Mexican Mafia Member Ordered Gangs to Target Blacks, Police Say
[Escondido is just north of San Diego]
A local leader of the Mexican Mafia prison gang ordered Escondido’s rival Latino street gangs to stop fighting among themselves and target black people instead, leading to a surge in such attacks, say gang members and authorities.
According to court testimony last week by Erik Witholt, an Escondido Police Department gang detective, the order focused on “getting blacks out of Escondido.”
Witholt didn’t name the leader, but federal authorities have said that Rudy Espudo was the Mexican Mafia member who directed street gang activity in inland North County. Espudo was arrested in January and indicted, with 118 other people, for a range of crimes, including racketeering and drug dealing.
Attacks by Latino gang members on black people —— who, police say, have generally had nothing to do with gang activity —— increased sharply after the Mexican Mafia’s order was handed down, about two years ago, Witholt said.
Gang members and experts reached by the North County Times say the order probably stemmed from turf feuds and long-running rivalries in prison between black and Latino gangs, and are not an indication that a local race war was heating up.
Police say one of the most brazen examples of Latino-on-black violence occurred Feb. 6 in Escondido. A black man, with his girlfriend and her child, was waiting for a pizza in a car at Rose Street and East Valley Parkway when seven Latinos armed with knives surrounded them. Someone stabbed the black man, nearly to death.
A suspect in the stabbing, Ulysses Ocampo, 22, of Escondido eluded police for about a week. Police said the gang member was arrested after hurling racial slurs and attacking a second black man who was moving into an Escondido apartment complex. Before the attack, Ocampo said, “We don’t want no n——s in our ‘hood,” the victim testified.
Serious attacks by Latino gang members against black people have not been limited to Escondido —— such attacks in the past two years include a fatal stabbing in Carlsbad and a rash of assaults in Oceanside.
In the Carlsbad incident last year, police say Juan Rocha, 21, fatally stabbed Devin Allen, 27, a black man with no known ties to gangs, outside a popular bar. Last week, Rocha was in jail awaiting trial on a murder charge.
Carlsbad police Detective Bryan Hargett testified at a preliminary hearing last year that Rocha belonged to a Carlsbad gang that had committed several racially motivated attacks against blacks, including a 2007 stabbing that led to an attempted-murder conviction.
In Oceanside, black gangs have a strong presence. Federal authorities last year said they broke up a major prostitution ring run by three of Oceanside’s mostly black gangs.
Some territories claimed by Latino and black gangs overlap, leading to rivalries.
Last year, five Latino gang members and associates were charged with hate crimes against black men in the Crown Heights neighborhood.
Also last year, several black gang members were charged with murdering two Latino teens who weren’t gang-affiliated in Libby Lake Park. Prosecutors said the slayings occurred soon after one of the black gang members was attacked by Latino rivals.
But Latino gangs have battled each other at least as fiercely.
Using the race card
The Mexican Mafia order to unite rival Latino street gangs against a perceived common enemy may have been a commonly used tactic by the prison-based syndicate’s leadership to stop infighting and increase profitability, said retired Sgt. Richard Valdemar, who spent much of his career investigating the Mexican Mafia as a gang detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“Because they can play the race card to motivate their soldiers on the street, that’s what they do,” he said.
Minor racial tensions turned into a cycle of violence during the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Valdemar said.
Damian “Football” Williams, a young black gang member who famously beat white truck driver Reginald Denny on live television during the riots, similarly attacked drivers of other races. When footage aired of him attacking a Latino man, Latinos began attacking blacks in prison and jail, Valdemar said.
The Mexican Mafia put out an order to kill Williams, and later, to go to war with black gangs, he said. Williams was not killed, and is currently serving a state prison sentence for an unrelated crime.
Mostly Latino gangs that included black members were ordered to purge them from their ranks.