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Three alleged gang members charged with killing Gardena man

U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna
The office of U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna, above, charged three men Tuesday with murder in aid of racketeering.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Three alleged gang members were charged Tuesday with shooting a man to death in Gardena, an attack that turned into a gun battle when the victim’s father returned fire and fatally wounded one of the assailants.

Three men — Jesus Hernandez, 27, Antonio Yanez, 22, and Justin Arteaga, 20 — are charged in federal court with killing a 29-year-old man on Nov. 13 outside his family’s home in Gardena, a crime prosecutors contend was committed to raise the defendants’ standing in the Gardena-13 street gang.

Gardena-13, also known as Gardena Trece, counts roughly 300 members and claims a territory bounded by 135th Street to the north, 190th Street to the south, Crenshaw Boulevard to the west and Gardena’s Main Street to the east, an investigator, Manuel Aguirre, wrote in an affidavit unsealed Tuesday.

Gardena-13, like most Latino gangs in Southern California, answers to the Mexican Mafia, an organization of about 140 men drawn from the upper ranks of the region’s street gangs. Although nearly all members of the Mexican Mafia are incarcerated, they direct gang activities on the street through intermediaries and smuggled cell phones, ordering their underlings to collect extortion payments, or “taxes,” from gang members, drug dealers, credit card scammers and other low-level criminals operating in territories that they claim.

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Aguirre, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said in his affidavit that members of Gardena-13 pay taxes to the Mexican Mafia and are believed to be trafficking methamphetamine to associates in Hawaii and importing “ghost guns” — firearms assembled from unregistered and untraceable parts — to Southern California from Las Vegas.

Danny Roman, a Mexican Mafia member who controlled swaths of South Los Angeles from various prison cells throughout California, was stabbed to death Wednesday.

The killing in which Hernandez, Yanez and Arteaga are charged took place on a stretch of 144th Street frequented by Gardena-13 members, who call the area “the Four Block,” Aguirre’s affidavit said.

The victim of the shooting, Evan Campbell, lived “in the heart of” Gardena-13 territory, the affidavit said. Spray-painted on the fence of his family’s home were the monikers for Jesus Hernandez (“Rowdy”) and Yanez (“Tank”), according to the affidavit.

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Campbell, who was Black, is referenced in the affidavit only by his initials; the Los Angeles County coroner and the Gardena police, however, have identified Campbell as the victim of the shooting.

At 9:45 p.m. on Nov. 13, Campbell and his brother were sitting in their car near their home when they saw three men approach, the affidavit said. Through reviewing security camera footage, investigators identified the three men as Yanez, Arteaga and Hernandez’s older brother, George.

As the three drew closer, one flashed gang signs and another asked, “What’s your problem? What are you doing here?”

“Look, we live here,” Campbell’s brother said, according to the affidavit. “We don’t gang bang. We mind our own business. We stay over here. Ya’ll go back around to that corner.” He texted their father, who was inside the house, telling him there was trouble and asking him to bring his gun, the affidavit said.

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One of the men, later identified as George Hernandez, took a swing at Evan Campbell, who swung back, the affidavit said. Then, all three of the men pulled out guns, Campbell’s brother told investigators.

Campbell’s father ran outside with his gun just as Campbell’s brother ran toward the family’s home, the affidavit said. The father told investigators he heard between 15 to 20 shots. George Hernandez opened fire at Campbell’s father and he shot back, hitting him in the head and the chest, according to the affidavit.

The father ran over to his son, who was lying outside their home, hit 10 times in the chest, stomach and back. Paramedics pronounced him dead 20 minutes later. George Hernandez was lying in the street about 50 feet away, grievously wounded. The 33-year-old died at a hospital three days later, coroner’s records show.

The police found Jesus Hernandez that night hiding behind lawn furniture and trash cans in the backyard of a neighboring home, according to the affidavit. As they handcuffed him, the officers noticed Yanez hiding in the same yard, his grey sweatshirt and hands “covered in blood,” the affidavit said.

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Jesus Hernandez’s attorney declined to comment. It couldn’t be determined Tuesday if Yanez had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Four days after the shooting, agents learned that Arteaga had booked a flight to Guadalajara, Mexico, according to the affidavit. It was departing from LAX in two hours. When they apprehended Arteaga at the airport, he “appeared to be wearing the same hat worn in the video of the shooting incident,” the affidavit said.

Arteaga waived his Miranda rights and, according to the affidavit, told Gardena detectives that on the night of the shooting, a car had driven by playing “loud music,” with one of its occupants asking Arteaga and his friends, “What the f— you looking at?” In fact, Aguirre wrote in the affidavit, surveillance video shows that the windows of Campbell’s car were rolled up when he drove past a group of Gardena-13 gang members.

Arteaga said George Hernandez — “the big homie” — had requested backup, and when the confrontation turned physical, he fired his gun in a state of shock, according to the affidavit. It couldn’t be determined Tuesday if Arteaga had a lawyer who could speak for him.

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Arteaga and Yanez had been arrested on suspicion of murder — but not charged — in a separate incident in August, Aguirre wrote in the affidavit. The details of that case weren’t immediately clear.


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