Tagging crew raising havoc

Youths labeled a street gang
By Brian Day, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/25/2008 11:57:39 PM PDT

BALDWIN PARK – The slaying of a man and his son near their Downing Avenue home in November led authorities to take a tougher stance on a local tagging crew.

Kings Have Arrived, a collection of about 150 mostly teenage, spray-paint wielding taggers, have laid claim to a territory that stretches from Baldwin Park to San Bernardino.

The group now is at the forefront of efforts to crack down on taggers. The crew has been officially recognized as a criminal street gang while two of its members await trial for the father-son slaying.

“I hope this is a signal that we’re not going to tolerate this kind of violence in Baldwin Park,” said Councilman Ricardo Pacheco.

The new designation makes members of the group eligible for gang enhancements that lengthen their prison sentences when convicted of crimes, said Baldwin Park police Lt. David Reynoso.

“They’ve been an undercurrent of a problem for some time now,” said Councilman Anthony Bejarano. “Probably at least five years.”

Pedro “Pepe” Estrada, 40, and his son, Luis, 14, were gunned down by four attackers the evening of Nov. 4 in front of their home in the 4000 block of Downing Avenue, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Denise Fuchs.

Luis was shot first, and Pedro heard the shots and ran outside to find his son lying wounded in the front yard and the assailants running away, Fuchs said.

He gave chase and was also shot, she said.

Alleged KHA gang members Nestor Islas, 17, and Marcos Salcido, 17, are awaiting trail in the double slaying, said Detective Michael Rodriguez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. Juan Rodriguez, 17, and a suspected member of another gang, is also a suspect in the killings. All three are Baldwin Park residents.

The suspects are scheduled to stand trial in July. A fourth suspect in the killing, 17-year-old Omar Mendez of Baldwin Park, remains at large, Detective Rodriguez said.

Officials believe Mendez might have fled the state or even the country and that he would have needed the help of his family to do it.

“Before this case, I didn’t know (KHA) existed,” Rodriguez said.

After the shooting deaths of the Estradas, the Baldwin Park Police Department requested that the District Attorney’s Office recognize KHA as a criminal street gang, Reynoso said.

KHA is known to associate with an existing street gang known as Eastside Bolen, said Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. Juan Rodriguez is believed to be a member of that gang, she said.

The number of extra years added to a convict’s sentence by a gang enhancement depends on the nature of the crime, Reynoso said.

Under California law, the enhancements can range from one additional year to life imprisonment.

“It’s just a great tool that we’re able to use and the District Attorney’s Office is able to use to keep violent gang members off the streets longer,” said Reynoso.

In addition to adding additional time, Gibbons said, a gang enhancement may serve as a special circumstance qualifying a murder suspect for the death penalty who otherwise would not have been eligible.

Because the suspects in the Baldwin Park case are under 18, they are not eligible for capital punishment, Gibbons added.

KHA is believed to have been involved in violent crimes in the past, Reynoso said, however he was not aware of any other homicide investigations connected to the gang.

Reynoso declined to give any further details about the gang, saying he didn’t want to give them public recognition.

“It’s glory to them,” said Reynoso. “We don’t like to talk about specific gangs,” he said.

After years of seeing members of tagging crews dealt with leniently by the justice system, “you reach a point of frustration,” said Mayor Manny Lozano.

“This does provide a tool so that if they are caught and arrested you can be sure they’ll end up in jail,” he said.

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