before.”

Monday’s news conference came after a spate of violence that began Thursday, leaving three people dead and injuring two brothers.

On Sunday, two siblings – a 19-year-old boy and his 16-year-old brother – were shot while doing yard work outside their home in the 1200 block of Caoba Way near Natividad Creek Park.

A relative of the two brothers struggled with the shooter and was slightly injured, police said.

Police have said they are searching for at least two people who fled in a burgundy-colored van. Another person followed the gunman’s vehicle on North Sanborn Road.

Sgt. Don Cline said the brothers are expected to survive.

On Thursday, two students of Everett Alvarez High School, Carlos Mejia, 17, and Francisco Alfaro, 16, were fatally shot after two males approached them in a parking lot on the 900 block of Acosta Plaza.

The next day, Noe Alvarez Amezcua, 24, of Gonzales was fatally wounded in front of a friend’s apartment in the 900 block of Del Monte Avenue, about a mile away from Acosta Plaza.

“Experience has taught us that when we have a flurry of shootings in close proximity, they may be related, and we’re working these as such,” Perrien said. “We’re actively pursuing a number of leads.”

Even with those leads, Cline said, investigators need witnesses to come forward with information. In both the Thursday and Friday homicides, Cline said, it appears the victims were the intended targets, though the motives remain unclear.

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