More than 200 police officers arrested a dozen suspected members of a notorious Orange County street gang in a four-county raid Wednesday stemming from last month’s slaying of a 15-year-old Santa Ana boy.
The Asian gang, which calls itself the Nip Family, with members in Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, has been connected to homicides, assaults, home-invasion robberies and drive-by shootings, police said. Officials said that since the gang formed about four years ago in Westminster, 25 of its members have been convicted of violent crimes.
Six of Wednesday’s arrests were in connection with the Aug. 6 slaying of Lozaro Omar Acosta Jr., a Century High School sophomore and church choir member who was killed by an errant bullet while sitting in his parents’ car at an convenience store in Orange. The other six were held on a variety of weapons and parole violations.
Acosta was minutes away from traveling with a group from a nearby church to attend a weekend religious retreat with his mother, police said. Members of the gang were involved in a wild street shootout with each other when Acosta was hit, officials said.
Homicide investigators, who last month arrested six people in connection with the slaying, served search warrants in Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties Wednesday looking for weapons or any other evidence linked to the death. Of those six, three were charged with murder and await trial, two were charged with probation violation and one was released, said Deputy Dist. Atty. John Anderson.
The sweep was also part of a police crackdown on the gang, which is based primarily in Westminster and Garden Grove and has about 100 members, police said.
Within the last year, members of the Nip Family have been convicted of attempted murder in a Westminster shooting and residential robberies in Yorba Linda and Costa Mesa, police said. Members have also been arrested this year in connection with the stabbing death of a man in a Garden Grove motel, police said.
“They get their notoriety by the fear they project,” said Westminster gang investigator Mark Nye. “They want to be known as one of the No. 1 gangs in Southern California.”
The gang, like many other Asian street gangs, is highly mobile, with members sometimes traveling out of state to commit crimes, police said. Police arrested members of the gang two years ago in Louisiana in connection with a home invasion robbery there. Members also use cellular phones and pagers to pass messages that are difficult or impossible to trace, police said.
“They are difficult to work because of their mobility,” said investigator Bruce Davis of the Garden Grove gang unit. “We deal with them when they are in our area and then they are gone.”
Some members who are in prison continue to have contact with those on the outside, police said.
“When the hard-core members get out of prison, you have this ongoing cycle,” Nye said. The gang’s nine founding members intentionally scarred themselves with nine burns on their left forearms in the sign of the cross, police said. Police said they do not know what the cross signifies or why the group chose a seemingly derogatory term as its name.
Police on Wednesday arrested Loi Van Nguyen, 18, and Hoang Tan Bui, 19, both of Westminster, and Tam Thanh Vo, 22, address unknown, on suspicion of murder. Three Orange County juveniles, two 17 and one 16, were also arrested in connection with the Acosta slaying, police said.
Authorities confiscated several handguns and an AK-47 assault rifle fitted with a bayonet from some of the homes searched, said Lt. Timm Browne of the Orange Police Department. They also confiscated a pipe bomb and explosives from an apartment in Garden Grove, Browne said. It was unclear what the bomb was going to be used for, Browne said.
Police on Wednesday said they hoped the raid would send a message to the gang, but they acknowledged that their efforts would not break the organization in one day.
“I don’t know that we could break it, but certainly we put a dent in their activities,” Browne said. “Whatever we can do with regards to curtailing their criminal activities is our aim.”