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Major raids target notorious L.A. street gang

Image: Suspect in custody
This image taken from video shows a suspect in custody of the Los Angeles Police Department after police made a series of gang raids Monday morning. Local police working with federal agents carried out a string of early-morning raids seeking key members of the Avenues street gang, a long-standing group that claims as its territory a swath of northeast Los Angeles. John Mone / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A notorious street gang accused of terrorizing a neighborhood for years, killing a sheriff's deputy and murdering residents was the target of a coordinated assault by hundreds of law enforcement officials Tuesday.

About 1,100 local police working with nearly 300 federal agents carried out a string of pre-dawn raids seeking key members of the Avenues street gang, a long-standing group that claims as its territory a swath of northeast Los Angeles.

A federal indictment detailing criminal activity spanning more than a decade named 88 suspects. Forty-six were arrested, 33 were already in custody and nine remained at large, authorities said.

The indictment reads like a laundry list of gang crime: the murder of rivals, prolific drug dealing, weapons violations and money laundering. Prosecutors say the Avenues preyed on community members, with two named suspects accused of attacking a resident in a parking lot then shooting him to death when he tried to call for help.

Another woman was pistol-whipped then shot at but survived to identify an assailant by the Fedora-wearing skull he had tattooed on his chest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ariel Neuman said.

Attacks on police
The gang is also accused of carrying out acts of violence against police officers, culminating in two attacks that rocked the law enforcement community last year.

The first of these, in February 2008, saw Avenues gang members opening fire with handguns and an AK-47 on Los Angeles police officers. Police shot back, killing 20-year-old Daniel Leon and injuring another man.

Then on Aug. 2, 2008, off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Juan Escalante was shot dead in front of his parents' home in the Cypress Park neighborhood northeast of downtown.

Even before the killing, authorities were investigating the Avenues, but Escalante's death increased the urgency of the operation. Earlier this year, police charged three men in his death and a fourth suspect remains at large.

Members of the largely Hispanic gang would also spray paint racist threats around neighborhoods to intimidate black people, according to prosecutors.

"This indictment attacks a criminal organization that has terrorized a community for generations," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Brunwin, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Officers in full body armor were seen at dawn Tuesday at a blocked-off staging area at the Dodger Stadium parking lot, where suspects, almost all of them men with shaved heads, were being processed at a portable booking area as media helicopters hovered overhead.

Most appeared calm as they waited to sign paperwork and be placed in a jail van.