by Margaret Arnold
News Editor, Arroyo Seco Journal
Just over a year after a major gang raid targeting the Avenues in the Drew Estara area of Glassell Park, another similar sweep has taken place—this one targeting the Toonerville gang in North Atwater Village.
The Toonerville takedown took place during the early morning hours of July 9. 19 arrest warrants had been issued, and all 19 suspects were taken into custody without incident. The charges against those arrested are serious--including murder, attempted murder, narcotics trafficking and weapons violations. Two other alleged gang members were taken into custody during the sweep when police made an unexpected discovery of 48 weapons in one Atwater Village house. Five children were taken into protective custody when they were determined to be living in unsafe conditions.
The 4:30 a.m. sweep was a group initiative, involving 400 officers from the Los Angeles and Glendale Police Departments and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The effort was initiated by Glendale police. In October of 2008, a member of the Mongols motorcycle gang was murdered by Toonerville in Glendale. During the subsequent investigation, Glendale police found the Toonerville gang to be involved in violent crime and sales of cocaine and methamphetamine in their city. The July 9 sweep was the culmination of seven months of planning.
Toonerville is a well-established street gang. Its presence in Northeast Los Angeles dates to the 1950s. Toonerville has an estimated membership of 450. Police consider it to be the second most problematic gang in Northeast Division, after the Avenues.
According to the Department of Justice, in 2000, “three Toonerville gang members went to conduct a retaliatory drive-by shooting, but instead robbed a pedestrian witness. LAPD patrol officers tried to stop the gang members’ car, which led to a high-speed pursuit. The suspects ultimately led the officers into their gang’s neighborhood, where they were ambushed by others gang members who had blocked the street with a washing machine and bicycle. The officers were shot at from three sides in a coordinated attack. The officers survived and all three suspects were convicted of attempt murder.”
Several key Toonerville members were already in jail before the sweep. The focus of the arrests has been on rounding up the gang’s shot callers. Gang leader Timothy McGhee is on death row for three gang-related murders and four attempted murders. According to the District Attorney’s office, the murders and attempted murders were carried out over a four-year rampage to maintain control of narcotics distribution in the Atwater Village area. To date, there have been 42 Toonerville arrests as part of the campaign. Nine of the arrestees have been charged with murder in connection to four deaths. 74 weapons have been seized.
Some July 9 arrests took place in locations as far away as Bakersfield and Palmdale. However, the majority were concentrated in North Atwater Village, specifically, in the area right around Chevy Chase Park. At a community meeting the evening of the 9th, LAPD Northeast Division Captain Bill Murphy told about 100 community residents that 60 additional police officers would be assigned to the area for the coming days.
“We will not allow a vacuum to occur,” said Murphy, adding specifically that rival street gang Rascals would not be allowed to step in with Toonerville leadership gone.
Deputy Mayor Jeff Carr of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, District Director for Constituent Services Mitch O’Farrell and Atwater Village Field Deputy Arsen Melikyan of City Council President Eric Garcetti’s office, Neighborhood Prosecutor Donna Wong of the City Attorney’s office and Atwater Village Senior Lead Officer Gina Chovan of the LAPD were all on hand at the meeting to assure residents that the sweep was not an isolated event after which anti-gang efforts in the area will end. Ongoing activities mentioned included programming for the young people at greatest risk of gang involvement, targeting of specific nuisance properties and organizing of residents through creation of a neighborhood watch. Carr referred to the sweep as, “the first step, not the final step.”
By no means were all of the attendees at the community meeting there to praise the effort.
“Let’s be real,” said one resident. “We have a lot of problems with the police.”
There were complaints at the gathering about children seeing parents arrested, about children being pulled from homes screaming and about officers driving 50 mph on residential streets.
The Toonerville sweep was the second major anti-gang initiative in Northeast Los Angeles in less than a week. On July 3, at 5 a.m., officers targeted an area from North Figueroa to Aldama Street and from Avenue 50 to York Boulevard, where they arrested 44 members of the Highland Park (HLP) and Dogtown gangs. 10 of the arrests were for felonies, the rest for misdemeanors. Police also issued 56 traffic citations and impounded four vehicles.
At least five gangs have been seeking to control parts of the Figueroa corridor through Northeast L.A. in recent months. In June, an 18-year old alleged Dogtown member was arrested for the March murders of two teens on Figueroa near the Highland Park Recreation Center.
According to Murphy, the July 3 sweep was part of a program that requires every police station in the City to identify one area or gang to concentrate on for an all-day major initiative.
And on a happier note, hundreds of Glassell Park residents turned out June 27 for a Drew Estara Block Party. The festivities marked the one year anniversary of the massive multi-agency anti-Avenues gang raid in neighborhood and celebrated improvements in the neighborhood in the past year. The event featured food, games, music, a jumper and drawings for prizes such as Dodger tickets courtesy of Garcetti’s office and dinner at Mia Sushi. The event was organized by Senior Lead Officer Leo Rey with support from a variety of community organizations and businesses.
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