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Early morning raids round up alleged gang members

Posted: Monday, Feb 13th, 2017

Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian Santa Cruz Police check vehicles in a parking lot of an abandoned apartment complex on Ocean Street early Monday during a sweeping effort to arrest criminal street gang members.

SANTA CRUZ — Nine men were arrested in pre-dawn, broad-reaching raids around the county Monday.

Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Dan Flippo said those arrested were all members of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang, a notoriously violent criminal street gang stemming out of Los Angeles.

The Department of Homeland Security Investigations, in conjunction with Santa Cruz Police, Watsonville Police and two other agencies, starting about 4 a.m. and conducted 12 raids throughout the county and city of Santa Cruz. The arrests stemmed from a five-year investigation into the criminal street gang organization that has been operating locally, Flippo said.

“Several members of this criminal organization have been arrested and have a history of such crimes as murder, extortion and narcotics trafficking,” he said. “Firearms have been seized during this arrest operation. Further news updates will be forthcoming throughout the day.”

The Department of Homeland Security Investigations is the lead agency regarding the arrests and will provide more information once the operation has been concluded.

Flippo stressed that the arrests were not immigration-related, but rather, a focus on a “very violent” street gang. Numerous people around the county, including Watsonville residents, reported on social media information about raids in the Beach Flats, Market Street, Ocean Street, 38th Avenue, 17th Avenue and 7th Avenue. Some people described large groups of heavily armed police, armored vehicles, two helicopters with bright spotlights and police issuing orders on loud speakers.

At a home on 7th Avenue someone tossed a bag of an unknown substance out a window as police surrounded the house and sent a K-9 dog into the home.

After following one vehicle that left one of the “target homes,” a helicopter was able to track the SUV along Frederick Street onto Soquel Avenue over to a home in Live Oak. The SUV was then tracked to Highway 1 where police on the ground made a car stop and ordered four people out of the vehicle.

“We were involved with helping them,” said Watsonville Police Sgt. Brian Ridgway. “But since it is an ongoing operation headed up by another agency we can’t comment further on the matter.”

The strong showing of police in the morning darkness triggered panic among some around the county in fear of Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE, arresting undocumented people. Tensions are high across the U.S. as President Donald Trump has recently been ratcheting up efforts in immigration control and to deport criminal immigrants.

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