VISALIA – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the arrest of multiple members of the Sureño criminal street gang for their involvement in the 2020 murders of three teenagers at a local high school in Visalia. In July 2021, the Visalia Police Department requested assistance from the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Special Operations Unit (SOU) with its investigation into the triple homicide. The investigation also uncovered a drug and firearm trafficking ring run by members and associates of the Sureños. Today, the SOU, the Visalia Police Department, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, the Tulare County District Attorney, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed 27 search warrants and 22 arrest warrants in Tulare County in connection with the investigation.
“An investigation that began with the tragic murder of three young people in Visalia led to law enforcement uncovering a drug and firearms conspiracy that reached from California to Texas and Mexico,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “This investigation was a success because of multiagency collaboration at all levels of law enforcement. While we cannot take away the grief and loss the Visalia community has felt as a result of these horrific and senseless murders, we can bring to account the people who committed these crimes. Thank you to all of the officers and agents who worked together to solve these murders and get those involved off our streets.”
“I am grateful that this investigation has led to the arrests of suspects involved in the May 2020 triple homicide of Jose Hernandez-Pena, Isaiah Rule, and Blake Medeiros and that this will begin to bring healing and justice to their families,” said Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar. “I am also very proud of the hard work and dedication of the Visalia Police detectives who have worked so diligently on this case and to all of our law enforcement partners on this investigation for their contributions and resources to help bring justice to these families and to our community.”
“Today’s announcement is the result of a collaborative effort between local, state, and federal agencies targeting a violent gang’s supply chain of methamphetamine,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. “If we can suffocate their funding sources, we can cripple their operations. The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to take on these criminal organizations.”
During the evening of May 5, 2020, three teenagers were shot and killed in a vehicle in the parking lot of Golden West High School in Visalia. During the investigation, law enforcement agents identified Sureño gang members as suspects in the murders.
Further investigation into the gang revealed that several members and associates were importing both stolen and lawfully purchased firearms from Texas using proceeds from the sale of the illegal narcotics which were being trafficked into California from Mexico. The firearms were then sold to local gang members or smuggled into Mexico in exchange for more narcotics.
DOJ partnered with local law enforcement in Texas, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California to seize several postal packages containing 18 firearms. The team also seized approximately 20 pounds of cocaine from suspects involved in the trafficking.
During today’s search and arrest operation, 27 Sureños members and associates were arrested, including three who are suspected to be directly involved in the triple homicide. Law enforcement agents also seized 24 firearms during today’s operation.
Over the course of the investigation, including today’s operation, 37 arrests were made, at least five violent crimes were prevented, and a total of 56 firearms were seized from Sureño gang members and associates.
DOJ’s Special Operations Unit is a collaborative investigative effort between DOJ and the California Highway Patrol. The unit provides statewide enforcement for combating violent career criminals, gangs, and organized crime groups, along with intrastate drug traffickers. These unique and essential teams use the latest technology and advanced investigative techniques and work alongside local law enforcement to enhance investigations into violent criminals and organized crime throughout the state.