GPD arrests 31 in early morning gang sweep

Gilroy and Morgan Hill SWAT, probation and police officers along

For the second time in almost two months, the Gilroy Police Department partnered with county, state and federal law enforcement agencies in a citywide sweep early Thursday morning, this time targeting more than two-dozen known gang members and their associates for “violent and reckless criminal activity,” police said.

Roughly 150 officers from 15 jurisdictions – including the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration – carried out the raids around Gilroy beginning at 4 a.m., netting more than 30 suspects, some wanted for roles in robberies, assaults and other serious crimes in Gilroy neighborhoods, police said.

“These individuals were violent, they were organized, they were dealing in guns, they were dealing in drugs, they were committing crimes,” Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner said. “They were responsible for drive-by shootings, for stabbings, for extreme violence in our community here in Gilroy.”

Thursday’s operation was the result of a seven-month undercover GPD investigation, Turner said. It ran concurrent with “Operation Garlic Press,” the largest undercover operation in GPD history which nabbed more than 100 suspects Oct. 12-14, including more than 50 known Norteno gang members. She said the two investigations were separate, however.

The GPD targeted 26 suspected gang members Thursday, including an entire family that was arrested on suspicion of committing crimes for the benefit of known gang members or possibly aiding them. Another suspect, who is 17 years old, will be charged by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office as an adult, Turner said. The suspected gang members are wanted for violating what’s known as the STEP Act, which stands for Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention. Five suspects remained at large as of Thursday afternoon.

“But we will continue to search for them,” Turner said. “And again, this is just renewing our commitment that gangs and crime have no place in Gilroy. We have zero tolerance for it. We’re going to keep the pressure on.”

Police wouldn’t reveal which suspects were in custody and which remain at large as investigations are on going.

Deputy District Attorney David Tompkins didn’t offer information specific to the 17-year-old Salgado’s case, but said minors are sometimes charged as adults if their case meets certain criteria, including past criminal record and role in the crime.

Officers recovered narcotics, handguns and cash during the raids, Turner said, though the exact amounts of each have not been released. The GPD also does not expect to provide individual suspects’ charges until sometime today.

Parts of the investigation occurred in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister and San Jose, but all of the defendants live in Gilroy, or were active in Gilroy-based gang activity, police said. All of Thursday’s raids occurred in Gilroy.

One woman, who did not want to give her name, said she and her children were jarred awake around 4 a.m. when a SWAT team armed with assault rifles entered a home in the 9200 block of Wren Avenue to arrest two suspects. She said officers remained at the home for approximately four hours, just before neighborhood children began walking to nearby Antonio Del Buono Elementary School.

She said the two men taken into custody were indeed gang members. When asked how she knew this, the woman replied, “Because I know them. They’re Brown Pride Kings,” referencing one of several Norteno subgroups that operate in Gilroy.

She says dealing with gangs in Gilroy has become extremely difficult for some residents.

“OK, it’s time for me to move,” she chuckled.

GPD and Santa Clara County probation officers were seen coming out of a home at 4 Stratford Place near Luchessa Avenue in Gilroy around 6:30 a.m. They took items from the home, including a desktop computer. GPD Sgt. Gallacinao said a SWAT team had been at the home earlier in the morning.

Police didn’t arrest just known gang members and their associates. At least 10 people were also taken into custody for parole and probation violations – or for other warrants – because they were in the homes at the time of raids, Turner said.

“We brought more people into custody than were originally targeting,” she said.

Around 8 a.m., about a dozen officers converged on a Welburn Avenue home, where its owner says police busted window blinds, tracked dog feces on the carpet, sifted through doors and closets and “ransacked the entire house” in a search for a suspect.

They left without finding their targeted suspect, homeowner Brock Howard says, but police did arrest his girlfriend, Michelle Lujan, 38, for a parole violation. Howard said police found brass knuckles in a room in the home, but they belong to a 19-year-old man renting that room.

Police didn’t provide further details on the charges against Lujan as of press time. Lujan was wanted by police in 2006 for a probation violation and possession of a controlled substance, but Howard said she is not affiliated with any gangs.

“She is not a gang member,” he said.

Six GPD vehicles – two on Rosanna Street near City Hall and four on Church Street – flanked a row of homes between Seventh and Eighth streets as officers continued to search for wanted suspects around noon. At one point, two officers left without anyone in custody.

Back at GPD, Chief Turner echoed a statement she made during an Oct. 14 press conference celebrating the monumental arrests from Operation Garlic Press: “This isn’t over.”

She said two simultaneous undercover investigations “strapped” GPD over the last seven months – but it’s been worth it.

“We’re not a large staff by any means, but we’re focused. And we focused on the criminal element in this community we knew we had to eliminate,” she said. “No one knew this was coming. It was a complete surprise, especially for the criminals.”