News - August 3, 2011

East Palo Alto police: Outrage over homicides leads to tips

by Sue Dremann

After decades of adhering to a "no-snitch" culture, East Palo Alto residents are coming forward with tips about recent murders as they never have before, East Palo Alto police are saying.

That sea change, prompted in part by the June shooting death of 3-month-old Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia, has been crucial to solving murders that have rocked the city since July 13, police Chief Ronald Davis said recently. Within 48 hours, police received several credible tips that led to the identification of three suspects in two killings and a possible connection to a third that occurred July 24, he said.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the willingness to come forward is coming from young people, community leaders said.

"People are drawing a line in the sand and saying they are not going to tolerate this violence. Three homicides in a week is crazy. We should be outraged," Chief Davis said, just days before 19-year-old Kevin Guzman was gunned down outside an East Bayshore Road pizzeria — the fourth homicide in 12 days.

Chief Davis all but predicted the renewed violence after a July 6 summit of federal, state, county and local law-enforcement agencies, where he publicly vowed to shut down the entrenched Norteno and Sureno gangs.

The first of the four homicides occurred a week later. Nineteen-year-old Menlo Park resident Catherine Fisher was fatally shot as she and two others sat in a car. Police said she was not the intended target.

Two East Palo Alto residents, Jabari Banford, 23, and Hugo Chavez, 26, were gunned down July 18 and 19. Then Mr. Guzman was killed and an 18-year-old was wounded on July 24.

"How I feel about these recent deaths is certainly disgust," East Palo Alto resident Whitney Genevro, 23, said in an email to the Palo Alto Weekly. "I cannot understand these killers' minds, and how they must not have any love inside of them. I know anger is a strong emotion, but it should never be an emotion that drives the uncontrollable desire to kill a human being.

"I hope others are willing to break their code of silence because they might have information to bring justice to these murders, and we need more people to stand up and do what is right. At my age, we have a great influence on the younger children and teens. If we are good role models, who knows the types of crimes and mishaps that can be avoided?" she said.

Near the spot on East Bayshore Road where Mr. Guzman was killed, two young men discussed the city's homicides, including the June 5 death of the infant, Izack. It was a turning point, they said.

"The killing of a 3-month-old baby — that's just too much," one of the young men, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

The city's faith leaders said the turn-around goes against decades of ingrained fear.

"Now there are a whole lot more people saying, 'Enough is enough,'" said the Rev. Paul Bains, pastor of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ. "In my years of being in the community since 1961, it's not like it was in the past, where people said, 'I don't want to be involved.' The stop-snitching culture has taken a turn.

Tips from the community led to the identification of three suspects in the Fisher and Chavez homicides: Christian Fuentes, 20, Jaime Cardenas, 19, and Fidel Silva, 24, all of East Palo Alto. Mr. Fuentes was arrested recently for violating parole, police said.


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