Saturday, October 18, 2003

This week, in DEPARTMENT 103 in the CCB, GILBERT "LUCKY" SALDANA was found guilty on one charge of murder and one charge of attempted murder. The prosecutor was DAVID GELFOUND from the HARD CORE GANG unit while the defense counsel was MICHAEL RUSSO, a public defense lawyer. The short version of the story is that SALDANA rolled up on a car that contained JONATHAN PADRON and JOSE NOYOLA, both alleged members of CYPRESS. Words were exchanged and either PADRON or NOYOLA said "Fuck the AVENUES" to SALDANA. At which point, SALDANA opened fire, killing PADRON and wounding NOYOLA.

We’ll have more details on this case in later postings. But there’s a back story here that interested parties should find illuminating and will hopefully deepen your understanding of the workings of the AVENUES and street gangs in general.

While this case will finally put LUCKY SALDANA behind bars, he’s been on In The Hat’s radar screen for a very long time. From what we know, LUCKY wasn’t on any kind of career path. For instance, he hadn’t yet graduated to collecting taxes or working on a crew. Apparently, he was too much of a banger and wasn’t trusted to run things in any kind of organized way. At least this is what we hear. Anyone with contrary info on this is invited to contact us.

Way back in 1999, which seems like the JURASSIC AGE in the gang world, LUCKY was running with three other AVENUES homies – (deleted), MERCED "SHADOW" CAMBERO and JOSE "CLEVER" DELACRUZ. On the night of APRIL 18th of that year, the four were riding around in a stolen van throwing up tags, drinking and basically keeping an eye out for interlopers from other gangs. They even went into a building claimed by FROGTOWN and put up some tags but they couldn’t draw out any enemies. The four basically threw a gang fight but nobody came.

Then at around 3:30 AM, they came across KENNY WILSON. WILSON was a 38-year-old male black from ONTARIO, CA who was visiting friends at 338 NORTH AVENUE 52. WILSON was parking his friend’s CADILLAC when the van with LUCKY and company turned the corner. LUCKY reportedly said to the others, "You guys want to kill a nigger?" Apparently they did.

The four AVENUES gangsters dismounted, ran along the off side of the parked cars on the street and when they got level to WILSON, they opened up. They were armed with a 12 gauge, a 9 mm, a .357 and another handgun which is believed to be a .380. They basically turned the car WILSON was driving into a sieve. WILSON took one round to the base of his skull and died within minutes.

The IO on the WILSON murder was DETECTIVE ANDY TEAGUE from NORTHEAST. For a year the case went nowhere.

A month after the WILSON killing, (deleted) and SHADOW CAMBERO were together again. This time they were on the corner of FIGUEROA and AVENUE 43. This location was a mere stroll from the scene of WILSON’S homicide. It was 1:00 AM and (deleted) was throwing up a big tag on a wall across the street from the JACK IN THE BOX. CAMBERO was across the street with a police scanner to his ear and a his other hand on a gun in his pocket. CAMBERO was the tailgunner just in case another gang objected to the AVENUES tag.

As (deleted) was tagging the wall, a car with four people (two men, two females) pulled up to the JACK IN THE BOX. One of the women was an off-duty LAPD officer named JEANETTE GARCIA. GARCIA was in the front passenger seat. The four in the car couldn’t help but stare at (deleted) tagging the wall. When (deleted) saw that he was being observed, he walked over to the car and challenged them. He repeated "You want to get blasted?" several times.

OFFICER GARCIA instructed the driver to get out of there. She put her service pistol on her lap. Her intention was to leave the area and phone in for assistance. As her car turned onto FIGUEROA, CAMBERO who was across the street pulled his handgun and began firing at the car. In fact, he chased after the car, shooting as he ran, as the driver was pulling away. OFFICER GARCIA pushed herself out of the passenger window and returned fire. She fired six rounds without effect. She said that the shooter, "Seemed really startled that somebody was shooting back." No doubt. CAMBERO broke off the attack and ran.

Nobody was hit that night. It was a FRIDAY.

The next MONDAY morning, DETECTIVE RICK ORTIZ was given a copy of the report of that incident. An accurate description of (deleted) was in that report and it took ORTIZ about ten seconds to recognize that description as (deleted). ORTIZ had known (deleted) since (deleted) was a YG in AVENUES.

To make a long story short, ORTIZ took (deleted) into custody and questioned him about the JACK IN THE BOX shooting. (Deleted) copped to being there but said that CAMBERO had done the shooting. Then he changed his mind and said that he was there but refused to implicate CAMBERO as the shooter. Regardless, (deleted) was charged with 4 counts of attempted murder and was eventually convicted. He was sentenced to 27 years.

A year after (deleted) had been sent away for the four attempt counts, he contacted authorities and volunteered that he had some information on a murder. The victim was a black guy on NORTH AVENUE 52. NORTHEAST DETECTIVES JOHN BERDIN and ANDY TEAGUE went to interview (deleted) and the tale of WILSON’s killing rolled out of (deleted) as described above.

BERDIN and TEAGUE informed (deleted) that none of his information would remove even one day from his sentence. It was way past the 120 day window of opportunity after sentencing that (deleted) could have used to do himself some good. (Deleted) apparently didn’t care. He told his story and signed his name to the statement.

Based on that information, SALDANA and CLEVER were taken into custody. They were both told that (deleted) had rolled on them. SALDANA denied everything. CLEVER, who was not so clever after all, said that yeah, he was there the night of WILSON’S murder and yeah, he was shooting at the car, but no he was not aiming at WILSON. He was just shooting at the car.

In the world of law, just admitting that he shot at the car was all that CLEVER had to say to make him eligible for a murder charge. Just to rub it in, CLEVER was also charged with a hate crime. On FEBRUARY 25, 2002, almost three years after WILSON’s killing, one of his killers was convicted of the murder. CLEVER was sentenced to 45 to life.

LUCKY SALDANA on the other hand, was let go early on. There was no other corroborating evidence to tie SALDANA to the WILSON murder. And the word of one participant against another isn't enough to proceed with a prosecution. There needs to be additional evidence. In CLEVER's case, the additional corroborating evidence was his own statement.

CAMBERO was never found. Rumor is that he’s living in MEXICO and occasionally comes back to AVENUES.

Of the four people who killed WILSON, only CLEVER is serving time for the crime. (deleted) is in prison on the GARCIA et al shooting. CAMBERO is still at large. And this week SALDANA was convicted on the PADRON murder. SALDANA is scheduled for sentencing on NOVEMBER 18.

There’s an epilogue to this that may evolve into yet another case involving the four AVENUES gangsters who killed KENNY WILSON. The LA office of the FBI and the US ATTORNEY are currently conducting an investigation of the WILSON homicide. The goal is to prosecute the four on FEDERAL HATE CRIME charges. More details on that as they become available. But now, as the saying goes, you know the rest of the SALDANA story.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

It's always been In The Hat's contention that poverty alone is not the prime indicator in a young person's participation in drugs, gangs or violence. In more cases than we can name, we've seen average middle class kids (Hispanic, Anglo, Asian or whatever) dive head first into the gang life. And the jump was usually fueled by some form of chemical stimulant. In this SUNDAY LA TIMES, there's a story about a 22-year-old Laguna Niguel resident who was using her parents' 5000 sq ft mansion to cook up crystal meth. The parents are apparently going through a divorce and they were living in two of their other houses and had no clue that their daughter, ADRIEAN VOLZ, was using the house as a meth lab. The article also mentions RENEE DEMONTREUX, a REDONDO BEACH college student who tossed over her upper middle class life and took up with gangsters and criminals thanks to her meth addiction. VOLZ apparently started running with the NAZI LOW RIDERS prison gang after she got hooked on meth.

One anecdote does not make a definitive sociological study. But what do we make of a filthy rich twenty-something meth tweaker who should know better? Was it poverty that led her down the path to the NAZI LOW RIDERS? Obviously not. It was probably the meth. But why does a person who has everything to the third power even bother with meth? Because it's a high. And the high transcends class, wealth and education. And maybe she had the pony and the clowns on trampolines for birthday parties and the Malibu Barbie with every accessory known to man but was still hollow inside. Well, who cares? The fact is, getting high causes all manner of stupid behavior.

And this leads us inevitably to street gangs. One of the first tools of control veteran gangsters use on the PEE WEES (a street term for the 12 and 13-year-old wannabes) is liquor and pot. They get the kids high. And they keep them high. And when you get a 13-year-old acting stupid, you can get him to do anything up to and including murder. Every gangster is a user. Some use more than others, but they all do it. Even the CARNALS, who by the rules of the EME are not supposed to ingest addictive narcotics, are users. Drugs are the basic unit of currency in the gang culture. It's the social solvent and social leveller that makes a 22-year-old daughter of millionaires the equal of a TECATO who'll sell out every CARNAL in the BAY to get high. Drugs are also the cornerstone of criminal organizations like the MEXICAN MAFIA. Take away the drugs, and there is no gang culture. Take the profit motive out of drugs, and the gangs disappear faster than a pack of LUCKIES at an AA meeting. Without the profits from drug sales and street taxes, the EME would be a toothless lion, roaring away in harmless desperation behind bars.

But for now, the profit motive is there and the gangs are there. So what do you do about a kid who wants to get high and maybe starts running with other kids who get high and carry guns and they start shooting at other groups of kids who also get high and carry guns? You can tell him (or her) to just say no until you turn blue and your tongue falls out. And guess what? They'll get high if they want to. Society can't stop it. All the social programs in the world are not going to stop a 16-year-old from getting blasted on whatever he can get his hands on and hanging out with other 16-year-olds. And all the color TVs, german sports cars and wild-on-the-beach vacations to CABO won't stop somebody from turning a mansion into a biker meth lab.

It ain't just the poverty. And it ain't just the ennui of the idle rich.

It seems to me that the first thing that has to happen is for us to stop making excuses for bad behavior. Poverty is no excuse. Being filthy rich and bored is no excuse. You are born into an imperfect world and just because things don't go your way is not a reason to get high and start capping rounds at a carload of equally disappointed teenagers. And the second thing we need to do is take the profit out of drugs. The third thing we need to do is grow a spine about abusive parents and start taking away children from people who have no business bringing them into the world. We already do that to some degree, but I believe this is an area for greater exploration and some creativity. And I haven't gotten all the way through in my thinking about this, but maybe we should find a way to keep unstable and irresponsible people from having kids in the first place. Yeah, I know. This sounds like BIG BROTHER social engineering. The nightmare of liberals, conservatives and everyone else except maybe Hitler's LEBENSBORN creeps. But we can't stuff the gunpowder back in the pipe bomb after it blows up. If we want to solve the youth violence and gang problem, we have to short circuit the system. And that means starting at ground zero: the home. And boy is that ever treading into the realm of social engineering.

Bad parents raise future victims and predators. That's a fact nobody can dispute. Stupid asswipes who create angry, abused, vicious, violent and emotionally crippled kids and toss them into the world and then expect us to fix them or jail them for the balance of their lives if they can't be fixed, should to be prevented from manufacturing more of them. Are we agreed? Right. And that applies to the BARRIO as well as LAGUNA NIGUEL? Roger that.

But is that ever going to happen? And I don't know if I want to live in a country that tells people when, how, where and why to have kids. I'm sure the CHINESE RED ARMY would have no problem sterilizing lousy parents (or just shooting them) and sending their kids into labor camps. But we don't do that here. They may not have the gang problem there that we have here, but I think we're all agreed that we'd rather cope with the EME than deal with the PEOPLE'S BUREAU OF RE-EDUCATION AND CORRECT SOCIALIST BEHAVIOR.

Frankly, other than removing the profit from drugs and putting a lot more cops on the street to neutralize the more egregious offenders, there really isn't very much we can do legally or morally to keep adults from making future criminals. More on this as the mind continues to work the problem.