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Gang war bust: Sixteen indicted, four charged with capital murder
March 25, 2014, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

Michelle Durand/Daily Journal
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe speaks at a press conference on the steps of the historic county courthouse to announce the indictment of 16 gangmembers of crimes ranging from murder to bribery.

Capping a year-long investigation into a series of murders, shootings and other crimes, 16 gangmembers were indicted by a criminal grand jury in what the district attorney called “easily the most massive case prosecuted” in his office’s history.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced the indictments Monday morning in front of the historic county courthouse flanked by law enforcement who spent 18 months on “Operation Sunny Day,” named for the code word used by gangmembers to indicate a completed murder.

Of the 16 defendants ranging in age from 19 to 28, 11 are in custody in San Mateo County and were arraigned immediately after the press conference. The remaining five are held in other jurisdictions and will be transferred here for prosecution on crimes including murder, attempted murder, firearms possession, attempted robbery, conspiracy, drug trafficking, dissuading witnesses and bribery. The crimes spanned the Peninsula from East Palo Alto to San Francisco.

Nine are charged with capital murder — murder for gang purposes — which makes them potentially eligible for the death penalty.

The crimes stem from five primary acts of violence beginning Sept. 30, 2012, with a Belmont drive-by shooting when the Da Vill and Sac Street gangs of East Palo Alto teamed up against the Taliban gang of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The motive, as with much gang violence, appears to be a matter of control, power and respect, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti.

One slight turned into an act of violence which created more and turned into a cycle of retaliation, Guidotti said.

Those indicted are Raymond Bradford, 28, of East Palo Alto; Roberto Bustos-Montes, 24, of East Palo Alto; Nina Mehrnoosh Cragg, 23, of Palo Alto; Ralph Vernon Fields Jr., 26, of East Palo Alto, Emmanuel Hyland, 25, of East Palo Alto; Tyrone Love-Lopez, 21, of East Palo Alto; Eric Valencia Vargas, 20, of East Palo Alto; Marvin Jake Ware, 26, of East Palo Alto, Donte Demon Jordan, 19, of East Palo Alto; Roshawn Bickham, 25 of Hayward; LaQuisha Walker, 27, of East Palo Alto; Leonard James Gaines, 21, of East Palo Alto; Rodney Levence Mitchell, 22, of Newark; Robert Wheller Jr., 26, of Hayward; Jerry Coneal III, 19, of Menlo Park and Miguel Angel Rivera Jr., 23, of East Palo Alto.

All but two of the 11 arraigned Monday asked for court-appointed attorneys and each postponed pleas until April 11. They are held on amounts ranging from $500,000 to no bail.

The indictments not only hold these defendants accountable but also send a message to those still in the community, law enforcement officials said.

“We are going to come after you. We are going to put you behind bars,” Sheriff Greg Munks said.

The September 2012 shooting that began the crime spree documented in the indictment happened in Belmont, “a city not used to dealing with crime of that nature,” Police Chief Dan DeSmidt said.

In that instance, Vargas allegedly shot into another car on southbound Highway 101 near the Ralston Avenue exit. Two passengers were struck by bullets. Vargas was arrested in December 2012 and charged with attempted murder. In July 2013, Ware and Bradford were charged with helping Vargas track and attempt to murder a gang rival in the other car. All three belong to the Da Vill gang and allegedly followed their target from his mother’s home onto the freeway before opening fire. Bradford is also charged with the attempted robbery in a Middlefield Road jewelry store heist that ended with the clerk pulling out a shotgun.

The shooting happened between a sports complex and a residential neighborhood, DeSmidt said.

On Oct. 5, Bradford, Bustos-Montes, Hyland and Vargas fatally shot Christopher Baker, 21, in East Palo Alto, Wagstaffe said.

Stoney Gipson was the next to die in San Francisco on Oct. 7, according to law enforcement, followed by Jonathan Neri Alzacar on Jan. 14, 2013, in East Palo Alto and Lamont Darnell Coleman, 21, on Jan. 16, 2013, in East Palo Alto.

In between the murders, the defendants allegedly committed numerous other crimes including shootings and dissuading witnesses.

The criminal grand jury investigation left members “stunned” at the level of violence, Wagstaffe said. The jury spent two months on the case which is eight times longer than any other ever conducted in county history, he said.

The work is not done until there are zero homicides, said interim East Palo Alto Police Chief Lee Violett.

In 2013, the city had eight homicides.

“Too many young men have died violently,” Violett said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102



Tags: murder, other, vargas, crimes, charged, attempted,

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