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Years of simmering gang violence escalated to Sacramento’s deadly shooting, officials say

Dandrae Martin talks with his attorney  in Sacramento County Superior Court
Dandrae Martin talks with attorney Linda Parisi at his first court appearance in Sacramento County Superior Court on Tuesday.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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The massacre that killed six and injured 12 more in downtown Sacramento early Sunday morning was a gang-related gun battle that involved at least five shooters, Sacramento police revealed Wednesday.

Killed in the assault were three fathers, two young women, and a homeless woman well-known in the neighborhood. Initially, police said the crime involved a man firing from a car as it drove up 10th Street just as patrons were leaving downtown nightclubs around 2 a.m.

But according to officer Chad Lewis, detectives are “able to confidently say” — based on a preliminary examination of the evidence — that at least five people whipped out weapons and began firing them that night, with gunfire hitting innocent victims.

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“It is increasingly clear that gang violence is at the center of this tragedy,” police said in a statement.

Police have not named the gangs or what the motive for the deadly barrage might have been. Only one alleged shooter, a 26-year-old man arrested Monday, has been identified by police. And, adding to the general lack of clarity, when Dandrae Martin appeared in court Tuesday, he was not charged with murder, or even with assault with a firearm, a crime he was arrested for, but only for being a felon in possession of a gun.

Nor have police clarified if there are any remaining suspects at large and if so how many.

Only two other people have been arrested so far. Dandrae Martin’s brother, Smiley Martin III, 27, will be booked at Sacramento County Main Jail on suspicion of “possession of a firearm by a prohibitive person and possession of a machine gun” as soon as he gets out of the hospital. Smiley Martin, who has a long rap sheet and is affiliated with the Crips gang, according to his social media posts, was shot during the barrage.

Evidence has emerged that Sunday’s incident resulted from a gang feud involving Crips and Bloods that escalated into gunfire.

April 6, 2022

A third man, Daviyonne Dawson, 31, was arrested after being spotted carrying a gun in the aftermath of the shooting, but did not actually fire it. Dawson is not accused of involvement in the melee, but will face charges of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm. He has been released on bail.

The revelation that police believed the rampage was a result of gang warfare quickly became the focal point of an intense political battle in California over whether to pursue criminal justice reforms or roll back those reforms and return to a “tough on crime” era.

On Wednesday, Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg and others called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to spend $3 billion on crime prevention and gang intervention. Republican leaders, law enforcement, and crime victims quickly announced their own press conference, slated for Thursday, to call for stiffer sentences for gun and gang crimes and an end to early release from prison.

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Cities across the United States are experiencing spiking homicide rates, although the reasons are unclear. Sacramento’s spike has easily outpaced those of many other cities, including Los Angeles.

Sacramento in 2019 had 34 homicides, then 42 in 2020 and 55 in 2021, according to crime statistics compiled by the federal government. That represents a 62% jump from 2019 to 2021.

“This tragedy downtown is a very public example of what families in many of our neighborhoods know too well, “ said Sacramento Police Chief Kathy Lester in a statement Wednesday. “The suffering inflicted by gang violence does not limit itself to gang members. It spills over to claim and shatter innocent lives and harm our entire community.”

Police are expected to reveal more information about the crime in the coming days, as they continue to sift through evidence from a complex investigation. It is one that includes interviews with dozens of witnesses, more than 200 videos and social media posts, ballistics from the more than 100 shell casings that littered the sidewalk, and footage from police cameras.

Police have also declined to say whether any of the dead were among the shooters. One of the dead men, Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32, appeared to be friends with the Martin brothers, posting a photo with Smiley just last month.

Lewis said detectives are “working to determine what, if any, gang affiliation every involved person had and whether or not gang activity plays into the motive.”

Neighborhood violence supercharged by gangs has plagued Sacramento for years. But in the capital city, that gang violence is often underpinned by allegiances to local rappers, including Mozzy, who has risen to national success.

In 2017, gang violence spurred by “diss tracks” — videos or songs that talk smack about others — led to a series of shootings that prompted the Sacramento City Council to invest millions in neighborhood-based violence prevention programs. Some put formerly incarcerated people back into their home turf in an attempt to act as peace ambassadors.

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At the time those programs were established, they were meant to target about 50 young Black and Latino men and boys who were thought to be most at risk for violence, based on community input, law enforcement analysis and other factors.

While the pandemic pushed many of those local neighborhood arguments out of the public sphere, they never went away. Zach Eaton, the spokesperson for the Sacramento Police Department and a former gang investigator, said that the city had “some longstanding gang feuds.”

Eaton said investigators did not know if the current situation had any ties to the rap disputes that led to the last spate of violence, but added that “investigators are still working through that angle.”

The case of Melinda Davis, who was shot dead outside a Sacramento nightclub, is indicative of the many ways California has failed its vulnerable residents.

April 5, 2022

Even before police confirmed the gang involvement Wednesday, violence prevention advocates were lamenting the groups allegedly involved in Sunday’s carnage.

“The politics of the streets has come down to show its ugly face downtown,” said Berry Accius, whose Voice of the Youth leadership program is focused on gun violence prevention. He added that gang culture is increasingly being commercialized and glorified, and it needs to end.

“We have so much diligence and energy when it’s time to out a murderous cop, but we lack that same kind of energy and passion when it comes to our own,” Accius said. “The negativity and the violence in our community, if we could change that that would probably fix a lot of the other problems that we have that are layered.”

Sacramento police also confirmed Wednesday that officers got a call involving the Martin brothers on Saturday night, just hours before the shooting.

In a video that was since released on social media, the Martin brothers appear standing in a parking lot brandishing guns. A Sacramento police cruiser can be seen driving by in the video.

Lewis revealed that police got a call a little after 8 p.m. Saturday about a disturbance at that address involving a group of people who were potentially poised to start fighting.

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But before officers could respond, they got a call about two at-risk children in the area, separate from the Martins. Concerns about the children took precedence, with eight officers redirected to make sure they were safe.

By the time officers returned to check up on the Martins a bit after 10 p.m., the two brothers were gone.

Some four hours later, a burst of gunfire rocketed through the K Street mall downtown.

Garrison and Chabria reported from Sacramento, Winton and Mejia from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Hannah Wiley contributed to this report.

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