SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Six members of a violent robbery crew have been arrested and charged with hate crimes and other counts related to over 70 incidents of robbery, burglary and theft targeting Asian Americans in the South Bay, San Jose police announced Wednesday.
In the fall of 2021, the San José Police Department's Robbery Unit concluded a yearlong, multi-jurisdictional investigation of "a prolific robbery crew that targeted victims of Asian descent; Asian females were frequently the targeted victims and many were injured during the robberies."
Those arrested were identified as — Anthony Michael Robinson, 24 from Stockton; Cameron Alonzo Moody, 27 from East Palo Alto; Derje Damond Blanks, 23 from San Jose; Hassani Burleson Ramsey, 24 from Oakland; Clarence Jackson, 21 from East Palo Alto and Malik Short, 22 from Tracy.
Investigators said the men worked in concert between October 2020 and September 2021 to commit the crimes.
During the investigation, numerous firearms were recovered, including at least one ghost gun. Many witnesses came forward and victims provided valuable information that assisted in identifying the suspects.
"I want to thank all of our Department members, as well as the outside agencies, who assisted with this long and complex investigation," said San José Chief of Police Anthony Mata in a news release. "Thanks to their hard work, there are six less predators targeting members of our community."
District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen said he, Chief Mata, Councilmember Maya Esparza who represents the Little Saigon district, and others at the Wednesday press conference all took the robberies and attacks in the Vietnamese community personally.
Raw Video: SJPD Press Conference On AAPI Robbery Arrests
"I have a message to all the hardworking and good people of Little Saigon and to the people who have preyed upon them," said Rosen. "This is my neighborhood, this is Mr. Rosen's neighborhood. And it's Chief Mata's neighborhood. And it's Councilmember Maya Esparza's neighborhood. And it's Capt. [Brian] Shab's neighborhood from the San Jose Police Department. While we live in different places and our families came from different countries, we take your safety seriously and we take it personally."
Rosen said the defendants targeted the victims because they assumed the women – who were almost all of Asian descent – didn't use banks and carried cash, and also used ethnic slurs to refer to the victims.
"I decided to charge this also as a hate crime for a few reasons," said Rosen. "Number one, it adds additional time in custody which is appropriate for a case of this magnitude. Number two, I recognize and I think we all recognize, that a hate crime doesn't only affect the individual victims involved – and in this case, more than 100 Asian women who were victims of this violent gang – but it also affects people in the Asian American community who are not targeted because it makes them fearful that they could be targeted next."
Investigators said that beginning in late 2020, the crime spree included robberies and purse snatches that virtually all followed the same pattern. At the press conference Wednesday, Shab credited the work of police detective Amanda Estantino in recognizing the pattern among the incidents.
"After a couple of these robberies, Detective Estantino – who is behind me – started to kind of put the m-o together that the suspects were using, and when she did that she realized that the span of the geographic area that they were covering was alll the way out through Santa Clara County and beyond," said Shab. "Over the course of the next year, she was able to link 177 of these robberies together."
John Le, a community-based volunteer group called Asians With Attitude, told KPIX 5 that he was relieved by the arrests. Le began foot patrols in the Bay Area, including Little Saigon, when hate crimes against Asian Americans were at an all-time high earlier this year.
"It was really scary because I'm not worried about myself, but of course, my grandma, mom, dad," Le told KPIX 5. "I still remind them, 'Always have your pepper spray on you, have your taser on you, always be aware of your surroundings.'"
The patrols continue in parts of the Bay Area where there is a spike in crime.
Le and the volunteers just held a class to teach people how to use their pepper spray. He also said that business owners in Little Saigon have his number and call them to do foot patrols when they feel unsafe.
"When we're out there, majority of the time nothing is happening because they see a presence out there," Le said.
The investigation into the six suspects accused in the string of robberies remains ongoing. Investigators believed the crew may be responsible for many more robberies across the Bay Area.
Three of the six suspects have already been released from jail.
"I don't think this was the only crime ring that was doing everything," Le said. "I still want everyone to be aware of their surroundings, keep an eye out."
Anyone with information, or victims of unreported incidents associated to these suspects, is asked to contact Detective Estantino #4339 of the San Jose Police Department's Robbery Unit at (408) 277-4166.
Maria Cid Medina contributed to this report.
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