Injured Woman Blames Police in Deadly Neighborhood Feud : Crime: Maria Dominguez says officers allowed the situation to fester and erupt in gunfire. She is seeking legal action against the city.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The neighbors did not get along. Their houses faced each other, with only a shared driveway and nearly six years of mutual animosity separating them.

And on June 13, that simmering pot of resentment boiled over when Jesus Hernandez and his two brothers allegedly shot three of his neighbors, killing one.

Now, a month later, one of the victims, Maria Dominguez, has returned home to the former battleground where, today, peace exists.

Hernandez's wife and nine children have moved away. An undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Hernandez reportedly fled to his homeland, at least temporarily out of reach of authorities seeking to arrest him.

But there is no peace for Maria Dominguez. With only one kidney, two metal plates in her back and a crushed left leg, the 36-year-old factory worker is confined to a wheelchair as she regains the strength to walk. Now, she says, she wants to find an attorney to take legal action against the city of Baldwin Park.

"I blame all this on the police," she said as she lay in bed. "They could have done something and didn't."

Dominguez said she had called Baldwin Park officers to the neighborhood of boxy homes along Bess Avenue numerous times before to the shooting to report disruptive, or aggressive, behavior by the Hernandez family against the Dominguez clan.

She maintains that officers always sided with the Hernandez family, even when the dispute escalated into a knifing a week before the shootings.

But Sgt. Ray Gilmore said police are not to blame for the lengthy neighborhood dispute that ended in death.

"Our department makes every effort to handle situations such as this," Gilmore said. "I don't believe department negligence, or dereliction of duty, was the cause of the problems that led up to this incident."

Indeed, the dispute might have been a case of the resentment sometimes felt by U.S.-born Latinos against poorer Latino immigrants.

"I think the law should protect me. I'm a working citizen," Dominguez said.

Police may have sided with the Hernandez family because Jesus and his wife were quiet, non-English speakers and the Dominguez family was voluble and angry when they summoned authorities, she said.

"I guess we were louder," Maria Dominguez said, explaining how police might have viewed the situation. "They were the victims and I was the troublemaker."

Members of the Hernandez family could not be reached for comment.

Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide investigators said Jesus Hernandez and his brothers, Gabriel of Los Angeles and Daniel of South El Monte, who are in their mid- to late 30s, are being sought in the shooting. Besides wounding Maria Dominguez, bullets allegedly fired by the three killed Dominguez's cousin, Jesus Torres, 26, and wounded her brother, Ralph Dominguez, 24. As they pulled away in a car, the assailants allegedly ran over the wounded woman's left leg.

Sheriff's detectives, who were called in by police to investigate the homicide, have not ruled out going to Mexico, but they say they have no solid evidence to confirm that the suspects are there.

Detective Fred Castro, who handles investigations in Mexico for the Sheriff's Department, said he sought nine homicide suspects last year in that country. Such a process is time-consuming, he said, explaining that it adds at least a month to an investigation because all U.S. paperwork must be translated into Spanish.

In addition, Castro said, detectives do not typically send him cases until the suspects are confirmed to be in Mexico, or the district attorney here has filed a complaint. Charges have yet to be filed in this case.

The dispute began six years ago, a year after the Hernandez family moved in, Maria Dominguez said. The Hernandez children began hurling insults at her mother, Socorro Dominguez, and took to riding motorcycles up and down the shared driveway, she said.

When Jesus Hernandez took odd jobs tuning cars in the driveway and gasoline fumes wafted into the Dominguez home only a few feet away, Maria Dominguez complained. Thus began a pattern of quarrels and police calls, she said.

The dispute over the years grew to such a pitch that a few days before June 13, Juan Dominguez, 38, was stabbed in the hand by Jesus Hernandez after both tried to drive vehicles into the driveway at the same time, Maria Dominguez said. She said the stabbing was reported to police, but no arrests were made.

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