Police saturate gang territories in show of force

Homicide and gang task force investigators continued their nearly around-the-clock sweep throughout Modesto on Tuesday as they questioned people about the Friday night drive-by shootings that left a toddler seriously injured and killed a 14-year-old San Jose boy.

No arrests had been made in either case, but the collaborative enforcement effort was working to quell the violence in Modesto, said Modesto police Sgt. Rick Armendariz, who supervises the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force.

"We want the message to be clear: The gang violence that's been occurring won't be tolerated," Armendariz said. "We're going to stand up against this."

Stray gunfire struck 22-month-old Josue Becerra as he played in front of his west Modesto home, according to police. The toddler was listed in good condition Tuesday at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland, hospital spokeswoman Diana Yee said.

A few hours after the toddler's shooting, Valdemar Rojas Jr. and his 15-year-old friend were riding their bicycles along Marlow Street, just north of Robertson Road, when a white sedan pulled up alongside and the car's occupants opened fire, according to Modesto police.

Rojas and his friend were chased into Rock Pine Court, where they were fired upon again, fatally wounding Rojas. His friend was treated for his injuries and released from a hospital.

Rojas' father declined to comment Tuesday. "It just isn't the right time right now," he said in Spanish.

Armendariz said law enforcement officials are displaying a unified stance against the recent violence by saturating known gang areas throughout Modesto with police.

The collaborative enforcement effort includes the countywide task force, the Modesto police Street Crimes Unit, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Special Team Investigating Narcotics and Gangs, Ceres police, Stanislaus County probation and state parole officials.

Armendariz said it's a two-pronged effort: Gather information that could lead to arrests in the two shootings, and suppress any gang activity.

Parolees, probationers checked

Since Saturday, investigators have conducted parole and probation compliance checks on known gang members, stopping them at their homes and on the street to try to gather information.

The investigators are gathering intelligence on gangs that operate in the area, along with getting illegally possessed firearms off the street, Armendariz said. No firearms had been seized as of Tuesday evening.

The area has seen a gang suppression effort before. In 2005, gang investigators flooded parts of south and west Modesto after a bloody night in June that left two men and a teenage boy dead, and a Patterson man in critical condition after being run over. Police saturated the city to prevent retaliation.

Sheriff's STING investigators made their rounds through south Modesto on Tuesday in full tactical gear, which includes Kevlar vests with sheriff's insignias, said deputy Royjindar Singh.

The unincorporated areas of south Modesto are known to be strongholds of rival gangs. Singh said STING investigators were working their own gang- related cases along with gathering intelligence that could be useful to the gang task force and Modesto police.

"They're trying to be a high-profile unit right now," Singh said, "to make sure there aren't any retaliations. It's better to be prepared if something does happen."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.