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Slayings Tax Police to the Limit : Gangs: An unprecedented number of killings has boosted the area’s death toll to a record 10 in August, and left detectives strapped.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An explosion of gang violence in northeast Los Angeles during August has boosted the area’s death total to 10 for the month, a record, police said.

The unprecedented number of violent deaths has so taxed the Northeast Division’s six-detective homicide squad that Detective Ron Whitt, who heads the unit, turned over the investigation of the most recent killing to detectives in the Police Department’s downtown Robbery Homicide Division.

“We’ve been very strapped,” Lt. Rob Watters said. The August slaying count--higher than any previous month in the division’s history--brought the total for the year to 32 as of Aug. 28. Last year at this time, 24 people had been slain.

The rash of violence has left the detectives spread so thin that they have had to put some investigations on hold to look into more recent killings.

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Suspects have been arrested in three of the month’s slayings, and police have solid leads in two others, Whitt said. All five of those cases were gang-related, police said. A sixth case, a murder-suicide, is closed.

Gang-related killings are up 150% from this time last year, Watters said, from 6 to 15.

Four of this month’s slayings involved confrontations between rival gang members, police said. Another involved a 15-year-old gang member accused of stabbing a woman to death in her residence, Whitt said. Two others involved non-gang members who were attacked by men who might have been gang members, police said.

In July there were two killings in the northeast area, and both were gang-related, Whitt said.

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Last weekend, two people were stabbed to death in separate incidents, police said. Two juveniles have been charged in Saturday’s stabbing of a 48-year-old Eagle Rock woman in her house, Deputy Dist. Atty. Teresa Farrell said.

Early Saturday, a 15-year-old youth allegedly entered Doneice Taylor’s house through an unlocked side door, took a butcher knife from the kitchen and stabbed her several times, Whitt said.

Then the youth called his 12-year-old friend into the house and the two took Taylor’s car keys from her purse and drove away in her car, Whitt said.

Police officers on patrol saw the car, a gray Nissan 280Z, without its lights on, Whitt said. He said the car ran a stop sign at Avenue 45 and Ellenwood Drive at about 1:30 a.m. and police chased it about three miles eastbound on the Ventura Freeway.

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The Nissan broke down near Figueroa Street. The officers arrested the youths for evading police, checked the car’s registration and sent other officers to the owner’s house to see if the car had been stolen, Whitt said.

Police arrived at Taylor’s house in the 4000 block of West Avenue 43 to find her dead on the couch, Whitt said.

The two youths, who told police they were gang members, were charged with first-degree murder, grand theft of an auto, conspiracy to commit grand theft of an auto and conspiracy to commit robbery, Farrell said. Because police say conspiracy was involved in the killing, both youths were held responsible, she said.

The youths confessed to killing Taylor and stealing her car, Whitt said. They are being held in Eastlake Juvenile Hall.

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In the other stabbing death, police found the body of a Latino man in his early 30s lying face down in dirt and brush between Sycamore Park and the Pasadena Freeway, said Detective William Gailey of the Police Department’s Robbery Homicide Division.

Police have not identified the body, which was found by a passerby about 1 p.m. Monday, Gailey said. The victim, who had been stabbed several times in the upper torso, was about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, weighed about 135 pounds, had a mustache and was missing an upper front tooth, Gailey said.

The victim was wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt bearing the name of the Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., Gailey said.

Police have no suspects in the case, which Whitt turned over to Gailey because Whitt’s homicide team was busy with other investigations, Whitt said.

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Watters said that if the murder rate does not go down, the unit will ask the division’s head of detectives to add another two-person team.

“We’re going to need another team,” Watters said. “If this keeps up, we obviously cannot do it.”

The division has three detectives assigned to the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit, which deals with gangs, Whitt said.

Court appearances also take detectives’ time away from murder investigations, he said. Homicide and CRASH detectives frequently are tied up with murder cases going through the courts, he said.

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“You spend weeks in court on a murder because it’s so involved,” Whitt said. He said that most of the Police Department’s bureaus were short-staffed, so the chances of getting more homicide detectives for the Northeast Division--usually one of the city’s less violent police bureaus--are slim.

But because this month’s level of violence is not typical for the Northeast Division, Whitt said he is optimistic that things will return to normal soon.


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