Converging on the Hemet San Jacinto Valley early Thursday, June 29, were 400 law enforcement officers from local, county and federal agencies, confiscating 77 weapons and 4 pounds of illegal drugs and making 24 felony arrests of gang members and other suspected dangerous criminals in the Valley.
“This was the single day joint takedown in the Valley’s history and in the history of Southwest Riverside County,” Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown said in front of national television crews, video services and print journalists including the Valley News at the June 29 news conference in Hemet.
Cooperating in the mass takedown in what is called “Operation Valley Vigilance” were members of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Gang Impact Team including officers and agents from the Hemet Police Department, the Palm Springs Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Border Patrol and the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
“The Operation Valley Vigilance was focused on reducing crime and violence in our community targeting organized crime, wanted felons, weapons and drug trafficking in and around Hemet,” Brown explained. He said the investigation before the actionThursday morning took seven months.
The gang impact teams fanned out at different locations throughout Hemet and San Jacinto beginning 6 a.m. and simultaneously served warrants seeking weapons and drugs from suspected felons. Nabbed by officers were six highly sought suspects, including two suspected of the murder of Daniel Ramirez and another who allegedly sold more than a dozen illegal weapons to undercover officers including AR-15 and AK-47 military grade weapons.
Posted on a board in the Hemet City Hall Chambers were six of the suspects. Those persons shown in custody and arrested in the operation included Andrew Crawford, Alfredo Escueda, Manuel and Moses Olaez, Edwardo Stultz and Amy Silva. Silva remains at large; the GIT agents suspect she has gang affiliations. Stories of each of the suspects’ alleged crimes were relayed to media by members of the gang impact team.
The Olaez brothers, according to Chief Brown, had in their possession an M1 .30-caliber rifle allegedly used in the Nov. 4, 2016, murder of Daniel Ramirez; it was seized by the gang impact team. After a forensic test on the rifle, the brothers were arrested on suspicion of first degree murder.
Brown said a 24-year-old female was killed in Hemet, Jan. 6. Her brother Alfredo Escueda was identified as a possible suspect. He fled and went into hiding in Los Angeles. The gang impact team after a lengthy surveillance apprehended him.
Crawford, a Hemet resident, was the object of a gang impact team undercover weapons “buy” of 12 firearms including several assault weapons and other illegal weapons, Brown said. He is now facing both federal and state charges.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin spoke to the media, quickly citing California Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47 passed by the voters as “disaster” for Riverside County law enforcement and suggesting the addition of the federal law enforcement agents into gang impact team was a move to have suspected criminals face federal as well as state charges if warranted.
“Here is the strategy—we want the option of putting these dangerous criminals behind bars for as long as possible. Where state laws have failed for the people of California, federal laws sometimes are applicable, and if they are applicable, we will go down that road.” Hestrin said. “These are not petty minor criminal offenders. These are dangerous people that are violent, selling these guns. They are fueling the drug trade. They are fueling the violence of the gang problem in Riverside County. These are people who need to be behind bars for as long as possible.
“AB 109 and Prop 47 have been a disaster for Riverside County,” he said. “We are not going to throw up our hands and say, well, you can’t do anything. I think this shows that we are going to do whatever we can take the initiative. We are going to fight back, and where we have to work around these laws that are hampering us, we will.”
He noted that those suspects in custody in the GIT operation, now totaling 47, may be guilty of both state and federal crimes, and if they can’t be tried under state laws, they can be under the federal law. He added it is likely that most would face state law violations and be tried in the state courts.
He sent out a warning to the remaining criminals in the Hemet San Jacinto Valley.
“In the face of growing crime, public disorder and a seemingly pervasive disrespect and disregard for the rule of law, today we show that we are indeed fighting back against lawlessness. A message to criminals should be clear and unambiguous … We will be smart. We will be determined. We will be patient. We will be organized, and we will be coming for you! Maybe not today, but soon.”
Homeland Security and the Border Patrol agents involved in the operation said any suspects that have been arrested in the operation if found to be illegal aliens will be sent back across the borders if they are not first convicted in American courts. Three of the five suspects described in the news conference, according to the border patrol, were in the U.S. illegally.