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Police Arrest Three Local Gang Members in Wake of Last Week’s Homicide

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

January 3 -- Just days after 20-year-old Miguel Angel Martin was shot to death last Wednesday on Pico Boulevard, three alleged Santa Monica gang-members were arrested Saturday while driving around the same area with a loaded handgun, police said.

The firearm was allegedly in a car with three youths as they cruised Pearl Street at around 7 p.m., shortly before they were stopped at the 2800 block by police for several moving violations, Lt. Alex Padilla, the Police Department spokesperson said Tuesday.

"They were driving erratically, which caught the attention of the officers," said Padilla.

Padilla noted that in the days after last week’s homicide, patrols have been stepped up in the area, which includes several schools, Santa Monica College and the newly expanded Virginia Avenue Park, which was the scene of the shooting.

"We don't know if they were out to do something, that is part of the investigation," he told the Lookout News.

"The driver of the vehicle refused to stop and, as the officers were following the vehicle, one of the occupants threw an item out of the vehicle."

The item, he said, was a loaded handgun.

Taken into custody were 30-year-old Benjamin Arroyo, the driver; Guillermo Castell, 18, and Kevin Morales, 19.

The three Santa Monica residents will be charged with "being gang members in possession of a firearm and various narcotics offenses," Padilla said. According to police, narcotics and paraphernalia were also found in the vehicle.

If convicted, the suspects could face "several years of prison time in a state penitentiary," because their alleged involvement as gang members, a charge known as “gang-enhancement,” Padilla said.

Police delayed informing the public of the arrest until other investigations could be completed, including a probe into whether a gang-enhancement charge could be applied, he said.

Police are trying to determine if Saturday’s arrests could be related to the killing of Martin -- an Olympic high school graduate who was shot in the back days before -- or if the men were seeking revenge for the slaying, police said.

"We just don't know now, nor can we comment," Padilla said. "Anyone with information should step forward, and know they can talk to us with complete anonymity."

Police also declined to speculate on whether they believe Martin was killed by gang-members from outside the City who may have been driving through the Pico Neighborhood looking for a target, or whether Martin had any gang ties himself.

Friends and family have described Martin -- who worked construction with the City and his father -- as a hard-working young man out to better himself.

Martin's killing came after several non-fatal shootings near the newly opened park last year. The lifelong Santa Monican became the first victim of gang violence on park grounds, just a few hundred feet from a police substation.

"The fact that Miguel was shot on a well-lit street, in the early evening, next to a busy park, and practically in front of a SMPD substation, is shocking," said Zina Josephs, president of the neighborhood group, friends of Sunset Park, which borders the gang-prone Pico Neighborhood.

The group -- many of whose members said in December that they were hoping incoming Police Chief Tim Jackman would work to strengthen communication with the community -- published an open letter thanking police for their work in the arrest.

"It's clear that in shifting policing priorities, the department has been able to better observe the problem, and this apprehension is strong initial payback for your effort," Joseph wrote on behalf of the board.

"Acknowledgment and gratitude is important to express when it is due, and the swift intervention of the SMPD forces likely prevented the addition of another name to the list of shooting victims in this section of the city," she wrote.

Still, the latest killing in a long history of persistent gang violence should reinforce efforts to halt the cycle of revenge killings, Josephs said, speaking for herself.

"The death of Miguel Martin is tragic," she said. "It reminds us again of the death of Eddie Lopez in February of this year."

Lopez, a well-liked 15-year-old Samohi student, was shot and died only blocks from the site of the latest homicide as he too walked with two friends along Pico Boulevard on February 28. (see story)

As Santa Monica residents look towards a new year with a new police chief, Josephs said she hopes all Santa Monicans will participate in finding solutions to youth violence.

"I believe that Sunset Park residents, and all Santa Monica residents, are united in their desire and determination to bring this violence and these deaths to an end," she said.

Anyone having information regarding this incident should call the Robbery/Homicide Detail of the Santa Monica Police Department at 310.458.8451 or the Watch Commander's Office at 310.458.8427.

Callers who wish to provide anonymous information may also call the We-Tip national hotline at 1.800.78.CRIME (27463). Callers with information may be eligible for to receive a reward up to $1,000.

 

 

 

 

 

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