By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The city does in fact still hold a few cards: A court injunction, in place until 2010, requires the owners of the property to sell it only to non-gang members. In addition, many of the Leons, including 44-year-old Maria, are banned from even approaching their old headquarters. And city-code inspectors have found the home uninhabitable and ordered it brought up to code before anyone can move in. Moreover, the city's Building and Safety department has scheduled an April 8 hearing to discuss its request that the house be demolished.
But with word sweeping through the embattled neighborhood that the $85,000 penalty has been paid, many fear the house will soon be open for business. "Did you hear?" says another officer who refused to be named. "Three years of investigation. What a waste."
THE COMMUNITY POLICE ADVISORY BOARD for the city's northeast area meets in a classroomlike setting at the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Station — a safe meeting locale for jumpy residents. Thirty minutes into the meeting and five days after the shootout, Captain Jose Perez tells the roughly 40 or so neighbors that Rafael "Stomper" Carrillo — who allegedly drove one of the two getaway cars after February's shooting rampage — has just been nabbed by police in the San Fernando Valley.
Unabashed cheering breaks out among the working-class residents, from a mix of white and Latino households with a sprinkling of blacks.
Carrillo — an alleged drug dealer on Drew Street — vanished after he and a carload of Avenues gang members allegedly exchanged gunfire with LAPD gang officers in the shootout that ended the life of Danny Leon, shutting down blocks of residential streets and a grade school while cops tracked the shooters. Local residents have been sweating it out ever since.
Despite the open cheering of the police on this night, the Leon family legacy has created plenty of blow-back for the cops — blow-back that one day could migrate up the food chain to Los Angeles City Hall, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.
Residents want to know: Why can't they clean out overt crime from this tiny spot of real estate?
Some neighbors loudly criticized the way the police department handled the lockdown and evacuations following the shootout. Parents were furious that their kids were locked down for eight hours in nearby schools. Some neighbors were angry that they were roused from their homes and not allowed to return for hours.
"It was a huge mess," says one officer matter-of-factly about resident complaints. "Where are you going to put us up tonight? Who is going to pay for our McDonald's? After eight hours of getting that, it got old. People were understandably upset. We are not perfect."
The LAPD officer who didn't want to be identified tells the Weekly that one resident quickly accused police of planting the huge AK-47 on Leon — not exactly the weapon of choice for hidden "throw down" weapons that corrupt cops toss into crime scenes. "Did we plant the facemask too?" the bewildered cop says, shaking his head in frustration. The Leon family will "probably file a lawsuit," he adds bitterly.
On the blog Topix.com, "anonymous" writes: "wats up with the cops shooting someone in the head. well i live there and thats wat happened and they still haven't picked up his body. theres no respect from the cops or from the gang. wheres the love."
On MySpace.com, one profile depicts a menacing skull with demon eyes that calls for death to the LAPD — citing the police code for murder, "187," against the "Pigz."
TELL-TALE TENNIS SHOES HANGfrom power lines above Drew Street, letting customers know that drug dealers are present and open for business. Tall, wrought-iron fences surround the mostly stucco single-family homes and dense apartment buildings, but they don't keep the bad elements out — or in.
The area is isolated by the Glendale Freeway to the southeast, and by Forest Lawn cemetery to the north and west. A hillside runs perpendicular to Drew Street, upon which multistory apartments with signs desolately touting "luxury townhouses" provide local criminals with excellent high ground — lookouts from which they can easily spot incoming police cars. Two apartment buildings on Drew Street are known as "Twin Towers" — named after the two multistory buildings at the Los Angeles County Jail — because they harbor so many convicted felons and convicted and suspected drug dealers.
Drew Street is a testament to city planning gone bad, home to more than 8,000 residents who mostly live in more than 1,500 apartment units the city allowed developers to cram into the area during the 1970s, wiping out a quiet single-family enclave. The residents are a mix of illegal immigrants and second-generation Mexican immigrants, elderly Filipinos and a few white and black families. Housing is definitely "affordable": a one-bedroom costs about $750 per month; a two bedroom, $950.
It's a dumping ground for stolen vehicles, a well-known drug bazaar — and a tough place to try to be a good citizen. Graffiti covers the sidewalks, the curbs, the streets, the apartment buildings — even the neglected trees. "I had to paint the back of my building four times in the last year-and-a-half," says apartment owner Eduardo Garcia — a rare resident willing to give his name. "I had to paint the front twice ... I can't have managers do it because [local thugs] will threaten him and tell him they will kill him."