Gang violence seeps into Sacramento suburbs

By Andy Furillo

Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Story appeared in OUR REGION section, Page B1

Nearly two years after the fatal shooting, a sense of unease – a memory of murder – lingers behind the peaceful facade of a middle-class neighborhood in Elk Grove called The Villas.

Kids played basketball in the street on a sunny afternoon last week and neighbors kept their grass green and trim. Missing was a beloved neighbor killed by a gangster’s bullet, a violent urban death stamped into the history of one of Sacramento’s staunchest suburban enclaves.

It happened in Elk Grove, but could have occurred in Roseville, Rocklin, Folsom or South Lake Tahoe. Those are among the cities where homies from one of Sacramento’s oldest and largest street gangs, the Franklin Boys, have relocated with their families in recent years.

“It’s terrible,” said Tyler Maack, 21, who lived down the street from where his buddy Marc Grimes was shot and killed by a carload of gang members. “Before, I could hang out in front of my house, in the middle of the street, in the driveway, smoke a cigarette, and not have to worry about a car going by and just thinking, ‘Better not look at that car.’ ”

Their families might have moved to the suburbs, but the gangsters’ hearts are still full of “The Boulevard” – the Franklin Boulevard commercial strip that cuts through south Sacramento and gives the gang its name. “Franklon,” as the gang also is called, is a subset of the larger, prison-based Nortenos, the overlords of most Latino street gang activity in Northern California.

Theirs is a mentality that does not suffer disrespect, and theirs is a lifestyle that comes armed. It’s a combination that turned an unscripted, late-night traffic encounter on a quiet Elk Grove street into a show of deadly gangster force.

“You cannot confront people anymore because these kinds of things happen,” said Sacramento sheriff’s Detective Ron Aurich, a court-certified gang expert who has worked his beat more than 25 years with both the city police and the sheriff. “These people are a little more serious than you are. You get confrontational, it causes a reaction – verbal, physical, shooting.”

One suspect was caught and convicted for the Dec. 22, 2006, shooting death of Grimes, 21, a young man growing into manhood and just days away from shipping off to Navy boot camp.

Manuel Jose “Madman” Cervin, 25, wore his gang affiliation on his neck. The tattoo script read “Sickness,” and it featured an accompanying likeness of the state Capitol dome – common stuff, police say, for a gangster from Sacramento. Their area code is 916, or “Nine-One-Sickness.”

A product of the tough neighborhoods of Oak Park and the Franklin-Fruitridge area of south Sacramento, Cervin had since moved to Elk Grove with his mother. The night of the killing, he was driving a car filled with his fellow Franklin gangsters to visit a girl who was staying with friends in The Villas.

According to police reports and trial testimony, Grimes and his girlfriend were just pulling up to his house at 11:45 p.m. when their car and Cervin’s Toyota Solara got in each other’s way. Grimes and the gangsters woofed curses at each other, and Grimes flipped off the gangsters.

It was a sign of disrespect that prosecutors said Cervin could not let pass. He circled back to confront Grimes. He stepped out of the car to fight. It was then that somebody in the Solara pointed a gun out of the car, fired once and shot Grimes through the heart.

On July 31, a Sacramento Superior Court jury, after a 15-day trial, convicted Cervin of second-degree murder. With gang and gun sentencing enhancements, Cervin faces the upper end of a 25-to-life prison term. Sentencing is scheduled for Friday before Judge Michael W. Sweet.

“The conviction of Cervin has significance in a couple of ways,” said Deputy District Attorney Scott Triplett. “It brings some closure to Marc Grimes’ family for their senseless loss, and it sends a message to gangsters that if you’re going to hold yourself out as a gangster, and if you’re going to assist gangsters in the commission of their crimes, you will go down for their criminal acts, even if you didn’t pull the trigger.

Triplett called Cervin a “veteran gangster” whose “lifestyle has finally caught up with him. Hopefully our streets are little safer with him off them.”

Although he’s never been to prison, Cervin was on probation for drug sales at the time of the murder. One witness in the case described him as “the main shot caller in Elk Grove when it comes to drugs.”

Cervin’s lawyer, Jeff Tochterman, confirmed his client’s status as a ranking gangster, but the defense lawyer hammered hard on the fact the defendant didn’t shoot Grimes. He suggested the jury based its verdict on Cervin’s associations, more than his actions.

“It’s kind of like the downside of this whole frothing-at-the-mouth gang craze,” Tochterman said. “You can get someone convicted of just about anything as long as you can show they’re a gang member. This guy, I don’t think he was guilty of this murder. I think he took the fall because they brought in all this gang evidence.

“To me, that is pretty disturbing,” Tochterman said.

Cervin actually identified one of the three other passengers in his car as the gunman who shot Grimes. Triplett said prosecutors could not corroborate the account. Police never recovered the gun.

In convincing the jury of Cervin’s guilt, prosecutors overlaid the evidence against him with expert testimony about Sacramento gang life and how authorities view the mindsets of the hard core, their reliance on guns, and how they react when ordinary citizens confront them.

They tied Cervin closely to the Franklin Boulevard gang, which Detective Aurich described in an interview as one of the Sacramento area’s oldest and biggest Latino sets, with a 30- to-40-year history that coincides with the emergence of the Nortenos from the prisons to the streets. The gang is based in western Oak Park and the Franklin-Fruitridge areas. Its 500 to 1,000 members make it “probably the biggest Hispanic gang in Sacramento,” Aurich said.

Some of their parents, like Cervin’s mother, have moved to outer-lying suburbs, “the nicer areas,” Aurich said, “all the way to Lake Tahoe.” But the kids come back to the old neighborhood to party with friends and keep the old fire burning, the detective said.

Cervin used his cachet as a Franklin gang leader to recruit Elk Grove teenagers, telling one of them while drinking cognac with him in a park that he wanted to “put him on the Boulevard.” The idea, Triplett said, was “to enhance himself in the gang” and possibly create new turf for himself and his gang.

The day of the shooting, he told police he picked up three friends from the old neighborhood and brought them back to Elk Grove because “I feel bad for them” and that he wanted to “get them out of the ‘hood” for a while.

It was a crosstown trip that resulted in a shooting death that Elk Grove police spokesman Christopher Trim said “is not something unique” to his city. He said Elk Grove presents “a safe environment,” although “bad things can happen” anywhere.

“People who practice that lifestyle move to every community,” Trim said. “They move to Folsom, Roseville, Granite Bay. They move everywhere. It’s something that happens everywhere.”

In The Villas, Tyler Maack said the case made him aware of a gang phenomena that had barely registered before.

“It did impose itself on me,” he said. “I lost one of my best friends. But at the same time, it’s a wake-up call for the town and the community.”

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