Feds: Father-daughter Mexican Mafia duo indicted for allegedly running Los Angeles gang network
by Beatriz E. Valenzuela
An early morning raid Thursday led to the arrests of 18 members of a Los Angeles- based gang - including a Victorville man, a San Bernardino woman and a Walnut resident - accused of taking orders from the daughter of an imprisoned leader in the Mexican mafia.
This was the culmination of a 2 1/2-year investigation, authorities said.
The investigation and arrests, dubbed Operation Roman Empire, outlined how Danny Roman, an alleged Mexican Mafia member sitting in Pelican Bay State Prison, reportedly held a grip on several South Los Angeles street gangs, including the Harpys gang, through his daughter, Vianna Roman, 37, and her husband, Aaron Soto, 40, according to three grand jury indictments.
"Danny Roman exerted significant control over a number of street gangs that caused havoc across a significant section of South Los Angeles," said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. "Today's takedown has significantly impacted the command structure he used to direct the criminal activities of hundreds of gangsters. Hopefully this case will cut down on the violence and drug trafficking that plagues these neighborhoods."
Authorities said Vianna Roman and Soto would receive orders from the elder Roman while they visited him in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.
Manuel Valencia, 36, of Walnut also assisted the father- daughter team in operations of the Harpys and about a dozen other gangs, according to the indictments.
A 60-count racketeering indictment illustrated how 29 defendants involved with the Harpys may have committed crimes including drug sales, collecting "taxes" - not only from gang members and drug dealers, but also vendors at a swap meet - burglaries, assaults, the robberies of three USC students and, prosecutors say, planning the killing of a witness in a trial.
It was not clear from federal officials or from the indictment if the killings of two Chinese students, Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23, during what appeared to be a botched carjacking in April were linked to the Roman operation. Two men have been arrested in the students' slaying.
Eight of a total of 31 suspects were already in state custody on separate charges, and five are fugitives, according to authorities.
The money generated by the criminal activity was funneled back to the incarcerated Danny Roman, officials said.
According to reports, Danny Roman had tens of thousands of dollars in his prison trust account.
Prosecutors allege Valencia and David Carpinetyro, 32, who was already in state prison, were mainly responsible for collecting taxes, and delivered the money to the imprisoned Roman.
Mario Basulto, 27, of Victorville is accused of selling drugs and cellphones to inmates while incarcerated at Lancaster State Prison in 2011. The money was then forwarded to Danny Roman, authorities said.
Investigators also arrested 41-year-old Denise Halawi of San Bernardino, who is suspected of helping Harpys gang members obtain and sell drugs and then returning the proceeds back to Danny Roman.
During the investigation, investigators seized about 8.5 pounds of methamphetamine, about a half-pound of heroin, about a pound of cocaine, 23 pounds of marijuana and 22 guns, authorities said. Two more firearms were found and 10 children were removed from several residences by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services' Multi-Agency Response Team during Thursday morning's operation, according to a news release.
All 31 defendants except one face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Details revealed in Ohio man's Taser-related death
CINCINNATI (AP) — An unarmed, mentally ill Ohio man who died during a confrontation with police was shocked with a Taser stun gun seven times, kicked and repeatedly hit with a baton, all mostly after he had fallen face-first onto cement and stopped moving, according to newly released court documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Police in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason previously said only that 39-year-old Doug Boucher died after he was shocked by a Taser, but hadn't revealed how many times or many other details surrounding the Dec. 13, 2009, incident, including the fact that an unresponsive Boucher was lying face-down on the ground for five of the seven stuns he received.
Now lawyers for Boucher's parents and the police department are preparing to square off in federal court in Cincinnati on Jan. 10. The department is pushing for the case to be dropped; Boucher's parents want their lawsuit against them alleging excessive force and unreasonable seizure to move forward to a jury trial set for February.
Hundreds of pages of newly filed court documents in the case reviewed by The Associated Press reveal the moments leading up to Boucher's sudden death.
Officers Daniel Fry and Sean McCormick were at a Mason convenience store the night of Dec. 13, 2009, when the petite, 19-year-old clerk told them that a customer — a 6-foot-tall, 300-pound Boucher — had just made a lewd comment to her, had made the same comment to her earlier that day, and wanted him to leave, according to the officers' version of events.
When officers approached Boucher, a musician who had untreated bipolar disorder, they testified that Boucher repeatedly apologized and became nervous before they ordered him outside. When Boucher tried to get in his car to leave, McCormick said that he approached him from behind and put a hand on his shoulder.
Boucher then "spins around pretty quickly, and he clenches his fists and he just screams at me," to leave him alone, McCormick said.
That's when McCormick pulled his Taser and ordered Fry to handcuff Boucher.
Fry said he got the cuffs on his left wrist before Boucher spun around and punched the officer in the head twice. A wrestling match ensued before McCormick yelled for Fry to move and shocked Boucher in the chest with the Taser, causing him to fall to his knees.
The officers say Boucher then spotted the clerk outside, got up and ran toward her while yelling.
That's when Fry pulled his Taser, zapping Boucher in the back and causing him to fall hard, face-first into the pavement, landing with his hands underneath him and out of the officers' view.
Although Boucher wasn't moving, McCormick testified that he kicked him and hit him with his baton, and ordered Fry to stun him twice more with the Taser. Although Fry testified that he only remembers stunning Boucher three times, information downloaded from the device showed he used the Taser on him six times in a 75-second period, five times after he had stopped moving.
A third officer, Bradley Walker, testified that he when he arrived at the scene, he saw McCormick hit a motionless Boucher with the baton about five times and saw Fry use the Taser on him once.
Walker moved in to handcuff Boucher when McCormick stopped him and told him to point his gun at him instead, he said.
"He looked at me and he said, 'We might have to shoot this guy,'" Walker said. "So I took that as he was posing a serious threat."
Soon after, the officers pulled Boucher's arms out to his sides, handcuffed him twice, patted him down and turned him over, only to find that he wasn't breathing and his face was covered in blood. Boucher was dead minutes later despite attempts to revive him.
Butler County Deputy Coroner James Swinehart found that Boucher did not have alcohol or drugs in his system and died from the fall, although he said he couldn't rule out that the seven Taser stuns were a factor.
At their recent depositions, both Fry and McCormick defended their actions, saying their use of force was appropriate, given that they couldn't see Boucher's hands, that he had punched one of them and was running toward the clerk.
"This is bang, bang, bang. We were just trying to quickly de-escalate this combative suspect and put him in handcuffs," McCormick said. "There was just no way I was going to get close, to have another officer get assaulted ... Too much had happened for me to in there and grab hold of him."
Neither officer was disciplined, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation cleared both of wrongdoing.
Jennifer Branch, the Boucher family's attorney, argues that the situation never should have happened, that Boucher should have been allowed to get in his car and leave because making a lewd comment is not a criminal offense. But even after the alleged assault on Fry, Branch argues that the use of force was inappropriate.
"You cannot kick someone, tase them five times, and beat them with a baton if they're passive," she said. "At the moment that Doug was on the ground, not moving, not hitting, not kicking, not threatening, not running, not screaming — just failing to pull his hands out to be cuffed — the officers have a duty to look at the situation and say, 'Huh, maybe I shouldn't be using force here.'"
Bill Flynn, a retired 30-year police officer in the Los Angeles area who used to investigate use-of-force cases and testifies about police procedures, said that up until Boucher became immobile, the officers acted properly.
After that, "they went way, way, way overboard with the baton and with the additional tases," Flynn said. "The decedent was not combative. The decedent was rendered useless."
He said the case also sheds light on the importance for all law enforcement to be trained to recognize mental illness and respond accordingly.
Boucher's parents, who live in Marion, Ind. — where Boucher lived until he was about 30 — are seeking unspecified damages. Boucher, who was divorced, also is survived by a daughter.
Sheriff Vows No Spying With Use of Drone
OAKLAND, Calif. | A Northern California sheriff has vowed that his department won't use an aerial drone to spy on ordinary people, but civil liberties groups say there still needs to be some guidelines to ensure privacy.
Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern said Tuesday that a drone his department is pursuing would be used for search and rescue missions, responding to wildfires and to capture fugitives, not for surveillance and intelligence gathering on civilians.
"This device is used for mission-specific incidents," Ahern told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We strive to gain the public's trust in everything we do, and I would never do anything of this nature that would destroy the public's trust beyond repair."
Ahern's comments came after privacy advocates raised concerns Tuesday to the county's Board of Supervisors prior its vote on whether to approve a $31,646 state grant to purchase the drone. Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, accused have accused the Sheriff's Office for months of trying to get the device approved without full public discussion.
ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said the surveillance and intelligence gathering amount to "spying."
"Public policy should not be made by stealth attack. Drones are subject to enormous abuses," Lye said. "They can be used for warrantless mass surveillance. There needs to be an open and transparent process for debating the important question of whether a drone is even appropriate in our community and, if so, what safeguards should be in place before we buy a drone."
The Oakland Tribune reports that funding for the drone was part of a larger $1.2 million grant dispersed through the California Emergency Management Agency.
The newspaper said that the agenda item was modified Monday afternoon after supervisors and the sheriff became aware of the controversy building over it. Initially, the wording was changed to allow the sheriff to still accept the $31,646 grant, providing no obstacle to using the money for a drone.
County Undersheriff Richard Lucia told supervisors during Tuesday's meeting that Sheriff's officials said adding it to the supervisors' agenda was an oversight by staff. He reiterated that the office will not buy a drone until it has been fully vetted publicly.
The Sheriff's Office has consistently downplayed concern, insisting that the department has yet to receive authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration. About a dozen U.S. law enforcement agencies already have or are using a drone, including the Seattle Police Department. The figurre number is likely to grow considerably because the federal government has given explicit support to use drones for law enforcement purposes.
Ahern said his office has made no secret about wanting a drone, citing his invitation to the media and citizens for a public demonstration in October.
But a memo that one of Ahern's captains prepared over the summer, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act website MuckRock, says the drone would be equipped with a long-distance camera, live video downlink and infrared sensors that could be used for monitoring bomb threats, fires, unruly crowds, search and rescue operations, and marijuana grows.
Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which obtained the July internal memo, said he was concerned with what he described as a "mission creep," whereas the drone could be used for purposes other than what Ahern promised.
"These drones have the unprecedented ability to infringe on our privacy and civil liberties," said Timm, who added he is not against drones entirely.
Lucia said if the board votes against buying the drone, the money would go back to the state or be used for something else if the grant rules permit it.
"We stand by our word," Lucia said.
The supervisors eventually decided not to vote on the grant as the matter will be taken up by a public protection committee early next year.