Investigation into South Lake Tahoe drive-by shooting continues
GANG ENFORCEMENT LINE
Anyone with information on gang activity can reach the SLTPD gang unit at 530-542-6121.
As an investigation into a December drive-by shooting in South Lake Tahoe continues, with one arrest already made, the question remains as to whether this crime is gang related.
On Dec. 30 police arrested Kevin Gonzalez, an 18-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident, in connection with a drive-by shooting that occurred the day before in the Pioneer Inn Motel parking lot. No one was injured.
According to the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, Gonzalez was charged with one felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon and one misdemeanor charge of destruction of evidence. Details of his involvement are being withheld for investigative purposes.
While witnesses told police they suspected the shooting was gang related, police say there is no evidence that “ties this crime to gang activity.”
“Gang members can commit crimes that are not gang related,” said SLTPD spokesman Lt. Brian Williams. “We have people that are involved in this that have gang affiliations, but nothing that says necessarily that this was done in the furtherance of the gang. So there’s a difference.”
Williams confirmed that Gonzalez has “had past gang relations” and said he anticipates more arrests will be made in connection with the shooting.
For some, the notion of gang activity in tranquil South Lake Tahoe is tough to reconcile; but according to SLTPD detective Nick Carlquist, head of the gang unit, there are anywhere between 250-300 gang members in the city.
“Our agency deals with traditional criminal street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs and other non-traditional gangs. The SLTPD’s officers most frequently encounter gang members belonging to the Sureno and Norteno sets, both of which are traditional prison-based Hispanic street gangs,” explained Carlquist.
“These gangs primarily deal in the drug trade, the prostitution business, weapons trafficking and assaults. We have had drive-by shootings, homicides, attempted homicides, stabbings and a host of other crimes committed by our local gang members.”
In 2010, three Cyclones gang members — one just 16 years old — pleaded guilty to stabbing a 15-year-old boy at a house party in South Lake Tahoe.
Further, said Carlquist, these local gangs have ties to larger and more well-funded gangs in surrounding cities like Reno, Carson City and Sacramento, which has resulted in “an influx of gang members into our small town.”
Carlquist said the SLTPD gang unit specializes in the evolution of local gangs.
“Specifically, we analyze how gangs affect the quality of life and crimes committed in the city limits,” noted Carlquist.
The unit collaborates with other gang units in Douglas and El Dorado counties.
“Regional information sharing allows us to be ahead of the curve with many criminal actors before they have a chance to commit major crimes, but it takes a constant stream of information from the community to allow us to discover trends and forecast problems,” said Carlquist.
Graffiti, for example, can signify changes in gang territory, which is why SLTPD requests that it be reported. Changes in gang names and memberships are other vital pieces of information the unit looks to the public for help with.
The gang unit is also tasked with increasing public awareness through gang presentations at local schools and nonprofits.
“Our biggest hurdle in investigating and prosecuting gang crimes in the city is the lack of public awareness; we have had gang members found ‘not guilty’ of assault with a deadly weapon charges simply because jurors do not want to believe gangs exist in Tahoe,” said Carlquist.
There has been some headway made in the conviction of gang-related crimes, however. Prison sentences were issued for an attempted homicide on Palmira Avenue in 2009 and a drive-by shooting on Bonanza Avenue in 2013.
“We have had great success in educating juries on the realities we face,” said Carlquist. “This resulted in stricter, more appropriate sentences rather than emboldening gang members when they walk away from felony charges only to offend again.”
But Carlquist anticipates Proposition 57, which voters passed in November, will impact prison time for these types of crimes going forward.
“Crimes such as our [recent] drive-by shooting may now be ‘nonviolent felonies’ by definition under Proposition 57,” said Carlquist.
Prop. 57, officially called the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, allows some prisoners convicted of what state law deems “nonviolent crimes” to be eligible for early parole. It does not apply to inmates convicted of the state’s 23 “violent offenses” listed in the penal code, such as murder.
Opponents of the bill argue that it has poorly drafted language, which could allow charges like supplying a firearm to a gang member, discharging a firearm on school grounds, and drive-by shootings to be deemed “nonviolent.”
Proponents of the bill say it will help address overcrowded prisons, save taxpayer dollars, and focus resources on keeping dangerous criminals behind bars, while rehabilitating certain inmates.
Ultimately, Carlquist said the issue of gangs in South Lake Tahoe is an “uphill battle.”
“We are very much interested in spreading awareness and encouraging communication with the residents of South Lake Tahoe,” added Carlquist.