PICO-UNION : Suspect Arrested in Gang Slaying

Police have arrested a suspect in connection with one of four related shooting deaths that occurred three weeks ago, when rival gangs engaged in a brief but bloody battle on neighborhood streets.

Jesse Smith, 22, of Hawthorne was arrested last weekend in the murder of 18-year-old Jimmy Rajo, who was gunned down during a drive-by shooting near Pico Boulevard and New Hampshire Street on Jan. 21, according to police.

Smith, who has a record of arrests in the area, is suspected to have been the gunman, police said. He has been charged with one count of murder and is being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

The shooting is the only one for which the gang to which Smith allegedly belongs is responsible, said Detective Andy Cicoria of the Police Department's Rampart Division.

"(Members of) his gang were the first victims," Cicoria said, referring to the shooting death of 25-year-old Abel Haro earlier that day, allegedly by members of Rajo's gang. "This shooting was their retaliation."

As the evening progressed, two more men were shot: Alexander McLellan, 25, a man in a wheelchair who was mistaken for a member of Smith's gang, and Mario Gonzales, 17, who was driving home from a party early Jan. 22 when gang members apparently mistook his vehicle for one of their rivals' and opened fire.

Gonzales was not a gang member, police said. McLellan was an alleged gang member, but not with one of the gangs involved in the shootings. Investigators believe his attackers were looking for someone else who fit his description.

Police have increased patrols in the area, and the gangs are believed to be lying low.

Witnesses helped lead police to Smith, but the investigation into the other murders is proceeding slowly because many witnesses are reluctant to come forward, he said.

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