Fifteen members of the Merced Gangster Crips, a notorious local street gang, were busted on a variety of conspiracy, weapons and drugs charges on Monday.
The arrests capped a five-month investigation spearheaded by the Merced Multi-Agency Gang Task Force.
News of the arrests was released by Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II during a Tuesday morning press conference in front of the Merced County Courthouse Museum.
In Sacramento, Attorney General Jerry Brown issued his own press release about the bust.
The suspects are members of the Merced Gangster Crips -- the same gang associated with the 2004 shooting death of Merced Police Officer Stephan Gray. The operation began five months ago, after Merced police learned that one of their officers was the target of a hit organized by the gang, Morse said.
During the operation, Morse said an undercover officer from the San Pablo Police Department posed as a drug dealer from the Bay Area. He bought handguns, marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy from members of the gang.
A Merced County Special Grand Jury returned 16 indictments earlier this month, resulting in Monday's arrests. Morse praised the efforts of the undercover officer who helped with the operation and the many agencies that contributed their resources. "When you have a threat from a gang that has killed a Merced police officer, the level of concern mounts pretty quickly," Morse said.
Suspects arrested included Merced residents Randy Tyler, 23, Frederick Mays, 21, Eric Devon Beavers, 23, Antoine Lee Briggs, 27, Jaray Julius Jaso, 30, Jose Ascencio Magana, 24, Patrick McMurray, 22, Damien Ricardo Perry, 26, Denicio Taylor Ramos, 22, McKinley Jabree Sims III, 32 and Lester Archie Turner, 24.
Additional arrests included Michael Buddy Barrett, Jr., 31, of Atwater, Sudi Dumaka Johnson, 23, of Modesto, Lutricia Marie Moore, 23, of Atwater and Alejandro Joseph Zavala, 28, of Turlock.
Suspect Lamont Lavell Andres, 35, of Merced, is still outstanding, according to Val Pacheco, commander of the task force.
The investigation yielded 11.5 ounces of crack cocaine, seven ounces of marijuana, 448 Ecstasy pills and six handguns, according to the task force.
The five-month operation was conducted with agents from the Department of Justice's Gang Suppression Enforcement Team from Fresno. Additional agencies included the Merced Multi-Agency Narcotic Task Force, Madera County Narcotics Enforcement Team, Madera Gang Enforcement Team, West Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and agents from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
Merced Police Officer Stephan Gray was murdered by Cuitlahuac Tahua "Tao" Rivera in April 2004, during a traffic stop. Rivera was eventually captured by law enforcement and sentenced to death by a Colusa County jury in May 2007. He remains on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.
Merced Police Chief Russ Thomas estimated there are around 100 members of the Merced Gangster Crips in the area. Thomas said the thought of losing another officer was "devastating," and he commended those involved with the operation. "These people all stepped to the plate and conducted an absolutely thorough investigation," Thomas said.
Launched in September 2007, the Merced Multi-Agency Gang Task Force is comprised of officers from the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE), Merced County District Attorney's Office, Merced Police Department, Atwater Police Department, Livingston Police Department, Merced County Probation Department, California Highway Patrol and Merced County Sheriff's Department.
The Merced Multi-Agency Gang Task Force, which is overseen by BNE, estimates there are about 5,627 documented gang members in Merced County, belonging to about 54 gangs.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.