Oakland police arrest 16 in crackdown on violent gangs

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- Oakland police and other law enforcement agencies made another attempt at reducing gang violence Thursday by arresting 16 people they said are involved in two East Oakland gangs.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent said the arrests, made in a series of raids in different parts of Oakland as well as in Berkeley, San Leandro and Stockton, were the culmination of a lengthy investigation after a gang-related shooting last September.

Speaking at a news conference in the parking lot of the Acts Full Baptist Church Gospel Church on 66th Avenue, which is in the heart of reputed gang territory, Whent said the probe focused on "two notorious and violent gangs, the 65th Village and 69th Village gangs."

Capt. Ersie Joyner said the two gangs have been operating for about four decades, dating back to the days of Felix Mitchell, who grew up in a project on 69th avenue and formed a powerful organization that sold heroin.

After Mitchell was killed in a federal prison in 1986, his body was carried in a horse-drawn carriage followed by limousines in a funeral procession on Oakland city streets that was viewed by thousands of spectators.

Joyner said police launched their investigation after the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Frank Denard in the 1300 block of 76th Avenue, near International Boulevard, on Sept. 15 because they believe Denard was a member of the 69th Village gang and they feared his death would spark a cycle of retaliatory shootings between members of that gang and the 65th Village gang.

Joyner said the probe was too large for the Oakland Police Department to handle on its own so it obtained assistance from other agencies, including the California Attorney General's Office, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the California Highway Patrol.

Joyner said police, who have staged similar raids in previous years, haven't yet arrested anyone in Denard's murder but the investigation led to the arrests Thursday of suspects in two cold case homicides, one in 2008 and one in 2012.

He said the suspects arrested today are also believed to have participated in other shooting incidents as well as assaults, burglaries and street robberies.

Joyner said the investigation is continuing and police, who have served 22 search warrants so far, hope to arrest a total of up to 35 or 40 people in the next few days.

Whent said six guns were confiscated today and a total of 36 guns have been seized since the investigation began.

Police believe their investigation prevented four potential retaliatory homicides in recent months, Joyner said.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said authorities won't release the names of the suspects arrested today until charges are filed against them on Monday.

Joining law enforcement officials at the news conference, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said, "It does not bring us joy to be sending young men to prison but it is necessary to help end the gun violence in Oakland."

Schaaf said, "The individuals that were arrested today were not only guilty of gang violence, but also of terrorizing Oaklanders with carjackings, home invasions and street robberies."

She said, "Taking them off our streets is an important step toward helping Oakland realize its amazing potential and giving residents back their right to live without fear."

O'Malley said the 65th Village and 69th Village gangs "are responsible for a tremendous amount of terror and gun violence which particularly impacts young people who get caught in their crossfire or who are mis-targeted or mistaken for someone else."

Police said one well-known victim of the gang violence was 3-year-old Carlos Nava, who was killed in the 6400 block of International Boulevard at about 1:10 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2011, in a shooting that prosecutors said was carried out by two 69th Village members who were targeting two 65th Village members.

Joyner said Denard, the reputed gang member who was killed last September, had been participating in Operation Ceasefire, a strategy that Oakland began on Oct. 18, 2012, and involves police, prosecutors, community leaders and service providers meeting with alleged members of gangs or groups, offering support and telling them that gun violence must stop.

Schaaf said Operation Ceasefire "is a proven success" that's been helpful in other cities such as Boston and Los Angeles.

Whent said people who refuse to cooperate after the meetings, which are known as call-ins, are targeted for arrest if they continue to participate in violence.

Whent said that after Denard was killed, some East Oakland gang members chose to participate in Operation Ceasefire but other chose not to and the investigation focuses on those who continued their violent ways.

Oakland police said that of the 133 people who have participated in "call-ins," only 26 have been re-arrested for violent or gun-related offenses.

They said the last call-in was on Nov. 14 and the next one will be later this month.