Appeal Staff Writer
Detective Daniel Gonzales spins around his car and starts tailing a truck with graffiti-style writing on its back window.
“What’s that on his car?” asks Sam Hatley, a sheriff’s deputy working with Gonzales.
Gonzales calls in the truck’s license plate information to dispatch. He says he doesn’t think the two children in the truck are wearing seat belts.
The dispatcher calls back. She says the license plates on the truck are suspended.
Gonzales speeds up. He turns on the police lights of his unmarked police vehicle. He follows the truck into the Albertson’s store parking lot on Highway East, where the driver stops.
“Stay in the car,” Gonzales says, but it’s too late, the man is already out of his truck.
Then he slowly puts up his hands and says he didn’t realize they were police officers.
When officers are looking for gang members, they don’t know what could happen, Gonzales said. Lately they haven’t seen much activity, he said, but they’re only out once or twice a week. Gonzales said he and Hatley would like to go out more.
Gang activity is “so small,” he said, “that if you really, really jumped on it full force, I think you could put a huge dent in it.”
As he and Hatley handcuffed the 31-year-old man, bent him over their car and searched him and his truck, they weren’t able to get him to say anything about gangs, even though he had his gang nickname written on the back window of his truck.
Grocery store customers and other sheriff’s officers stopped to watch what was happening.
“Why are your plates suspended?” Gonzales asked.
“They’re not suspended,” the man said.
“They are,” Gonzales responded.
“I’m not speaking Swahili,” Gonzales said.
After they wrote the man tickets for his suspended plates and for not having the children in seat belts, the officers called for a tow truck and took the license plates off the truck. The man asked if he could go inside and call his wife for a ride.
“Why don’t you get a car seat for your son?” Hatley asked as the man walked into the store.
“You want to get me one?” the man countered.
“Buy one inside,” Hatley said.
“You want to give me the money?”
As the officers left, the man stood under a tree in the parking lot with his two sons and waited for his wife.
Though officers want to put out a message with the gang patrol, Gonzales said, they’re not trying to harass people. Another thing they want to do, he said, is work to compile a list of gang members and people who they have good reasons to suspect are gang members.
For instance, they pulled over a sport utility vehicle earlier on Thursday evening for playing loud music. They had the vehicle towed because the driver didn’t have a license.
What they were more interested in, however, was what the Hispanic man in his 20s had in his car: a case of compact discs with gang names written on some of them.
The man was also the cousin of a gang member who’d been arrested for having stolen guns.
Though they did get some helpful information from this stop, some stops didn’t turn up anything. The officers said this happens sometimes.
As they drove down Roop Street later that night, they saw a flame from a lighter beside a building that is often tagged with gang graffiti, but what they found was a 16-year-old boy with a pipe containing marijuana resin.
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.