Sheriff’s deputies on Wednesday investigated a possible arson fire at a market where the owner had complained to authorities that he was being harassed repeatedly by gang members.
No one was injured during the blaze, which caused about $150,000 in damage to the market and an adjacent video store on the 7700 block of Katella Avenue.
“It appeared that the rear door (of the market) had been pried open just enough to stuff paper towels soaked in an undisclosed substance into the building,” Sheriff’s Lt. Richard J. Olson said. The paper towels apparently were lit and used to start the fire, he said.
Olson said that the fire was under investigation and that no arrests had been made.
Richard Thompson, owner of 4 U Market, said he didn’t know who may have started the blaze, but he speculated that the incident may have been gang-related.
Olson said Thompson and his wife apparently had been the target of abuse from members of a local gang known as Big Stanton.
“The local youths have verbally threatened them in the past by calling them ‘white trash,’ ” Olson said. “They have also made threats against the store.”
On Friday, a member of the gang, Baltazar Flores Medina, 19, of Stanton, was arrested on suspicion of a civil rights violation and street terrorism for allegedly calling Thompson “white trash” and saying that he did not belong in the neighborhood, Olson said.
The market also has been vandalized several times over the years, Thompson said. He said windows have been broken, the back door has been pried open and the roof damaged.
The 43-year-old owner added that he also has a problem with shoplifting and customers trying to shortchange him.
Recently, a customer grabbed a quart of milk, opened it and started drinking from the container before paying for it, Thompson said. “When he got to the counter, he didn’t have enough money. He knew how much it cost, and when he asked if he could have it anyway, I said, ‘No.’ ”
The customer threw the quart of milk at Thompson’s head and walked out of the market, he said.
Thompson said most of the trouble is cause by “a bunch of little jerks” in the neighborhood who “think they’re more powerful then the sheriff’s deputies.”
Despite the harassment, Thompson said he will not be driven out of the predominantly Latino neighborhood. The law, he said, will eventually catch up with his tormentors.
“I’m not going to leave,” he said. “I’m just waiting to see them all rounded up.”
In the meantime, he added, it helps to have the market “fully insured.”