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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

all-out gang war is erupting in South King County between members of rival Latino street gangs who have a "fight on sight" mentality,

09:39 | ,

all-out gang war is erupting in South King County between members of rival Latino street gangs who have a "fight on sight" mentality, raising the potential for violence in public places, according to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

"We have an awful lot to do to deal with an emerging gang war in South King County," Satterberg said Tuesday. "When they encounter each other — in public or in private — it's likely to turn violent."

That's precisely what happened July 23, when rival gang members opened fire at a car show in Kent, wounding 12 people, said Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas. Later that night, a 13th person was injured in what Kent police have determined was a retaliatory shooting at an East Hill apartment complex.

Bullet casings found in the car-show parking lot matched casings found at the apartment building, Thomas said.

On Tuesday, Satterberg and Thomas, along with Chief Deputy Steve Strachan and Detective Joe Gagliardi, both of the King County Sheriff's Office, addressed the Metropolitan King County Council's Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, updating members on the car-show investigation and detailing the emerging, street-level trends playing out in South King County.

Next week, the four men will go before the council's budget committee to discuss using money from a $1.5 million law-enforcement reserve fund established by the council last year after budget cuts that chopped 28 deputies and 16 deputy prosecutors from the county's payroll.

The money could be used to pay salaries of a couple deputy prosecutors, who would work directly with gang detectives — something all four said is crucial to ensure complex cases lead to arrests and successful prosecutions.

They also highlighted the need for additional programs aimed at preventing kids from joining gangs and intervening in the lives of at-risk youth especially vulnerable to gangs. "It's a battle for the hearts and minds of young people, and you can't aim too young," Satterberg said.

10,000 gang members

The Sheriff's Office estimates there are 140 criminal street gangs with more than 10,000 members in King County. Although overall crime has trended down in recent years, gang-related crime has increased 165 percent since 2005, according to a news release issued after the council meeting.

Satterberg's office has seen an increase in gang-related violence over the past three years, the release says. There were a total 29 gang-related homicides in 2008 and 2009, plus 200 reported gang-related shootings during that same period.

Gagliardi, who regularly testifies as a gang expert in criminal trials, said that in the past few years, investigators have seen gang activity increasingly shift from Seattle's Central District, South Seattle and the White Center area of unincorporated King County to cities like Auburn, Algona and Pacific.

Gagliardi said five or six Latino gangs are responsible for most of the violence detectives are seeing.

"They're second- and third-generation gang members," and the majority "are U.S. citizens who were born and raised in Washington. These are our children causing these problems," Gagliardi said, noting that most gang members are between 12 and 35 years old, though detectives have documented members in their 40s and 50s and know of one now 77.

Gagliardi said South King County has seen an influx in gang members from Eastern Washington and California coming here to establish territory and recruit new members.

Though Gagliardi declined to name the gangs to avoid glorifying them, Satterberg said the rivals are all splinter groups of the Sureños, a violent California street gang aligned with the Mexican Mafia.

Link to property crimes

Gang members are also "at the root of our property crimes," committing burglaries, robberies, car thefts and trafficking in stolen property, including firearms, to financially support their gangs, Satterberg said.

Detectives are making headway on the Kent car-show shooting, but it's a complex case, said Thomas.

Last week, a detective got a search warrant for more than 60 cellphones, and investigators are sifting through those phone records and working to pinpoint the locations of various gang members, he said.

"We had multiple shooters involved and it was mass chaos," Thomas said of the incident. "Even some of the victims who were shot don't want to cooperate or provide information to our officers" for fear of reprisals.

"My detectives tell me there ... is discussion about not if there is going to be retaliation, but when and where," Thomas said.

"We don't want to chase gunfire, we don't want to chase violence after it happens [because] these guys aren't just shooting at each other."

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