Jury Convicts Pair of Four Murders in 2000


From Times Staff and Wire Reports

March 22, 2005

A jury found two gang members guilty Monday of four murders during a months-long crime rampage in 2000 that ended in a hostage-taking on Santa Monica Pier.

Oswaldo Amezcua, 29, and Joseph Conrad Flores, 34, also were convicted of attempted murder, arson, robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon.

The penalty phase of the trial will begin today to determine whether they should be put to death.

Shooting Serves as Call to Action
L.A. Unified plans to hire 30 more school police officers to patrol campuses. City officials may introduce new anti-gang measures.

By Patrick McGreevy
Times Staff Writer

March 22, 2005

Shocked into action by the shooting of a Locke High School student last week, Los Angeles city and school officials on Monday proposed creating gang-free zones around Locke and 19 other schools and said they would hire 30 new police officers to patrol the campuses and surrounding neighborhoods.

After a meeting at school district headquarters, Mayor James K. Hahn, schools Supt. Roy Romer and the chiefs of the Los Angeles Police Department and school police said they intended to develop their plan in the next two weeks, and might introduce new anti-gang injunctions. Deliesh Allen, 15, remains in a coma after being shot in the head by a gang member outside Locke High on Thursday.

“The shooting of Deliesh Allen is intolerable. It’s unacceptable,” Hahn said. “The area around a school has to be a violence-free zone.”

Hahn said the LAPD would increase patrols around problem schools when students are leaving campus for the day, and that the Los Angeles Unified School District would hire the 30 police officers in the coming weeks to identify and target street corners and houses near schools where gang members congregate.

Hahn also said he would work with the city attorney on using existing gang injunctions and might seek new ones to keep gang members from gathering near campuses.

Other ideas floated at Monday’s meeting include closing some streets around schools or making them one-way so police can better control who goes near the campuses.

Officials said they want neighborhood councils, churches and parents near schools to provide observers as students walk to and from schools.

“Enough is enough,” said Mike Lansing, a school board member who attended the meeting.

“It’s time to have gang-free zones around our schools.”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of students skip school because they do not feel it is safe to attend, he said.

Reaction was mixed, with parents voicing hope that the measures would help, and civil libertarians wondering if overreaction could keep gang members from the positive influences that schools and after-school programs can provide.

Maisie Chin, who belongs to a parents group in the Locke High area, was generally supportive, but said officials have responded to similar crises before without allowing parents to have input, and without effective results.

“Violence-free zones are obviously necessary, but it’s going to take an incredible amount of collaboration and trust-building,” Chin said.

Hahn faces a reelection challenge from City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, whose campaign manager dismissed the mayor’s announcement Monday as political grandstanding.

“He did the same thing in 2002 with the parks, violence in the parks, and there was no follow-through,” said Ace Smith, a campaign aide to Villaraigosa.

Hahn said his chief of staff met with Lansing last week, before the shooting, to discuss improving school safety, but other officials said the shooting has galvanized city officials to put changes on the fast track.

City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, her voice choking with emotion at a news conference after the meeting, recounted how several children in her South Los Angeles district have died at or near schools in the last few years.

“But something about this one, something about Deliesh’s tragic shooting, made all of us say, ‘Wait a minute. This is finally the one that is one too many.’ ”

Added Romer, “We want to take advantage of the focus that this tragic event has made.”

The superintendent said the officials who met Monday agreed to create a “model neighborhood-school safety” program for 20 schools but would eventually expand it to other campuses.

L.A. Unified had been approved for a federal grant to pay for 30 additional school police officers, and last week’s shooting prompted the release of local matching funds to hire them, Romer said.

The mobile squads of officers, traveling by car from campus to campus, will work with LAPD officers dedicated to the effort. Police Chief William J. Bratton said plans to hire 270 additional officers would help him beef up patrols near targeted schools.

Police would be assisted by existing and possibly new gang injunctions, which allow officers to arrest gang members named in court papers if they congregate or break the law in a specified area, the mayor said.

That would not preclude gang members from attending schools in a lawful manner, said Luis Li, chief of the criminal branch for the city attorney’s office, which oversees 25 gang injunctions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has historically opposed gang injunctions because it says it moves the problem from one neighborhood to another, and opposes court orders that would limit the access of active or potential gang members to campus programs, an official said.

“There is no question the shooting at Locke was tragic,” said Ricardo Garcia, criminal justice director for the ACLU. “The problem for us is we see schools as a positive outlet for young kids who might be traveling on a path to gangs to get off that path.”

The mayor also said city prosecutors could work with landlords to force gang members out of apartments and houses near schools.

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