Brown Announces Arrests of Violent Gang Members Who Took Orders from Imprisoned Gang Leaders, and Calls for Action to End Cell Phone Communication from Prison

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
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OAKLAND — Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today a major takedown of key members of the Nuestra Familia gang who commit murders and other violent crimes “orchestrated in prison” by gang leaders using cell phones.

As part of an operation code-named “Street Sweeper,” a joint task force of 250 state and local law enforcement agents led by Brown’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement concluded a year-long series of arrests attacking the hierarchy of prison gangs. Today in Visalia and surrounding areas, agents arrested 34 gang members, including four local gang leaders. Five other Nuestra Familia leaders were incarcerated in earlier operations.

“Operation Street Sweeper represents a big step forward in reducing vicious street crimes orchestrated in prison by the Nuestra Familia hierarchy,” Brown said. “Today’s operation has stripped the dangerous Nuestra Familia gang of key managers who carry out orders from its imprisoned leaders.”

Launched in Folsom Prison in 1968, Nuestra Familia is one of seven prison gangs in the state. Through top-down leadership, Nuestra Familia controls illegal activities inside several prisons, as well as most of the Nortenos gangs who operate in central California from Yuba City to Bakersfield and from Salinas to the Sierra foothills.

With a sombrero resting on a dagger as its symbol, Nuestra Familia is believed to have hundreds of members inside state prisons, tens of thousands in communities and many more associates, according to gang investigators.

Three gang leaders serving life sentences direct Nuestra Familia activities from inside Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, also known as the “SHU,” which isolates prisoners 24 hours a day. While such confinement places some limits on the gang’s ability to communicate, gang leaders are still able to direct gang members on the streets through cell phones smuggled into the prison.

“In addition to arresting street gang leaders through efforts like Operation Street Sweeper,” Brown said, “we must cut imprisoned gang leaders’ ability to communicate with cell phones by blocking that communication through an electronic net over Pelican Bay.”

Sophisticated technology exists to jam cell phones, even selectively, within prisons, but federal law must be changed to allow that to happen. The “Safe Prisons Communications Act” has passed the Senate, and a companion bill by Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas is in committee in the House. Brown called on members of the House to approve this legislation, which is essential to cracking down on one of California’s most feared prison gangs.

Gang violence has recently spiked in Central Valley communities. So far this year, Visalia’s serious gang-related murders, assaults and drive-by shootings have doubled compared to the same period last year.

“History was made today in Visalia,” said Colleen Mestas, chief of the Visalia Police Department. She thanked the 300 officers from 20 law enforcement agencies that took part in the operation. “With their help, our police department has been able to make an impact on our local gang crime.”

Other law enforcement agencies that assisted with today’s operation are the Central Valley Regional SWAT team, Delano Police Department, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fresno Methamphetamine Task Force, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas - Central Valley and Southern Tri County, Kings County Sheriff’s Department, Madera County Gang Enforcement Task Force, Madera County Narcotic Enforcement Team, Porterville Police Department, Salinas Police Department, Tulare Police Department, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and Visalia Police Department.

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