San Diego nightclub shooter has ties to Tijuana cartel, police say

San Diego police are searching for a man who fired gunshots into a downtown nightclub last month and multiple law enforcement sources said the shooter is alleged to have ties to the Arellano Felix cartel, a Mexican drug cartel based in Tijuana.

The shooting occurred at about 2 a.m. Jan. 28 at Sidebar on Market Street, and police have identified the suspect as 29-year-old Abel Gomez, who they said fired five to six gunshots before fleeing.

“He is wanted for assault with a deadly weapon,” said San Diego police Capt. Mike Holden. “We have been unable to locate him.”

“A police bulletin said ‘the preliminary investigation revealed Gomez is connected to organized crime organizations in Mexico,’” according to a police source.


The man fired at the ground of the nightclub after a scuffle involving a woman, witnesses said. Surveillance video captured almost the entire incident, according to police and a representative of the club.

Police said Gomez fled, but shell casings were left from the gunfire.

A representative of Sidebar, located near Market and Sixth Avenue, said the nightclub was already closing for the night when the shooting occurred. A few people were still at the business, the lights were on and the music had been turned off, she said.

A witness said Gomez slapped a woman on the behind, and another man stepped in to stop Gomez from touching the woman or grabbing her again. Then Gomez pulled out a firearm and fired off the rounds, the person said.


Holden declined to release the suspect’s picture. “We don’t think he’s a threat to the public,” he said.

Several people said it did not appear that Gomez was trying to shoot anyone but rather scare away the few remaining club patrons. Security guards stepped in to restrain Gomez, but when they called police, he got away, the bar’s representative said.

One person said Gomez pointed the firearm at the crotch of a security guard.

“Several people were running outside and several people were outside the club when the call came into us,” Holden said.


One of Tijuana’s leading experts on narco-traffic, Victor Clark Alfaro, said he wasn’t surprised by the incident.

“Members of the drug cartels move between the two borders, including families of drug traffickers who occupy an important place in the structure of their organizations, live in the best residential areas of San Diego.” said Alfaro, who teaches Latin American studies at San Diego State.

However, Alfaro said he did not expect to see more such episodes.

“The incident is an isolated incident. I doubt that those events will repeat more frequently, which would put at risk their own criminal activities, attracting the attention of the authorities or the media,” he said.


The Arellano Felix cartel has been severely crippled since 2006 when it essentially lost a war with the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now on trial in New York. Federal law enforcement officers on both sides of the border have been giving news conferences declaring the Arellano Felix cartel has been finished since 2002, but some believe it remains active.

Fry writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.