Thursday, October 16, 2008

Killing sparks 19-month uptick in violence


When two warring factions of Santa Barbara gangs clashed in broad daylight in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in town on March 14, 2007, it was the first chapter of a now year and a half long escalation of bloody gang violence in the city.
Like church bells, the shattering of glass bottles could be heard as the two sides, east and west, merged as one.

According to witnesses, as many as 100 fight participants, forming an ocean of shaved heads wearing white and blue, wielded sticks and bats. Police even found a wood stake, carved to a point like some primitive, handmade weapon in a prison film.
In the midst of the chaos, Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez, a 14-year-old Santa Barbara Junior High School student, whose parents lived on the Eastside of town, took out a 12-inch knife and began swinging it.
The boy Juarez aimed at, and later told police he stabbed, was 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares, who lived on the Westside and went to El Puente Community High School, an alternative school primarily attended by children with attendance and legal issues.
The two boys grew up here. Their parents’ homes were no more than four miles from each other. They could have attended the same high school, played on the same football team — if they’d made it that far.
What’s clear is the two boys were more similar than they were different. But it was the seemingly insignificant difference — the side of town their parents chose to live on — that stole the boy named Angel’s life early, and robbed Juarez of an adolescence void of prison bars.
This dynamic isn’t lost on Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, the prosecutor in the Juarez case, who said he thinks of the similarities shared by victim and suspect often.
“They could have, in a different setting, been lifelong friends,” said Dozer, a 28-year prosecutor who has focused almost exclusively on gang crime since the early 1990s. “That’s really what this is all about.”
The fight didn’t last long. Police were nearby, expecting trouble.
School let out early that day. And whenever the schools in the Santa Barbara School Districts had an early release day (a practice that was discontinued shortly after Angel’s death), gang fights occurred with such regularity, some Santa Barbara Police officers reportedly referred to them as, “gang fight days.”
Only this “gang fight day” lived up to the cliché.
As Juarez and several other boys were held at gunpoint on the sidewalk by a police officer and dozens of other participants ran in every direction, Angel lay bleeding to death in a planter in the valet parking lot of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Angel’s body sustained eight knife wounds, one of which was fatal. This wound, according to law enforcement, entered between two ribs, plunged deep into the boy, where it punctured a lung, causing it to fill with blood.
During Juarez’s trial, the prosecution and defense disputed the exact location of where the fatal wound was inflicted.
The defense said the fatal blow was delivered not by Juarez, but by another boy, referred to in court as Ricardo R., at the rear of the store in the planter. The prosecution maintained Juarez inflicted the fatal wound near the intersection of State and Carrillo streets.
One thing’s for sure: Angel made his way about 50 yards to the rear of the shopping center, where he collapsed in the planter.
Two days later, Juarez was charged with murder. The District Attorney’s Office opted to try the boy as an adult.
Several other boys — early reports from police said 10 — were also arrested and charged with crimes connected to the fight. All except Juarez were tried in juvenile court.
The community’s response to Angel’s death was akin to that of the nation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
For a couple of days, the brazen afternoon killing dominated local headlines. A string of community forums were attended by hundreds of community members who were shocked and anxious to find a solution.
Gang violence became a main-stage issue, one that local politicians began taking heat for. One that befuddled and appalled most everyone. Elected bodies across the South Coast took up the issue and the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury conducted an investigation.
As the legal motions in the Juarez trial slowly grinded forward, the city allocated $100,000 to reimplement police bike patrols on the Westside and initiate them on the Eastside.
According to the Civil Grand Jury report, the city also gave another $174,000 to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for afterschool programs.
Through its apprenticeship program, the city has provided temporary or part-time employment to 37 youths — a number it hopes to expand with an $863,000 grant, the Grand Jury report said.
While officials and residents were scrambling for answers, the violence continued and came to a head again on July 16, 2007, when 16-year-old Lorenzo Valentin Carachure was stabbed to death near his parents’ home on San Pascual Street.
Two others who were with Carachure were also stabbed, including the slain boy’s cousin. Both survived the attack.
Police arrested seven people in May 2008 in connection with the Carachure killing.
After a preliminary hearing in September, a Superior Court judge ordered five of the suspects, four of whom are juveniles, to stand trial. Like Juarez, the four juveniles are being tried as adults.
But the violence didn’t stop with Carachure.
As the Gap Fire raged in the hills above Goleta on July Fourth of this year, and the City of Santa Barbara’s annual fireworks show was ready to begin, a gang fight broke out along Cabrillo Boulevard near Stearns Wharf.
Within feet of where families and other revelers had their eyes peeled on the smoky, light-filled sky, paramedics found the body of 15-year-old Emmanuel Roldan, who had been fatally stabbed.
Four people were arrested and charged with murdering the boy, three of whom are juveniles and will be tried as adults.
One of these juveniles, 17-year-old David Roldan, is the victim’s older brother.
So the staggeringly sad tally looks like this: eight children charged with murdering other children. Seven of these boys could face life in prison.
Juarez, after being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter yesterday by a Santa Barbara County jury, faces a maximum sentence of 22 years behind bars.
And three dead children, all because of some deeper meaning applied to the compass directions east and west — one side of State Street and the other.
Who can justify that? Surely not the dead children, the parents of dead children or those accused of killing children — fellow children.
How could they? In another year, or month, Ricky Juarez and Angel Linares may have been passing a football to each other. They’d have been wearing the same colors. They, like Dozer said, might have been friends.
Why not?


Anonymous said...

I'll tell you why. It's ignorance, fear, a lack of understanding and inclusion.

There are institutional barriers that divide children. If parents are weak they are unable to guide their children regardless of income. Substance abuse and violence are key indicators that it is too late for some children.

In the case of all of these boys prevention was never on the table. If the Police knew that shorten school days were the recipe for gang fights would you not think that there was a problem in place. Obviously, this problem was treated lightly until it was too late and some poor kid lost his life.

Maybe now, the city, police and community agencies will get it right and provide prevention and not detention.

Santa Barbara sucks today because of this and it will move on and remember this time as a dark period. But please truly get serious about this issue and get beyond the band aid programs and develop services that truly clean up the problem.

Kids will always get in trouble and there will always be problems, but don't ignore it to the point that it is obvious that you have a problem that is out of control.

Anonymous said...

Don't blame the police or the "system" for this murder. The boys who attacked and killed on that day were responsible and hopefully will stay in prison for a long time as a consequence. Perhaps some of the gangsters in SB will now get the message that there's a penalty for their criminal behavior. Own up home boys!

Anonymous said...

Voluntary manslaughter? If that isn't first-degree murder... I don't know what is.

The answer? Initiate massive deportations of these drains on society, prosecute their (probably illegal) parents for negligence and call it what it is: murder in the first.

SB will soon be abbreviated TJ if this kind of ridiculous nonsense is allowed to continue and if not handled the right way.

Anonymous said...

Here's a little 411, you racist people didn't know... most of these g's are 3rd and 4th generation!!! So come up with better ideas and solutions instead of these racist one's you keep posting!!!