2 suspected gang members charged with killing L.A. County sheriff’s deputy

They are accused of capital murder in the shooting of Juan Abel Escalante outside his parents’ Cypress Park home. Both are alleged members of the notorious Avenues gang.
By Richard Winton, Times
December 17, 2008
Two suspected Avenues gang members were charged Tuesday with capital murder in the shooting of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Abel Escalante outside his parents’ home.

Carlos Javier Velasquez, 24, the alleged gunman, and Guillermo Hernandez, 20, were charged with one count each of murder with the special circumstance that the Aug. 2 killing was carried out to further a criminal street gang, making it a potential death penalty case, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors will decide later whether to pursue the death penalty against the defendants, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Velasquez also was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Arraignment for Velasquez and Hernandez was postponed until Dec. 30.

The two men were arrested Friday after months of investigation by a joint task force of Los Angeles Police Department robbery-homicide detectives, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau and members of the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas task force.

The two suspects are alleged members of the notorious Avenues gang, which has long feuded with the Cypress Park gang whose territory includes the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood where Escalante lived.

The Avenues gang is among the most powerful gangs in the city and retains strong ties to the Mexican Mafia, which is a dominant force in California prisons.

Despite the suspects’ gang affiliation, investigators still don’t know why Escalante was shot to death Aug. 2 near the 3400 block of Thorpe Avenue. At a news conference Saturday, police did not say whether the shooting was a random attack or whether Escalante was targeted.

“We are still seeking additional information,” Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Saturday, adding that the investigation has been “very, very, very difficult.” He said police were aided by tipsters.

There is still “an effort to search for additional suspects that may have been involved in the murder of Escalante,” according to a police statement.

Escalante, 27, who worked at the Men’s Central Jail guarding some of the county’s most dangerous inmates, was gunned down outside his parents’ Cypress Park home about 5:40 a.m. as he prepared to go to work.

He was adjusting a child’s car seat in a vehicle when he was shot in the back of the head.

Celeste Escalante heard the gunfire, looked out her window and saw her husband lying on the ground. Escalante had worked for the Sheriff’s Department for 2 1/2 years and had served in the Army Reserve.

“When one of us is brutally killed, all of us grieve,” Sheriff Lee Baca said at Saturday’s news conference, speaking to Celeste Escalante and her family. “Hopefully, this will lift some of the pain that’s on your shoulders.”

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