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December 21, 2006

Vox Populi


By Jim Kouri, CPP

by Jim Kouri, CPP

Three violent gang members were sentenced recently to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole for participating in a six-year hate crime conspiracy that led to the assault and murder of African-Americans in Los Angeles, according to the US Justice Department.

The convicted killers, who are members of the Avenues, a Latino street gang, each received two consecutive life sentences from U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson in Los Angeles.

It was the killing of 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen by a clique of the Avenues in 1996 that put the gang in the sights of local and federal law enforcement, according to an LA Weekly story at that time.

The little girl’s murder by gang members who fired on her family’s car as her stepfather, lost, tried to turn around on a dead-end street, intensified efforts by police to eradicate the 800-member gang from neighborhoods just north of downtown Los Angeles.

The Avenues have a well-documented history of attacking blacks dating back to the early ’90s, that started when three black family members were shot and injured by gang members after they moved into an apartment in Highland Park section of LA.

Gilbert Saldana, Alejandro Martinez and Fernando Cazares each were sentenced for their parts in the murders of two African American men. A fourth defendant convicted at trial, Porfirio Avila, who is currently serving a life sentence in state court in the murders of Christopher Bowser and another African American man, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Anderson on Dec. 18, 2006.

A fifth defendant, Merced Cambero, who is alleged to have been a part of the murders is currently a fugitive at-large and remains under indictment.

The three sentenced on November 28 were convicted at trial this summer of being part of a conspiracy that committed numerous violent assaults against African-Americans, including murders that took place in 1999 and in 2000. Members of the conspiracy were found guilty of violating the civil rights of African-Americans in the gang’s neighborhood by attacking and sometimes killing the victims.

“The guilty verdicts in this case represent the successful and unprecedented result of a lengthy investigation into civil rights violations, including multiple violent assaults and murder, committed by this violent gang,” said J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

“The FBI is thoroughly committed to the protection of civil rights and will investigate all individuals or groups who espouse hate and carry out criminal activity based on hate. The FBI will continue to seek and is offering a $20,000 reward for the remaining fugitive, Merced Cambero, to bring closure to the family of the victim who was murdered based on the color of his skin.”

The jury found that the defendants caused the death of Christopher Bowser, an African- American man who was shot while waiting at a bus stop in Highland Park on December 11, 2000. The jury also found that the defendants caused the death of Kenneth Kurry Wilson, an African-American man who was gunned down while looking for a parking place in Highland Park on April 18, 1999.

Saldana was convicted of being the triggerman in the Wilson murder and is currently serving a life sentence in state prison for another murder. Martinez was convicted of instigating the Wilson murder by using a racial slur and encouraging his fellow gang members to kill Wilson and Cazares was convicted of serving as a look-out during the Wilson murder.

“These sentences send a clear message that this type of racial violence, which devastates individuals and entire communities, will not be tolerated in this country,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

“The Department of Justice is grateful to the victims and witnesses who had the courage to come forward in this case, despite enormous personal sacrifices demanded by the trial, so that the truth about these horrible crimes could come out.”

“Hate crimes are some of the most disturbing offenses prosecuted by this office,” said Acting U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona. “These defendants will now spend the rest of their lives in federal prison for the despicable act of trying to rid their neighborhood of African-Americans.”

This case was investigated by both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, while it was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations.  He’s also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country.   Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He’s a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com and PHXnews.com.  He’s also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he’s syndicated by AXcessNews.Com.   He’s appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc.  His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri’s own website is located at http://jimkouri.us
   

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