LAPD: Massive Crackdown on Brutal Gang, The Avenues

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Photo: Officer Wendy Reyes photographs a painting, seized Tuesday, with weapons seized during earlier raids, in L.A. Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009.

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) "When I read the crime reports from the weekend that land on my desk and there hasn't been a gang shooting, I'll say to myself, 'We've had a good weekend,'" Los Angeles cop Juan Aguilar told the Los Angeles Times.

Aguilar was one of over 1,000 officers who raided homes belonging to members of the Avenues, a violent street gang in northeast Los Angeles that has terrorized the community for decades.

Prosecutors say the Avenues have preyed on community members, with two named suspects accused of attacking a resident in a parking lot then shooting him to death when he tried to call for help.

Another woman who was pistol-whipped then shot at survived to identify an assailant by a tattoo on his chest of a Fedora-wearing skull, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ariel Neuman said.

About 1,100 police working with nearly 300 federal agents and other law officers descended on numerous gang-related properties Tuesday. The pre-dawn operation marks an ongoing focus on the Avenues gang, prevalent in northeast Los Angeles since the 1950s.

"I've been looking forward to this day for a while," Aguilar, 35, told the Times.

Forty-six were arrested, another 33 were already in custody and nine remained at large, authorities said.

The investigation into the gang increased in intensity following two acts of violence against police officers that rocked the law enforcement community last year.

The first of these, in February 2008, allegedly saw Avenues gang members opening fire with handguns and an AK-47 on Los Angeles police officers. Police shot back, killing 20-year-old Daniel Leon and injuring another man.

Then on Aug. 2, 2008, off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Juan Escalante was shot dead in front of his parents' home in the Cypress Park neighborhood northeast of downtown. Earlier this year, police charged three men in his death and a fourth suspect remains at large.

The indictment details several possible motives for Escalante's murder. Carlos Velasquez, one of the men accused of killing the deputy, was allegedly heard in a wiretapped telephone conversation telling another Avenues gang member that he killed Escalante in retribution for the death of Leon, nicknamed "Clever."

The 222-page indictment also alleges Avenues members posted inflammatory remarks on Web sites, including "Avenidas don't get chased by the cops. We chase them," and, "Avenidas don't just hurt people. We kill them."

City Councilman Ed Reyes told a news conference the bust would improve his district.

"There are parents today that don't have to run to the bus stop to make sure that their kids don't get jumped because they have an iPod or because they are carrying books or because they have lunch money," Reyes said. "This is the daily terror that gangs like Avenues impose."