Police attribute a troubling increase in gang-related shootings from Seattle to South King County to warring Hispanic gangs, including some that previously got along. “I’m very concerned about this heating up in the summer months,” says Federal Way’s mayor.
Arturo Marcial-Alvarez’s face was covered with a blue bandanna and he had a stolen revolver in his waistband when he was intercepted by two King County sheriff’s detectives in February as he got off a Metro bus.
The detectives, who were also on the bus, noticed him reaching for his waist while glaring at another man who was stepping off the coach, court records say.
“Looks like we just missed some gang stuff,” one detective texted the other before they arrested the 19-year-old for carrying a concealed pistol, according to court records.
Whether the detectives thwarted a shooting by arresting Marcial-Alvarez will likely never be known. Two months after his release from jail, Marcial-Alvarez, who police called an “avowed” gang member, was fatally shot at a bus stop in Federal Way on April 11.
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Police say he was a targeted victim of a war between rival Hispanic gangs that detectives trace to the January shooting death of Manuel Ortiz, 18, over the defacing of gang graffiti near his Burien apartment.
Although it’s impossible to pin down a single reason for the recent violence, the conflict goes much deeper than spray paint on concrete, according to Sgt. Cindi West, a spokeswoman for the King County Sheriff’s Office.
“Sometimes it’s something as simple as somebody’s girlfriend went out with somebody from a different gang. Generally it’s not one specific thing that starts it off. It’s usually a combination of things over time and then it escalates,” West said.
There have been at least 14 homicides, dozens of injury shootings and scores of shots-fired calls believed to be connected to gang disputes from Seattle to South King County since the beginning of the year, said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell.
“I’m very concerned about this heating up in the summer months. I’m very concerned about the high-caliber weaponry that’s being recovered (by police),” Ferrell said. “It’s why we’re linking up arms regionally and addressing this in a comprehensive way.”
The spate of gang violence has prompted a unified response from the Sheriff’s Office, Seattle police, federal law-enforcement agencies and police across South King County, which have teamed up to share information and resources. Two gang-emphasis operations — one in late April and the other in mid-May — focused on gang hot spots and led to the arrests of alleged gang members on warrants for crimes like unlawful possession of a firearm and armed robbery, according to West and other law-enforcement sources.
In May, Ferrell and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus convened a meeting with police and city leaders from Algona, Burien, Des Moines, Kent, Pacific, Renton, SeaTac and Tukwila to create a strategy to address rising gun and gang violence, with Seattle police and the Sheriff’s Office also sending representatives. The group is scheduled to meet again in mid-June.
“This is tragically about these people in these gang rivalries clinging to these concepts of respect and disrespect as justifications for homicide,” said Ferrell, a former King County deputy prosecutor. “People are just baffled. It seems so nonsensical that lives would be taken over these seemingly meaningless disputes.”
The present conflict appears to be somewhat different in that a handful of Hispanic gangs have aligned to do battle with two or three others, sources say.
“We have a lot of information about different groups that would not traditionally be at war with each other who are crossing traditional alliances,” said Rafael Padilla, Kent’s assistant police chief. “People who normally get along aren’t.”
The violence, which has stretched from South Seattle through South King County, hit a peak in April with numerous shootings before quieting down in recent weeks after the police intervention.
“When the heat is on, they know to lie low for a little while,” Padilla said of the recent lull. “We’re bracing right now.”
Meanwhile, police are also dealing with longstanding disputes among members of Seattle’s rival black street gangs in the Central District and Rainier Valley that continue to spill over into communities south of the city.
One victim of the violence is Clemden Jimerson, who survived a gang shooting near Garfield High School on Halloween 2008 that killed 15-year-old Quincy Coleman. Jimerson, 24, a member of a Central District gang, was fatally shot in the head in Renton last month, Padilla said.
No arrests have been made.
“The willingness of people to pull out guns and start shooting seems far more common than it used to be,” Padilla said.
Something else that’s becoming frighteningly common is the use of assault-style rifles with large-caliber rounds and high-capacity magazines, which are inflicting far more damage, according to Padilla and others. Seattle police are seeing the same kind of firepower in a spate of gang-related shootings since the first of the year.
In the days before he was shot and killed Jan. 3, Manuel Ortiz engaged in angry back-and-forth phone calls and social-media messages about disrespect being shown his gang through crossed-out graffiti, according to the charges filed against his alleged killer.
Ernesto Josue Rios-Andrade, 17, a rival gang member from Tukwila, was hanging out with two other juveniles at a Burien food mart when they crossed paths with Ortiz, who lived at the apartment building next door, say the charges. The two got into an argument over “graffiti disrespect,” and Rios-Andrade shot Ortiz with a .380-caliber handgun, according to charging papers.
King County prosecutors charged Rios-Andrade — also known as Joshua Rios — as an adult with second-degree murder.
Detectives say the killing of Ortiz touched off the recent uptick in violence between Hispanic gangs, often resulting in deadly retribution.
In Federal Way, Marcial-Alvarez was gunned down at a bus stop at South Dash Point Road and Pacific Highway South just before 4:30 p.m. April 11.
Around 1 a.m. April 12, 21-year-old Erasmo Plata was killed in Burien, a shooting that law-enforcement sources say was in retaliation for Marcial-Alvarez’s death. Later that night, someone opened fire on a house in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood associated with a gang that is aligned with Plata’s gang, court records show.
The house is “a known gang and narcotics location,” a sheriff’s detective wrote in a search warrant early last month. Seattle police responded to another shooting there in March, where they collected 22 shell casings, according to a police report.
A week after Marcial-Alvarez was killed, police arrested two suspects in connection with his death — Miguel Bejar, 21, and a 15-year-old boy prosecutors are seeking to have charged as an adult, court records show. Both are charged with first-degree murder.
Additionally, prosecutors have charged Alondra “Mama Pepa” Garcia-Garcia, 20, with rendering criminal assistance as the driver of the minivan that carried Bejar and the juvenile to and from the intersection where Marcial-Alvarez died, according to charging papers.
While the juvenile defendant denied being in a gang, Bejar told a police detective he is a gang member and described the ongoing dispute between his gang and Marcial-Alvarez’s gang, say the charges.
“Before the end of 2017, there’s going to be a lot of dead gangsters,” Bejar told police, according to charging papers.
Noting the youth of many of the shooters and victims embroiled in the recent gang war, Padilla, the Kent assistant police chief, said a coalition of social-service providers recently met to discuss gang-prevention strategies and ways to help parents whose kids have experienced extreme trauma — like witnessing a loved one overdose or get shot.
“When it (trauma) goes untreated, it often manifests in extreme violence,” Padilla said. “In a way, it’s amazing how advanced these gang members are, out on the streets, doing the hustle. They’ve had to grow up so much faster than my kid.”