In an effort to combat gang violence and crime, more than 1,100 parole and police officials visited about 340 parolees Wednesday in a massive anti-gang parole compliance sweep dubbed, “Operation Guardian.”
The campaign spanned the entire county, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Parole Agent Bernard Villar said, with teams based out of cities including Covina, Rosemead, El Monte, Monterey Park, Pasadena and Whittier.
Preliminary results from the effort showed at least 69 parolees arrested and the seizure of at least five guns, ammunition, 35 “knives, swords and machetes,” 20 marijuana plants, 156 grams of marijuana and 30 grams of cocaine, CDCR Division of Adult Parole Operations Director Robert Ambroselli said. Additionally,
“This is one of the largest and most comprehensive sweeps in recent years,” he said.
What was being investigated as a potential methamphetamine lab was found during a compliance check in Lake Los Angeles, officials said.
In Hollywood, the Department of Children and Family Services became involved a parolee was arrested after being found in bed, nude, with and infant and two other children, ages 3 and 5, authorities said. Two of the children were not his, and the investigation was ongoing.
Parole compliance checks are done throughout the year by parole officials to make sure those released from prison on parole are obeying the conditions of release, however Wednesday’s large effort specifically targeted parolees ordered to refrain from gang-related activity.
“We’re concentrating on the special conditions — gang conditions,” he said.
Villar led a team of more than a dozen parole agents, corrections officers and Covina police officers that targeted five Covina parolees, and one from West Covina. The team arrested two parolees on suspicion of violating their parole, and planned to seek warrants for two others who were not home at the time of the operation.
Officials jailed Eric Perez, a 27-year-old gang member on parole for assault with a deadly weapon, at his home in the 100 block of Edna Place, near Citrus Avenue.
Perez was not home when officers showed up, but quickly arrived when summoned by his parole officer. Agents took him into custody after a CDCR drug-sniffing dog found a small amount of marijuana inside the car he was driving. He was also accused of violation parole by staying overnight at a location other than his listed home without notifying his parole officer.
At a house near 2nd Avenue and Workman Avenue, about a block south from a spot where residents reported hearing gunshots early Wednesday, agents and officers arrested 36-year-old Ruben Velasquez.
He allegedly violated his parole by having gang paraphernalia, in the form of graffiti-marked items, in his bedroom, where he also had a large kitchen knife hidden under his mattress, Villar said. Authorities also suspected he may have been under the influence of drugs when they visited his home on 2nd Street, near Workman Avenue.
A parolee living in the 100 block of South Robin Road was apparently at work when officials knocked at his door. While searching his bedroom, officers and agents found a half-dozen hypodermic needles, a scale and other evidence of apparent heroin use.
The parolee was expected to be arrested on a parole violation for possession of narcotics paraphernalia when found, according to Parole Agent Cynthia Martinez.
A marijuana plant was also found in the home’s backyard, however someone else living in the house claimed responsibility for it, officials said.
At another home in the 600 block of S. Calvados Avenue in Covina, the parolee targeted was not home during the early morning visit. Suspecting that the parolee had been staying elsewhere without notifying his parole officer, as required, officials planned to seek a warrant for his arrest.
Pasadena Police Department Sgt. Bobby Crees said gang violence in Pasadena has gone down in recent years, partially due to the department’s reintegration program for parolees. Crees said many gang members have taken their illegal activity into other cities because of the Pasadena Police Department’s crack-down, which includes unannounced visits like the one on Monday.
“It keeps them on their toes,” Crees said. “We want to make sure they know don’t be dirty in Pasadena because we’ll catch you.”
Commander John Perez said the Pasadena Police Department prides itself on its reintegration program, which offers monthly support meetings, help parolees find employment and a place to live and other educational and support services. He said police also work to clean up problem neighborhoods linked to gang violence and do outreach for youths suspected of being gang members.
“We make sure we’re trying to resolve the issues in that house, for that block, for that neighborhood,” Perez said. “We really try to give (parolees) a chance to do something different with their lives instead of getting arrested.”
Many of the parolees and their family members were still in their pajamas when police knocked forcefully on their door near sunrise, and many appeared irritated when speaking with officers. The father of one parolee became agitated with officers at his Pasadena home at about 8:30 a.m., telling them “This is my house” and “I didn’t do nothing wrong.”
Roland Mimms, 42, cussed at a female officer as he stood handcuffed and shirtless outside his Monrovia home. Mimms was later arrested for possession of a sword and drug paraphernalia. His girlfriend Vanessa Laskin, 22, was also arrested at Mimms’ home after police discovered she had a no-bail warrant for assault from the Glendale Police Department
Some residents of homes visited by officials Wednesday were not visibly upset by their presence.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Phillip Montes of West Covina, as authorities searched the bedroom of his daughter’s boyfriend. He added that he believed the officers and agents were only, “doing their job.”
In addition to Mimms and Laskin, Pasadena police and parole agents also arrested Vilson Abelyan, 29, of Glendale on a $75,000 warrant for possession of a switchblade from the Los Angeles Police Department. Abelyan was seen about an hour after his arrest walking out of the Pasadena Police Department.
To the south, Whittier police officers joined with CDCR officials to check on the homes of five parolees — four in Whittier and one in La Habra, Whittier police Lt. Steve Dean said. Results of the Whittier-area compliance checks were not available Wednesday afternoon.
CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate and other officials commended the teams and thanked them for their work.
“The number of parolees who were arrested and the number of guns, ammunition and drugs taken off the streets show how important these pro-active searches in cooperation with our local law enforcement partners are to public safety,” Cate said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca agreed.
“It sends a clear message,” he said of Wednesday’s operation. “Unless we go after those who are violating the law, we can’t send the message that we’ll continue to do our duty 24/7.”
There are about 16,000 people on parole in L.A. County, officials said.
And with state prisons shrinking in population under the current state prison realignment plan, the role of parole supervision is more important than ever, Baca said.
“As our state goes through the realignment, we know we need to do more,” he said. “And we will do more.”
But the battle against gang-related crime doesn’t begin with the prison system, but with the family, Ambroselli said.
“The true frontline against gang violence is the parents at home,” he said, before announcing a new CDCR website designed to give parents resources to help them keep their children away from gangs.
“Our new web pages offer parents straight talk about gangs, links to emotional discussions with family members of innocent victims of gang-warfare, as well as parents of deceased gang-members,” he said.
The website can be found at www.cdcr.ca.gov/OperationGuardian.
– Brian Day and Lauren Gold