Religion, Officials Battle North Kern County Gangs

As Kern County continues to battle street and turf gangs throughout the area, North Kern County's has come to public attention in recent months through threats of violence and even an officer-involved shooting.

THE BATTLE AGAINST NORTH KERN COUNTY GANGS

ABC23’s Chris Van Horne decided to give a little perspective on the issue when it comes to north Kern County. He found that the problem with gangs in North Kern County starts with the so-called unofficial line between north and south, the Norteno and Sureno in Delano, Calif.

Delano's gang problems have been well-documented in recent years. Just a month ago, an officer-involved shooting occurred where a sheriff's deputy shot and killed 16-year-old Manual Ayon. The teen, better known as "Knuckles" on the street, had fled deputies and rammed into a patrol car before reaching for the floor boards after crashing again.

Unfortunately, much blood has been spilled in recent years. While such incidents have made news headlines, the overall problem has remained relatively the same. While Sgt. Charlie Flores of the Delano Police Department said gangs have become a greater issue, Pastor Jerry Powell said, “But now there's an awareness.” That awareness takes many forms in terms of cooperation between Kern and Tulare county law enforcement agencies and through religion.

That so-called spiritual warfare began in February 2007 with a prayer walk through Delano. Residents from McFarland, the northern end of Sureno turf, and Delano, the southern end of Norteno turf, came together to urge gangs to stop the violence and crime. The prayer walks continue weekly in McFarland and have taken place further north in Earlimart as well.

Roy Mendez of Rock Restoration Church in McFarland said the walks have really had an impact on the younger children.

Law enforcement officials said there has been success in putting such violent teens behind bars. Despite the crimes of the past, law enforcement and church leaders are both optimistic about the future.

GANG SUPPRESSION UNIT CONTACTS GANGS TO HELP CURB VIOLENCE

Local law enforcement has teamed together for more than a year at small town carnivals and celebrations. It’s a part of the multi-jurisdictional street interdiction team program. Over the Cinco de Mayo weekend, officers from Delano were joined by officers from Bakersfield, Arvin, Tehachapi and Shafter police, as well as the FBI, Kern County Probation and the Sheriff's Gang Suppression Unit.

Just after 7 p.m. on May 3, Chris Van Horne and his cameraman Evan Hinojos, rode with Senior Deputy Marvin Gomez of the Kern County Sheriff's Gang Suppression Unit. They made their way to a stabbing near 15th and Dover streets in Delano. According to officials, Jason Cuibal had been stabbed in the left arm. Despite the blood it was a relatively minor injury. But who stabbed him and why, remained unclear. However, his story would change again at the hospital into a gang-related altercation, according to officials.

Hours after the stabbing and under the guidance of the Delano Police Department, the unit split up and walked on foot. They looked for gang members and drug dealers in an area known for both.

Walking south along an alley, they came to three bars and nightclubs at 8th and Fremont streets. Numerous individuals were encountered, some of which the deputies and officers searched. While looking in the area, a confidential informant told the unit a man was selling drugs in one of the bars.

After searching the man and his car, the officers made no discovery and believed that if the man did deal drugs he did so from home.

Graffiti in the alleys east of Fremont Street display the constant conflict between Norteno and Sureno gangs. They are filled with direct challenges that are documented by the unit for future reference, which also helps locate local turf gangs.

ABC23 and the sheriff’s gang unit arrived at the Cinco de Mayo carnival as it was about to close. On scene no more than two minutes, a fight was witnessed between teenage girls. One teenager was taken into custody for fighting, curfew violation and taking a swing at a deputy. While she was being put into a patrol car, two of her friends mouthed off to the deputies and were also taken in for curfew violations, according to officials. Even when in custody, the teens were combative with the deputies.

After 11 p.m., the unit made a basic traffic stop. In the vehicle were four individuals, three of them juveniles, all of them gang-related to a northern street gang. The individuals openly admitted to being Nortenos, and freely gave information to the deputies.

They wanted to show fellow gang members that they were down for their gang, that they supported their gang, and were willing to admit their gang membership, along with monikers and gang signs. They were proud of what they do as gang members. Further proof of their gang affiliation was found while searching the vehicle. Inside was a Norteno rap CD featuring the "Huelga Bird" on the front -- a well known Norteno symbol. The item was documented and kept in a gang data file for future use in case the teens committed a crime.

No crime was committed on that night, so the group was allowed to leave as the deputies returned to Bakersfield, with their mission complete -- they contacted gang members and suppressed gang activities and gang violence. They also documented their contact with gang members.

The gang suppression unit has been busy in the last week making drug-related arrests in Rosamond and Tehachapi. And the unit is still in the process of expanding its team and efforts.