San Pablo police crack down on gang suspects

By Karl Fisher
West County Times
Article Launched: 05/23/2008 04:24:32 PM PDT

A violent clique of Sureno gang members killed six people in San Pablo since February 2007, police say, including several who became targets simply for wearing the color red.

And while the department has arrested 11 suspects in those cases since March, police Chief Joe Aita said this week that his officers must remain vigilant.

“It is unusual, but it is not unexpected,” Aita said. “With all the violent crime that’s been happening in the region, we knew the flood was coming, and we braced ourselves.”

San Pablo sits between larger urban cities on the Interstate 80 corridor, and several major traffic arterials pass through town. Local police long held that much of the city’s street violence comes from “pass-through” crime — shootings that stem from conflicts that begin in Richmond or Oakland.

But Aita said the recent incursion of a Sureno subset that normally roams in neighboring North Richmond, the Vario Frontero Loco, became a far more serious problem for San Pablo residents last year, when pedestrians wearing red — the color favored by the gang’s Norteno rivals — became targets in drive-by shootings.

Detectives say that in several homicide cases, the gunmen either misidentified or did not care whether their victims were rival gangsters.

“Like in any other business, these guys were testing the waters to see if they could expand their territory,” Aita said. “We needed to send a strong message, and I think we did that.”

San Pablo police link the following killings to the same group:

The Feb. 2, 2007, shooting death of 15-year-old Ivan Santos, who wore red while walking home from a corner market on the 3100 block of 11th Street. Prosecutors have charged 31-year-old Ramon Alejandre in the case.

The Dec. 22, 2007, killing of 15-year-old Anthony Citron, shot near the corner of 19th Street and Lake Avenue. Police arrested 20-year-old Hector Betances in that case, and he remains in custody while prosecutors consider charges.

The Jan. 26 shooting death of 20-year-old Jose Mendoza-Lopez, shot while standing outside an apartment on the 1800 block of Powell Street. He wore red, though police say he had no gang ties. Prosecutors charged 23-year-old Jose Martinez in that case, and still seek one other suspect.

The Feb. 16 killing of 27-year-old Luis Perez, shot on the 2900 block of 15th Street. Police say Perez had no gang involvement but wore red. Prosecutors charged Luis Hernandez, Larry Valencia and Cole Azamar, all 20, in the case and are considering charges against 18-year-old Jorge Camacho.

The Feb. 27 killing of Lisa Thayer, a 47-year-old homeless woman hit by a stray round near the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Road 20. Prosecutors charged Camacho with murder in the case.

The April 26 fatal shooting of 37-year-old Rico McIntosh, who was walking home from a party near the corner of 14th Street and Lake Avenue. Prosecutors charged 20-year-old Jose Mota and two other men in the case.

Police believe two other suspects fled to Mexico, Cmdr. Walt Schuld said. Aita credited his three-officer gang-suppression team and aggressive detective work for the bevy of arrests. “It was through diligent police work that we basically cut the head off this extremely violent group,” Aita said. “We hit them so hard and so fast that they are reeling.”

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