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Gunfire Mars Benefit Concert for the Homeless : Crime: Two reputed gang members are arrested in shooting at Hermosa Beach cafe. Concert organizers, police wrangle over security issue.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was supposed to be a squeaky clean holiday event--a group of local kids giving a concert at the Beach Boys Cafe in Hermosa Beach to raise money and food for homeless people.

The cafe’s owner, Steven Jacobson, had hired security, and parents of the band members were serving as chaperones.

But near the end of the concert Sunday, a black Toyota truck cruised by the front of the cafe. According to police, one of its occupants opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol, blowing out the cafe’s front windows and sending the musicians and an audience of 200 people scrambling for cover.

The shooting, which caused no injuries, resulted in the arrest of two alleged white supremacists for attempted murder. It also caused a lot of hard feelings among the band members, their parents, police and the cafe’s owner--and served as a reminder that the usually tranquil seaside community of Hermosa Beach is not immune to gang violence.

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According to Hermosa Police Sgt. Steven Endom, shortly after midnight, Officer Thomas Eckert heard shots fired, apparently from the Beach Boys Cafe. Seconds later, a black Toyota pickup with its lights off whizzed by his cruiser. Giving pursuit, Eckert stopped the pickup at 8th Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

Arrested were Robert Elmer Sweet, 20, of Torrance and Timothy Patrick Welsh, 23, of Manhattan Beach. Both were booked on attempted murder, and Welsh also was booked for driving under the influence of alcohol. Both men were scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in South Bay Municipal Court in Torrance.

Police said Sweet and Welsh are members of a white supremacist gang called the Earl Street Locals. The pair had gone to the Beach Boys Cafe and spotted a rival gang member, officers said.

“They wanted to kill him so they went out to the car, retrieved a .380 caliber semiautomatic pistol and went back into the bar and went to the bathroom to load the pistol so they could shoot the person,” Endom said.

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The doorman saw them emerge from the bathroom, decided they were troublemakers and kicked them out.

“I’m sure he prevented the death of the rival they were after,” Endom said. “So they go get inside the car; they’re angry and wanted to hurt somebody. The doorman who ejected them is black, they pull up to the front door and they shoot five rounds at him and the other doorman.”

Some of the bullets blasted through the cafe’s windows, others buried themselves in the walls. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

“I didn’t hear the gunshots because the band was playing pretty loud,” said concert-goer Jon Hattingh Jr. “I heard a guy saying ‘Get down, get down,’ and I just turned around and everybody just dropped like dominoes . . . even the band did.

“It was a real mellow mood and everybody was having a real good time (before the drive-by). No fights, nothing like that,” he said.

Just about everyone involved in the concert, however, is angry, figuring the shooting could have been prevented. And everyone wishes the police had been present for the entire concert.

Police say they were expecting trouble at the concert, asserting that it was likely the four bands performing would attract troublemakers. “The groups attracted white gang members and gang associates, white supremacists and punk-rocker types,” Endom said.

The concert’s teen organizers and their parents first approached city officials for use of the Hermosa Civic Theater but were told they would need to pay $2,000 to hire off-duty police officers to provide security.

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The city had had problems with fights and brawling a year ago at a concert there and believed security would be necessary. The teens would have had no money left to give to Project Needs--a charity run by St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Redondo Beach--if they had hired off-duty officers. So they asked Jacobson, the Beach Boys Cafe owner, if they could use his cafe for the concert.

Jacobson said he had been unaware of the police’s security concerns. Had he known, he said, the story would have been different.

“I either wouldn’t have had (the concert) or would’ve had some police officers here if I’d known that,” he said. “We saw these were local bands coming out of the local high schools, all the parents were going to be here and it sounded like the kind of community event that could only help us from a public relations perspective.”

Several members of the bands that played Sunday are still steaming about the incident. They are sorry about the trouble brought upon Jacobson, but they are angry at the suggestions by police that their bands attracted white supremacists.

Shawn McCoy, the lead singer of Out of Order, said that before the shooting, he heard some men harassing the doormen outside the concert. But he said the crowd inside was not dominated by racists. McCoy said the band sang the song “Equality Unity” and “everybody was into it.”

“If this concert was full of white supremacists they would’ve had my butt over that,” McCoy said. “Now the police are saying ‘We told you so.’ But if they saw white supremacists there, why didn’t they stay? We shouldn’t have to pay them extra because it’s their job to protect and to serve.

“I see the cops at Dunkin’ Donuts every night. Why couldn’t one of those cops take his doughnuts over to the Beach Boys Cafe? That’s the way I feel,” McCoy said.

About an hour before the shooting, police passed through the cafe, Endom said, clearing out about 10 people they recognized as gang members and troublemakers, one of whom had a knife.

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The police also believe they should have been at the concert but say providing adequate protection would have required at least four or five officers.

“If they would have had the party on city property, we would have insisted they had the proper security there,” Endom said. “If we had been there controlling the crowd, our presence might have prevented it. That’s our contention anyway.”


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