Law enforcement reports detail gang activities

Visalia Times-Delta
Staff reports March 29, 2008

Law-enforcement reports detail a wide array of crimes and nuisance activities committed by members of the Norteño and Oriental Troop street gangs in north Visalia, as well as the South Side Kings in Ivanhoe.

Here are some of the observations detailed in those reports, as well as investigators’ comments on the effects these activities have on those living and working in the community:

Violence

“Every violent crime committed by [South Side Kings] adds to their reputation among other gangs and acts as intimidation to other gangs and to non-gang members as well,” reads a report by Sheriff’s Detective Joe Aguilar. ” … They have become a community of thugs who will not hesitate to use violence against anyone that dares to oppose them and disrespect them.”

A negative comment, a gang-sign flash, crossing out graffiti on a rival gang’s turf and wearing a rival gang’s colors can trigger deadly violence.

“Citizens know that [the Oriental Troop gang] uses physical retribution when insulted because they have seen it so many times,” Luma Fahoum, a Visalia police gang officer, states in a report. “An insult could be as simple as asking them to leave the premises of a store … or even looking at them in a way they perceive as disrespectful.”

Violence between the Oriental Troop and Norteños, which began in the 1990s over “turf,” has spilled over into schools, parks and stores.

As vicious and violent as the Norteños can be, OT members are even more so.

“Oriental Troop are usually armed and will use their guns on the spot if the need arises,” Fahoum’s report states.

Those weapons include shotguns, rifles and assault weapons.

“The [OT are] so brazen they have shot at a local ice cream truck driver that would not give them free ice cream,” Dominic Mena, a Visalia police gang officer, states in his report.

Parents of OT members frequently decline to cooperate with police because they fear their own children, police say.

OT members face “severe repercussions” for ignoring any insults directed at them, Fahoum wrote.

Some of the most recent homicides in north Visalia involved OT members killing Norteños, including the October 2006 murder of 16-year-old Robert Trevino. County prosecutors say he was shot in the head by a group of teenage OT members while playing football with neighborhood children in north Visalia.

Drive-by shootings and criminal sprees stem from drug and alcohol use among the gang members, particularly after partying.

In Ivanhoe, South Side Kings members have been known to patrol their town in search of rival gang members and attack them.

“Often times, the victims of these attacks are not rival gang members at all, but simply an innocent community member or visitor … that happens to be wearing the wrong-colored [red] jacket or give[s] the wrong response to the gang challenge of asking, ‘Where you from,'” Aguilar wrote.

Money
Many robberies, thefts, drug sales and other crimes committed in the Visalia and Ivanhoe areas can be traced back to gangs. In some cases, members use the money gained through these activities to feed drug habits, throw large parties to recruit new members, buy guns and ammunition, and pay bail and attorney fees.

“The more money an inmate has on his books while in custody, the more he is able to buy illegal drugs and other contraband within the facility,” Fahoum wrote. “The inmate can also use the money for protection and to gain respect from other inmates due to his ability to use the money he has on the books to benefit them in some manner.”

Sheriff’s Detective Steve Sanchez wrote about a South Side Kings member arrested in 2005 on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. His family received $1,500 from his “homies” for bail.

The man made bail, disappeared and remains at large, the report states.

Recruiting
Norteño and OT members use schools in and near a gang-injunction “safety zone” — Crowley, Fairview, Highland, Houston and Four Creeks — as recruiting grounds.

Sheriff’s officials report similar problems at Ivanhoe Elementary School. The South Side Kings recruit older children at Valley Oak Middle School and Golden West High School in Visalia, where the Ivanhoe students attend.

“Juveniles practice intimidation against others to either force them to join up with the gang or to frighten potential rivals,” Aguilar wrote of the South Side Kings. “This is also a way of gaining status within the gang hierarchy.”

Middle school students generally gain standing in the gang by committing vandalism, graffiti, petty theft and simple assaults. By high school age they graduate to more serious crimes, including shootings, armed robberies and murders of rival gang members.

The South Side Kings frequently throw parties and provide alcohol and drugs to minors. In addition, Aguilar wrote, adult and minor females are offered for sex to potential male recruits “with the promise of more to come if they join SSK.”

Communication
“I have learned there is an active and very effective communication network between gang members and their associates,” states the declaration to court submitted by Fahoum.

Most gang members have cell phones. When police arrive in neighborhoods to conduct gang sweeps or look for specific gang members, word quickly spreads through calls and text messages.

Gang members also communicate through hand signs and whistling.

“Even telling just one Norteño gang member about something would be effective in letting the entire gang know, ” Visalia police Officer Dominic Mena said in his report.

Effects on businesses
In both the Ivanhoe and north Visalia safety zones, gangs hurt businesses through vandalism, thefts and loitering, which prompts customers to turn away rather than risk being harassed — or worse.

Ivanhoe businesses that aren’t “friendly” toward gang members are at risk, sheriff’s Detective Joe Aguilar notes in a report.

“Rather than do anything to upset the gang members, several of the business owners and managers stated that they do nothing for fear the gangs will come back and retaliate,” he wrote.

“Often time, SSK members will walk into a store, take a soda, beer or anything else they want and casually walk out without paying for it,” the report continues.

Gang members also extort “taxes” from some Ivanhoe businesses.

Some business owners have become so numb to the intimidation that they’ve come to regard it as normal.

Residents trapped
“Law-abiding people are forced to stay indoors at night to avoid being harassed by gang members and to avoid becoming a victim of, or a witness to, [the gangs’] criminal and nuisance activity,” the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office said in its complaint for injunctions against the gangs.

“[Residents] will often choose to just live in fear rather than report the crime to avoid a violent retaliation against their families,” Mena wrote.

The gangs deliver their threats against witnesses face-to-face as well as through notes and graffiti, Mena wrote.

“The Oriental Troop have been documented on more than one occasion committing violent crimes such [as] shootings to prevent witnesses from testifying against them,” Mena’s report states.

“Residents … will often times be repeatedly victimized and continue to live in fear rather than call the police,” Fahoum wrote.

Parents frequently tell police they fear letting their children play in their own yards or walk to school. But as much as many would like to move out of the gang-ridden neighborhoods, they often can’t afford to do so.

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