Sixteen alleged members of three East Palo Alto gangs have been arrested for a violent war involving multiple killings, attempted murders, witness dissuasion, guns and attempted robbery, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced Monday.
The alleged gang members are being blamed for a string of violent crimes that stretched from East Palo Alto to San Francisco, starting in September 2012 and continuing through December 2013. East Palo Alto's Sac Street and Da Vill street gangs allegedly unified against the Taliban, a Menlo Park and East Palo Alto gang, Wagstaffe said. The 16 people include a Palo Alto resident, 11 East Palo Alto residents, one Menlo Park resident, two Hayward residents and one from Newark.
Dubbed "Operation Sunny Day" after the code the persons arrested allegedly used to signify when a murder was successfully carried out, the 18-month-long investigation is the most massive case prosecuted by the San Mateo County District Attorney's office in its history, Wagstaffe said Monday. Investigators served 80 search warrants, used GPS and social media, tapped land lines and cell phones and did "good, old-fashioned, hard work and legwork," Wagstaffe said.
The investigation stemmed primarily from five murders and attempted murders, including Oct. 5, 2012, murder of Chris Baker in East Palo Alto; the 2012 killing of Stoney Gibson in San Francisco; the 2013 killings of Jonathan Alcazar and Lamont Coleman in East Palo Alto, less than two weeks of each other; and a 2013 attempted robbery of Plaza Jewelers in Redwood City.
The grand jury investigation began in early January and took two months, making it the county's longest investigation, Wagstaffe said. Jury members handed down three indictments, including four separate murders, two attempted murders and "countless other crimes," he said.
All 16 people are in custody, with 11 in San Mateo County Jail and five in other jurisdictions. Nine are charged with capital murder with special circumstances.
The capital-murder charges are as follows: East Palo Alto residents Raymond Bradford, 28 (two counts); Roberto Bustos-Montes, 24 (two counts); Emmanuel Hyland, 25 (three counts); Tyrone Love-Lopez, 21 (two counts); Eric Valencia Vargas, 20 (one count); Marvin Jake Ware, 26 (one count); Miguel Angel Rivera Jr., 23 (one count); Palo Alto resident Nina Mehrnoosh Cragg, 23 (one count); and Menlo Park resident Jerry Coneal III, 19 (one count). Bradford, Vargas and Ware are also accused of attempted murder.
Other arrests include: East Palo Alto residents Ralph Vernon Fields Jr., 26 (weapons charges); Eric Valencia Vargas, 20 (weapons charges and resisting arrest); Marvin Jake Ware, 26 (bribery of a witness, weapons violations); Donte Demon Jordan, 19 (bribery of a witness and receiving a bribe to influence testimony); LaQuisha Walker, 27 (witness dissuasion); Raymond Louis Bradford, 28 (attempted robbery); Leonard James Gaines, 21 (attempted robbery, weapons charge); Roshawn Bickham, 25, Hayward (bribery of a witness); Rodney Levence Mitchell, 22, Newark (attempted robbery); Robert Wheller Jr., 26, Hayward (attempted robbery).
Assistant District Attorney Karen Guidotti, who spearheaded the investigation, said the warfare stemmed from struggles for control among the local gangs.
"It's a question of control, power and respect. One gang member slights another by offending someone, and it becomes a cycle of retaliation," she said.
Deputy district attorneys Jamie Draper and Jordan Boyd were singled out for their work as lead investigators. East Palo Alto's interim police chief, Lee Violett, also credited East Palo Alto Criminal Investigator Det. Sgt. Jeff Liu with major contributions.
In 2013, East Palo Alto saw eight homicides, Violett said.
"Too many young men have died violently, causing loved ones to grieve. ... Our work will not be done until there are zero homicides and our community is safe again," he said.
Several state, local, county and federal law-enforcement agencies worked with the district attorney's Bureau of Investigations, including Mountain View, Belmont, East Palo Alto and Milpitas police, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, the federal Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Office and the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.