Hundreds of law enforcement officers took part in a massive sweep against the leadership of Riverside’s most notorious gang Wednesday, making 50 arrests and confiscating armor-piercing bullets, assault rifles, knives and two caged rattlesnakes.
“The weapons you see are a small sample of what is out there on the street,” said Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach, standing by a table displaying guns, machetes and bullets at a Riverside news conference. “The gangs don’t run the streets, the citizens do.”
Some 650 officers representing 34 agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, took part in the raids, designed to decapitate East Side Riva, or ESR, a gang with a 20-year history of wreaking havoc in Riverside County and beyond.
The two leaders, Robert Zavala Carillo, 37, and Mark Alexander Gill, 35, managed to escape, authorities said.
The gang’s territory sits between downtown and the edges of UC Riverside. According to the Riverside County district attorney’s office, the gang has about 820 members and maintains long-standing ties with the Mexican Mafia, which protects ESR members in prison in exchange for “taxes” on the gang’s illegal drug sales.
The gang is also accused of hate crimes against African Americans.
A gang-produced, profanity-laced CD was found during the sweep; on it, gang members rapped about being unfairly targeted by a 2007 gang injunction, then taunted the police to try to shut them down.
“We’re still here and still standing tall. . . . The D.A. will never make us small,” they rap.
Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco said the rattlesnakes were found in one of the targeted homes.
“I’m told one bite can kill you in about 20 minutes,” he said, glancing at the coiled snakes.
Acting U.S. Atty. George Cardona said 19 of those charged face possible life sentences because of the volume of drugs, mostly methamphetamine, they sold.
“Operation Promise” began 15 months ago when Leach and Pacheco grew worried about the growing menace posed by the East Side Riva.
The operational name grew out of Pacheco’s promise to residents of Riverside’s gritty, often violent East Side to crack down on the gang.
“I’d say 99% of people there are decent, hardworking folks, but unfortunately, 1% are gang members,” Pacheco said.
“We did damage today to the top leadership, the folks who sell the drugs.”
Pacheco said the gang had engaged in a “race war” against blacks, both those in rival gangs and ordinary citizens.
“The Rivas started it and they have been going after African American males ever since,” he said.
“We had a guy getting gas who was shot in the head only because of the color of his skin. A lot of innocent people have been killed,” he said.
Pacheco has a history of launching massive, high-profile operations.
Last year he sent in Apache helicopters, armored cars and 700 law enforcement agents against 450 gang members in Desert Hot Springs.
The sweep was dubbed “Operation Falling Sun” and was the biggest such sweep in county history.