News

Police: Outrage over homicides leads to tips

Major leads in recent East Palo Alto killings mark turning point for community, leaders say

After decades of adhering to a "no-snitch" culture, East Palo Alto residents are coming forward with tips about recent murders as they never have before, East Palo Alto police are saying.

That sea change, prompted in part by the June shooting death of 3-month-old Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia, has been crucial to solving murders that have rocked the city since July 13, police Chief Ronald Davis said last week. Within 48 hours, police received several credible tips that led to the identification of three suspects in two killings and a possible connection to a third that occurred July 24, he said.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the willingness to come forward is coming from young people, community leaders said.

"People are drawing a line in the sand and saying they are not going to tolerate this violence. Three homicides in a week is crazy. We should be outraged," Davis said, just days before 19-year-old Kevin Guzman was gunned down outside an East Bayshore Road pizzeria -- the fourth homicide in 12 days.

Davis all but predicted the renewed violence after a July 6 summit of federal, state, county and local law-enforcement agencies, where Davis publicly vowed to shut down the entrenched Norteno and Sureno gangs.

The first of the four homicides occurred a week later. Nineteen-year-old Menlo Park resident Catherine Fisher was fatally shot as she and two others sat in a car. Police said she was not the intended target.

Two East Palo Alto residents, Jabari Banford, 23, and Hugo Chavez, 26, were gunned down July 18 and 19. Then Guzman was killed and an 18-year-old was wounded on July 24.

"How I feel about these recent deaths is certainly disgust," East Palo Alto resident Whitney Genevro, 23, said in an email to the Weekly. "I cannot understand these killers' minds, and how they must not have any love inside of them. I know anger is a strong emotion, but it should never be an emotion that drives the uncontrollable desire to kill a human being.

"I hope others are willing to break their code of silence because they might have information to bring justice to these murders, and we need more people to stand up and do what is right. At my age, we have a great influence on the younger children and teens. If we are good role models, who knows the types of crimes and mishaps that can be avoided?" she said.

Near the spot on East Bayshore Road where Guzman was killed, two young men discussed the city's homicides, including the June 5 death of the infant, Izack. It was a turning point, they said.

"The killing of a 3-month-old baby -- that's just too much," one of the young men, who asked to remain anonymous, said on Monday.

The city's faith leaders said the turn-around goes against decades of ingrained fear.

"Now there are a whole lot more people saying, 'Enough is enough,'" said Rev. Paul Bains, pastor of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ. "In my years of being in the community since 1961, it's not like it was in the past, where people said, 'I don't want to be involved.' The stop-snitching culture has taken a turn.

"Our city has grown socially. People are not tolerating what they tolerated before. What had once not been tolerated by the few is now not being tolerated by the many."

Tips from the community led to the identification of three suspects in the Fisher and Chavez homicides: Christian Fuentes, 20, Jaime Cardenas, 19, and Fidel Silva, 24, all of East Palo Alto. Fuentes was arrested last week for violating parole, police said.

The three have also been implicated in a string of crimes and homicides in Colorado, and police are looking into the possible involvement of one or more of the suspects in Guzman's death. Fabian Zaragoza, 17, was arrested for Izack's killing within hours of the shooting due to tips from the community, police said.

Young people said they are tired of living in fear.

"Friends I know who were once fine walking to and fro in the city have been staying indoors lately for fear of a stray bullet," Tameeka Bennett, 24, said in an email to the Weekly.

"The chief is doing what he can, and I respect and appreciate that -- but I strongly believe that is time for people of faith to stand up against the reckless violence in our community.

"I refuse to be scared to step outside or walk down the street. I live here. This is my community, this is home."

Genevro agreed.

"As a community, especially in the faith-based community, we have to stop being afraid, and start speaking up, and spreading the love of God. ... Parents should worry about whether or not their child will get picked for the varsity team at school, or if their child's grades are good enough to get into a university, not whether or not this is the day they'll get the call to identify their child's body," she said.

Larry Moody, director of the nonprofit Making it Happen for Our Children Promise Neighborhood, which aims to provide cradle-through-college educational help for youth in the Gardens neighborhood, said the mood is definitely changing.

"I had a conversation with eight teens recently, and without a doubt there's a sense of being sick and tired of being sick and tired with the violence," he said.

Operation Cease Fire, which offers social, medical and job resources to gang members who agree to leave the criminal lifestyle, has generated some interest on the street, he said.

"Folks are talking about the program as a way out, which is a good start. Education and jobs are the key. Even gang members will agree," he said.

At a July 21 meeting at The Lord's Gym Community Center, 15 religious leaders discussed ways to stop the recent violence.

Bains said they are taking "Jesus' approach" by going out among the people to communicate their message of hope.

On the city's most inflamed streets, the faith leaders are making contact with known crime perpetrators to talk about ways they can choose an alternate lifestyle.

Other residents are trying to galvanize the community.

On Tuesday (Aug. 2), Moody's group will host National Night Out, a nationwide community-cohesiveness event, with four block parties on Runnymede Street, Joel Davis Park, Newell Road and East O'Keefe Street, event organizer Lisa Moody said.

The City of East Palo Alto will host a town hall meeting with Mayor Carlos Romero and Davis to discuss a summer violence-reduction plan on Thursday (Aug. 4) from 6 to 8 p.m. at East Palo Alto City Hall, 2415 University Ave.

Lisa Moody said last year residents on Runnymede boarded up an unsafe house and did weed abatement to reduce crime during National Night Out.

"We will take back our city one block at a time, if we have to," she said.

Bains said he wishes the media would stop referring to when the city was branded the national "murder capital." That was in 1992 -- nearly 20 years ago, he said. The city has had years of single-digit, steadily decreasing homicide rates. The constant branding does the community a disservice, he said.

But he isn't naive about the current violence, he added. Community leaders will continue to push to solve the underlying causes of the violence, he said.

"Violence is a reaction to something else going on. We are offering parenting classes; coaches are making an impact, teaching conflict-resolution skills. People need jobs. The unemployment rate in East Palo Alto is 28 to 29 percent," he said.

"We will push the community and push getting to know your neighbor.

"One death is too much. Every life is precious. I can't wait until we get to that zero death rate in East Palo Alto. I want it to be in my lifetime. That will be a year of celebration -- and that's coming," he said.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by EPA resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:42 am

The common denomonator is DRUGS! Supply and demand. Drugs and violence go hand in hand. Gangs make alot of money selling drugs in EPA. As long as there are those willing to buy and use them and the "gangster" lifestyle is tolerated, this City will never be safe.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm

How can they release the demographic of the anonymous tipsters? isn't that a breach of anonymity?

I could give you 5 houses right now that sell drugs and i do not ever go to east palo alto. Its from the high school days and guess what else? they're still there!

same people operating them and the police know exactly who and where they are.

But there is one problem in East Palo Alto, they don't do anything about it!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm

EPA police do nothing to catch criminals IMHO. My housekeeper's hardworking husband just cashed his check at a market in EPA, where 2 African American males entered the store and watched, but on security camera, plus their car was also photoed on the camera outside, and then these thugs followed him home, where, at gunpoint, he was robbed of $1,400 dollars which was his entire rent for a month. IN BROAD DAYLIGHT right in front of his house. The EPA Police took a report after Mr. Mendoza called 911, but never called him in to see mug shots, or anything after that. A year later, nothing has ever happened. Can you imagine if this had happened in Menlo Park or Atherton ? I am disgusted with EPA police. I have tried to call the EPA police and they won't give any info out and these criminals who "can" be identified are still on the loose.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Voice
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm

This whole article is a Davis PR piece. Start enforcing the laws and work with other police departments. EPA is a problem to other cities in San Mateo County


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Ranch Gal, unfortunately, you often have to be a very squeaky wheel to get some help w/the police, or be part of a community group which works with them. I know a lot of residents here who don't want to be a squeaky wheel & for many, it goes against their culture & their personal code. You shouldn't *have* to raise a stink when you've literally been robbed of all of your money.

The Voice - yep, this is part of Davis's PR. Have you noticed the upticks in crime every time he announces violent crime has downturned I suspect that the criminals commit more violent crimes after Davis's pronouncements to show they have the upper hand.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Hmmmm:

it seems to me the dirt bags think they have the upper hand because of the "no snitch" mentality. Given the outrage and the fact that people have finally overcome that "no snitch" mentality, arrests have been made. Part of the reason EPA is the way it is, is because of the absolute refusal of witnesses to give information to the police. I realize EPAPD isn't the greatest PD in the world, but asking police to catch criminals without the assistance of the community is asking them to do their job with one hand tied behind their backs. They're generally not there when the crime is committed. Witnesses are the only thing that they can go on to catch teh bad guys. It's not like on CSI, most all departments don't have any of the fancy technology on TV. Even those that do are so back logged that it takes months, not the hours shown on TV to get their evidence. Bottom line - if the community refuses to get involved, the dirt bags take control.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I agree, MV. But there are many, many times our PD doesn't pursue leads, for a variety of reasons; many of those reasons aren't viable. That's not excusing the residents' lack of stepping forward; rather, there is more than one reason for unclosed cases, of course, & some of the fault lies w/the PD. I have experienced a real variety of competence w/our PD & the Sheriff's Office through the years. Some of the downside is due to workload, lack of manpower, lack of funds. But certainly, not all of it.

Some years back, when the S.O. stepped into investigations, the backlog of cases was appalling & much of the work was incredibly sloppy. Not all of that can be attributed to lack of funds or overwork; some, but not all of it.

I do have to say though I am not a part of the snitch/not snitch community because my lifestyle is very different from that community, plus, not being raised here means that I don't have family here. I have some deep connections, but that's different than either fearing for my safety by coming forward, or not coming forward because I hate the police and overtly or tacitly approve of criminal behavior.

I am *thrilled* that some of the don't snitch mentality has shifted. I am both cautious & cynical about it, however, because it can drop right back into place depending on circumstances & players. Of course, you know all of this.

I was also surprised by the outpouring of rage & grief when Officer May was killed, because that was a huge contrast to when Officer Davis was killed; that's earlier evidence that the community's attitudes have changed.

I also understand most of Davis's PR machine reasons, & I approve of some, but certainly not all of them. Recently, him wanting to get the heck outta EPA was a sober reality check for his fans. OTOH, he is fairly accessible to many here, and that itself is a huge change.

One of the best things I've learned about our PD: they really back up animal control officers doing their job here. That may sound minor, but it's not. I have also witnessed incredible kindness towards animals from our officers & other city employees. I have also witnessed thoughtful, hard work from code enforcement.

Another important piece of this is that many of the officers will rise to the situation when they know you're not a criminal. But even so, much of the "us vs. them" divide is incredibly wide. My loyalty swerves back & forth depending on the situation. Some of the residents here are in such incredible denial (at least publicly) about what their loved ones are involved with, that they refuse to acknowledge the legal definition of a gang & blindly insist those loves ones aren't involved. It's surreal.

And lastly, of course, I am grateful we have cleaned up the PD enough that none of them appear to be selling weapons out of the trunk of their patrol cars or leaving their buying off their beating victims with Happy Meals. Now, THOSE were the Wild, Wild West days.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Hmmmmm and others here: In my case, the victim gave a complete description of the armed suspects along with the victim's brother who was there standing outside the house, plus the security camera at the store photoed them too and their car. Nothing was ever pursued! Absolutely nothing. They had em on camera, the car plus 2 eyewitnesses who were willing to see mugshots but these folks were never called back to the station to see anything. And then recently he had his $500 leaf blower stolen in front of MY home right out of the back of his truck in broad daylight, and when I called the SM Cty Sheriff to make a report (I saw the speeding truck drive away with it) the response was "Does he have any insurance? He should report it to his insurance company!". WTH???? They didn't want to bother coming out. Perhaps there were a rash of lawn equipment being lifted by this truck ? Now he locks everything up. To these folks, a $500 leaf blower is a huge amount of their money gone. Sigh.....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by sadfsf
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 1, 2011 at 8:57 am

sorry, EPA resident, the problem isn't drugs, but drug LAWS. if drugs were legal, there wouldn't be drug-related violence.

its like how ending the prohibition killed the capone-era gangsters


 +   Like this comment
Posted by sadfsf
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

ranch gal, if they couldn't get into contact or interview the suspects, what can they do? How would they know their identities? Its not like the security camera evidence gives them the names of the suspects. And even if they found out, all they could hope for is to put a warrant out, and wait for a traffic stop to yield the suspects. And even othen, if the suspects took the fifth, they would likely walk away free. I have committed numerous atrocities but never been charged lol.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by bob
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:43 pm

It is nice to see the no-snitch mentality ending. I have a lot of respect for the people coming forward. It takes alot of guts to stand up to the thugs. I hope it continues.


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