San Pablo police arrest three in gang sweep over recent shootings

Karl Fischer (Contra Costa Times)
06/22/2010
Three men arrested in connection with recent drive-by shootings sought to enhance their gangland credibility, San Pablo police say, but wound up terrorizing innocent people just going about their daily lives in their neighborhoods.

The suspects all belong to a Norteno gang sect centered roughly in San Pablo, and detectives say each played a role in a sequence of shootings on June 4 and 5 that left one teenage boy wounded, Detective Sgt. Dave Lewellyn said. Police arrested them late last week while serving eight search warrants in connection with the case.

A single spent shell casing found in a suspect’s car during a traffic stop the next week put police on the trail of 23-year-old Pinole resident Saul Leon, 25-year-old San Pablo resident Fernando Navarro and a 17-year-old boy who lives in San Pablo.

The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office will consider charges this week.

“We believe that the suspects did the shootings to further themselves in the gang,” Lewellyn said.

Yet none of the victims in the three attacks claimed any gang, rival or otherwise.

The first shooting came about 6:15 p.m. Friday, June 4, when a black Honda sedan with four men inside passed near two pedestrians walking home from a liquor store on the 1400 block of Emeric Avenue. The occupants glared at the pedestrians.

The car circled the block, and those inside fired several rounds at a house where they saw the pedestrians heading. There were no injuries.

About 12:45 a.m. on June 5, a similar car stalked two men walking home from a convenience store near the corner of Broadway and San Pablo Avenue. The victims thought the dark Honda left, but it reappeared as they neared College Lane and Del Camino Drive. Two in the car opened fire, but no one was hit.

Police say the same antagonists walked up to a group of young people hanging around on the 2300 block of 21st Street about 11:55 p.m. June 5 and exchanged words with them, one inquiring if boys in the group claimed a gang. They didn’t, Lewellyn said, but one of the aggressors pulled a handgun anyway.

A boy in the victim’s group knocked the weapon out of his assailant’s hand, police say, which prompted another suspect to pull his own handgun and shoot into the offending crowd. One round struck a 17-year-old boy in the arm.

Detectives investigated those shootings and others involving a similar, dark Honda in Pinole and Richmond until a patrol officer stopped a car matching the description about 6:30 p.m. on June 7, at 23rd and Market streets in San Pablo. Officers arrested both occupants on drug charges, Lewellyn said, and a search yielded a single handgun shell casing.

The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Crime Lab later matched the spent shell to those collected at each of the three weekend shootings, Lewellyn said, and accelerated an investigation that led to identified suspects and search warrants for eight addresses in San Pablo, Richmond and Pinole, all served Thursday.

Police arrested the suspects during the sweep. They remained in jail Monday on suspicion of weapon violations, while prosecutors reviewed the cases against them.

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