SANTA PAULA — Thousands of hours of dogged police work paid off June 11 with the arrest of more than a dozen suspected Ventura County gang members on parole, weapons and narcotics felony charges.
The city just 14 miles east of Ventura and the shimmering shores of the Pacific is generally known as the “citrus capital of the world” because of the large tracts of orange, lemon and avocado groves surrounding the family-oriented community.
Despite its chamber-of-commerce public image, however, Santa Paula is also home to a handful of violent criminal gangs. That dark secret was brought into the glaring light of day last week as local law enforcement agencies, acting in well-choreographed concert, reacted to a pair of suspected gang shootings in recent weeks. One of the violent attacks was perpetrated upon both Santa Paula police officers as well as certain civilians who were targeted behind a local popular restaurant on the evening of May 22. The second such assault occurred on June 4 and left a local woman with gunshot wounds.
“Those two cases made it clear we’ve been dealing with some serious gang elements,” Santa Paula police Chief Stephen MacKinnon said in official statements.
Those elements created the foundations for a massive inter-agency operation involving more than 100 peace officers and nine separate search warrants for nine different locations in the early morning hours of June 11.
Santa Paula police were the first to set up for the early morning raid.
“Our officers reported at 3:30 a.m., with everyone else joining the team at 4:30 a.m,” said records supervisor Dianna Miller.
By the break of dawn, Ventura County sheriff’s and probation officials, as well as city police officers from Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme, had their assignments as they scattered throughout the city of 28,000 in a significant display of law enforcement manpower.
“We had men scattered all over town,” MacKinnon said in his formal statement, “serving warrants for a number of addresses we believed to harbor felony activity.”
In coordinated strikes, the multiple warrants were served at 5:45 a.m., with the targeted residences secured without forcible resistance shortly thereafter. The widespread searches revealed five weapons, multiple handgun silencers, numerous and assorted gang and drug paraphernalia, and stolen property.
The operation netted no less than 15 Santa Paula residents on various charges. Santa Paula police booking officer Sgt. Ishmael Cordero reported those arrested: Christina Garcia, 25, for parole violation in possession of high-caliber ammunition; Edward Tamayo, 25, for possession of methamphetamine for sale and parole violation; David Garcia, 36, for parole violation and possession of a deadly weapon; Jose Rodriguez, 30, for parole violation and possession of a firearm; Rene Vasquez, 22, for parole violation, possession of firearms, possession of stolen property; Samuel Saldana, 24, on outstanding warrants; Denise Rivas, 38, for possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia; Octavio Maldonado, 30, for parole violation; Antonio Maldonado, 25, for violation of court orders; Desiree Garcia, 33, for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance; Stephanie Urbana, 26, for possession of drug paraphernalia; Joe Montes, 32, for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance; Manuel Jimenez, 26, for possession of a deadly weapon; two additional juveniles were arrested for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
All suspects were booked at Santa Paula’s 10th Street Police Station headquarters and were then transported to Ventura County Jail.
Chief MacKinnon, in praising the inter-agency action and the significant investigatory efforts preceding the early morning raids, cited it as “one of the largest ever staged in the county.”