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A Walk Into Rivals’ Territory : Gang Violence Erupted During ‘Escort’ by LAPD

Times Staff Writer

A violent brawl between two Los Angeles street gangs occurred after one of the factions had been followed by a police “escort” 10 blocks into territory controlled by its rival, a Sheriff’s Department investigator said Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Police Department officers assigned to the department’s anti-gang detail “were escorting the gang members” as they walked from a wake for a slain comrade last Wednesday night “back to the neighborhood they reside in,” Sheriff’s Detective Robert Rifkin said.

During the battle, which erupted about 6:30 p.m. when the gangs came together on the street, one shot was fired at a police officer and a total of 16 people, including 12 minors, were arrested, Rifkin said. He added that later that night, as a direct result of the melee, Monolita Shawn Green, 18, was slain in a drive-by revenge shooting nearby.

Rifkin, an anti-gang detective who is investigating the incident, said it was the result of an “honest mistake” by unseasoned Los Angeles Police Department members. He said the officers did not realize that they were traveling with members of one gang through territory controlled by another.

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A Los Angeles police lieutenant said the two officers had acted properly in following the gang through the streets and made “no mistakes.”

Interviews with seven residents and merchants who said they witnessed varying portions of the incident yielded yet another scenario. All interviewed said they suspected that law enforcement officers had instigated the confrontation on 90th Place, between Normandie and Budlong avenues.

“Its kind of hard to believe (the police) couldn’t have stopped those kids before they ever got to where the (rival) group was,” said the manager of a market who witnessed the incident. “What it looked like to me was the police intentionally brought one group to the other just to see them kill each other.”

The market manager declined to be identified.

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He, like the other witnesses interviewed, said they have not been questioned by investigators.

Rifkin defended the conduct of the police officers, saying: “I don’t think they did anything intentionally.”

But, he said, as gang specialists, the officers “should have known” which gangs control what territory.

The market manager and some other witnesses said they recalled two cars of sheriff’s deputies, rather than the one Los Angeles Police Department car noted by Rifkin, driving alongside and behind the crowd of gang members returning from the wake.

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They complained that the officers had sufficient reason to arrest the youths blocks before they got to 90th Place because they were walking down the sidewalk openly drinking big bottles of beer in violation of the law.

One resident, whose home faces the site of the confrontation, said she saw people she believed to be sheriff’s deputies standing off to the side laughing as they watched the fight. The deputies intervened, said Nancy Carmouche, 35, an unemployed mother of two, only when a gang member brandished a gun.

Carmouche said that when the fight started, she ran into her house and called the 911 emergency number but was told by an operator, “We already know about it.”

“They did it intentionally,” Carmouche said, referring to her belief that the two gangs had been “set up” by police. “If they want them to fight, they should take them to the desert somewhere and not bring them where innocent people could get hurt.”

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The allegations leveled by Carmouche and other residents were vehemently denied by Lt. Robert Kimball, who is the supervisor of the two Los Angeles officers involved in the incident.

Kimball said the officers did not determine the route the crowd of youths took and had no way of knowing that rival gang members were on 90th Place.

Asked why the youths were not arrested if they were drinking beer in public, he replied: “Do we arrest everybody who is drinking beer on the street?”

Kimball later said he did not know if the officers had seen illegal beer drinking.

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Efforts to contact the officers, identified by Rifkin as Mark Tico and Chris Barling, were not successful.

According to Rifkin, the following events led up to the confrontation:

Early last Wednesday, a large number of a members of a Southwest gang attended the funeral of a member killed July 4. After the funeral services, the gang gathered at Jesse Owens Park at Western Avenue and Century Boulevard for a wake.

As the wake broke up, most of the gang members left the park in cars, but some were left without transportation. Those gang members began walking toward their homes, said by residents to be about 15 blocks from the park and five blocks northeast of where the confrontation occurred.

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To ensure that they would reach their destination without incident, the two Los Angeles officers, traveling in one car, drove close behind them. Rifkin said the word “escort” was first used by the officers themselves when he debriefed them.

The route led the procession--estimated by witnesses as 25 to 60 members strong--into a confrontation with a much smaller number of rivals, who at the time were talking to two sheriff’s deputies.

The wake had been held at a city park patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department; the brawl occurred in unincorporated territory patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department.

As the crowd of gang members approached 90th Place, about 10 blocks from the park, members of the rival gang stood on a sidewalk, informing sheriff’s deputies that some of their enemies had just passed by and waved a gun at them.

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Rifkin said he had been told that a member of the gang who was talking to the deputies immediately jumped into a car and raced toward the approaching rivals, igniting the brawl. Reinforcements were called, and the officers moved in without delay, he said.

Neighborhood residents dispute the account. They said the crowd from the wake turned off Normandie onto 90th Place waving beer bottles and sticks, shouting and “throwing” gang signs with their hands. The group then surged down 90th Place, they said, and attacked about four of the rival gang members. Four others managed to run away, they said.

Later that night, according to Rifkin, the drive-by shooting occured in the same neighborhood. The victim, he said, was suspected of having been involved in the melee, and the killing was believed to be an act of gang retaliation.

GANG CLASH

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1.) Jesse Owens Park: Gang holds a wake at the park after the funeral of a member who was killed July 4.

2.) Middle of the 1200 block of 90th Place (between Normandie and Budlong avenues): About 6:30 p.m., crowd of gang members who were at the wake clashes with members of a rival gang who had been standing and talking with sheriff’s deputies.

3.) 9100 block of Baring Cross Street: About 11 p.m. that night, an alleged gang member identified as 18-year-old Monolita Shawn Green is shot to death in a drive-by shooting as he stands outside a house. Investigators suspect the shooting of Green, who was believed to have been involved in the melee on 90th Place, was a revenge killing that stemmed directly from the fight.


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