Sacramento police have beefed up patrols and are more aggressively targeting known gang members after an apparent gang war has escalated violence in two south-area neighborhoods.
Detectives say at least three shootings since March 15 can be attributed to the increased tensions between gangs that claim Oak Park and the Mack Road area as their territories. Those incidents left six people injured in just two days; police have described all the victims as being affiliated with gangs.
“It has our attention,” Capt. Neil Schneider, who oversees investigations, said of the gang war.
Though gang detectives typically struggle in getting the community’s cooperation – for fear of retaliation, distrust of law enforcement or both – Sacramento police have found new allies: Clergy leaders. About a dozen churches citywide have agreed to stand with police by passing out fliers prominently displaying five suspects wanted in connection with some of the recent gang violence.
It’s a tenuous position for some of these religious leaders – trying to support law enforcement without alienating their own congregations. Many of those involved in the gang lifestyle have close friends or relatives who attend churches partnering with police, said Les Simmons, pastor of the South Sacramento Christian Center.
“We know that this is a hard decision to make, to put out there that these are some folks that (the police are) looking for and these churches are supporting them,” said Simmons. “That’s a hard thing to say, but it’s a harder thing to bury a kid. It’s a harder thing when there’s violence in south Sacramento and nobody’s doing anything about it.”
Sacramento police say tensions between the gangs have been escalating in recent months, as rappers from both neighborhoods have been posting videos on YouTube designed not only to boost their profile, but disrespect or provoke their rivals. Then, on March 15, several gang members from the Mack Road area jumped an Oak Park gang member in the Arden Fair mall. A video of the confrontation – which did not result in serious injury – was posted on YouTube that day.
The response was swift: Three people were shot in the 4900 block of Mack Road that night. A day later, drive-by shootings on 34th and 35th streets left three victims injured in Oak Park.
Police say they believe all three shootings were acts of retaliation between the two gangs.
A seventh victim was injured in a drive-by shooting at Mack Road and Tangerine Avenue the night of March 16, but police say they are not clear whether it is linked to the gang war. A Sunday shooting on River Bend Circle that left a 21-year-old man dead involves the gangs in question, police said, but they are not sure whether it can be attributed to the recent tensions or something more personal.
The arrival of spring in Sacramento typically heralds an uptick in violence. But Sgt. Tom Little, who heads the gang unit, said police were caught off guard by the “magnitude and number of shootings” attributed to the gang war.
“This was a lot in a short period of time,” he said. “To have this many this soon was disturbing.”
Immediately following the violence, police used overtime to dramatically increase the number of officers on patrol in Oak Park and along the Mack Road corridor. That response has been scaled back, but Schneider said police have maintained an increased presence in both areas.
Police also have reached out to local partners – such as the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department-led, multiagency Impact team and the FBI-led Safe Streets Task Force – for assistance.
“We’ve been pulling out all the stops on this,” Little said. “Everybody’s had a hand in trying to track down these guys who are wanted and put pressure on the gangs they’re associated with.”
Police will discuss their response at Tuesday’s City Council meeting at the request of Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents Oak Park.
Authorities said they do not believe people should feel unsafe in Arden Fair mall as a result of the beating that occurred there. Police know a great deal about what happened in large part because of the mall’s detailed surveillance system, and said security officers there “know the players.” The YouTube video of the beating shows security officers intervening seconds into the attack.
Steve Reed, a retired police officer who is the head of mall security, said he believes the fight was an isolated incident. Still, he has increased the number of off-duty, uniformed Sacramento police officers that the mall employs in addition to its regular security officers. He also speaks regularly with police leadership, he said.
“It’s zero tolerance there now,” Reed said. “We’re sending a very strong message that won’t happen at my mall.”
Detectives have not identified any suspects in any of the shootings except for the River Bend Way homicide, due in large part to the lack of cooperation from victims and witnesses, police officials said. They have, however, identified seven suspects in connection with the Arden Fair mall beating; five of them have not been found.
In custody are Efrem Wandick, 26, and Daiquen Lamar Davis, 22. Wandick is being held on suspicion of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, and Davis is being held on a parole hold, according to police.
Police are searching for: Donald Oliver, alias “Lavish D,” 29; Deiondrea Oliver, alias “Dreda,” 26; Anthony Jacob, alias “B-Tone,” 26; Donte Young, alias “Tizzle,” 23; and Lamont Young, aliases “Lil Lav” and “LL,” 24. They face an assortment of charges in connection with the mall beating, including assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, conspiracy, participating in a criminal street gang and violations of parole, according to police.
Mugshots identifying the suspects are featured prominently on fliers that will soon be handed out or posted in cooperating churches and businesses. The flier lists the participating churches who “support saving a generation.”
“Yes, (the churches) want to promote acceptance, but these individuals are endangering the community they’re trying to serve,” said Lt. Roman Murrietta, who heads the department’s Cops and Clergy program. “We’re all in the human business.”
Simmons, the pastor, said the gang war has frustrated and frightened many in the communities most directly affected. With the encouragement of their religious leaders, Simmons said he expects more people in the community will step forward to help law enforcement.
“It’s a real touchy situation that we’re walking on, but it’s necessary right now,” he said. “Unless we utilize that information, it’s only going to end with more bloodshed and more violence.”