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
"Oh, yeah. Man, I don't even know his first name."
After learning of the interview, his attorney, Michael Adelson, admonished him for speaking to a reporter and sought a protective order to prevent reporters from interviewing his client. Judge Pounders said he did not have the authority to tell the media they cannot request interviews, but suggested to Velasquez that it might not be in his best interests to grant them.
Although the District Attorney's Office has not announced it is seeking the death penalty, Velasquez could receive it if found guilty because of the special circumstances of the case. A section of California Penal Code 190 allows for the death sentence if "the defendant intentionally killed the victim while the defendant was an active participant in a criminal street gang ... and the murder was carried out to further the activities of the criminal street gang."
The irony is that while some prisoners and hard-core gang members might look up to the Avenues for causing a young deputy sheriff's death, the after-effects of murdering Escalante dealt a debilitating blow to the Avenues gang on the streets — particularly to its most infamous criminal cell, Drew Street.
The Weekly's October 2009 cover story, "The Assassination of Deputy Abel Escalante," described how a huge June 2008 police raid before the deputy's slaying badly damaged the Avenues gang and Mexican Mafia in the Cypress Park and Drew Street area. In reaction, Mexican Mafia prison thugs who control Latino-gang drug trafficking tried to rebuild their operations.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, using illegal cell phones and passing messages during prison visitations, the Mexican Mafia put out word from prison that they were taking back Cypress Park. Police say they chose Carlos Velasquez, who was being released from prison in a few days, to step into the shoes of the wiped-out Leon family of Drew Street.
But now, Velasquez sits in jail. More than 170 members of the Avenues, which authorities say has around 500 members, have been arrested since 2008. Many of the 170 have since been released from jail, but their power is diluted.
Homicides in LAPD's Northeast Division, which covers the Avenues territory, have plummeted 74 percent in two years. So far in 2010, the area has seen six homicides — compared with 23 for the same period in 2008. Aggravated assaults have dropped 45 percent from 509 to 278.
Much of that, police believe, is because the Avenues gang has been driven from residential streets longing for quiet and decency.
Velasquez says he is not particularly worried about returning to prison — perhaps because he'll have a special status on the yard.
A former Drew Street shot-caller now in federal custody explained to the Weekly what it might be like: "Once you are in state prison, they talk about why you are here," says convict Francisco Real. "I'm here for killing an enemy. And it's like I'm in here for killing a cop. So it's like people [are] like, 'Damn, he's with it. You know. He'll kill a cop.'
"In the yard — 1,000 people — you might be the only one killed a cop. It distinguishes you."
Deputy D.A. Stirling agrees with that cold reality. "The fact that he killed a police officer absolutely distinguishes Carlos Velasquez from other killers."
But on Drew Street, the shadow long cast by this menacing gang has all but vanished. The graffiti is gone, too.
"It's quiet now," says Jose Luna, an apartment manager in the area. "The neighbors are working with the police now. The LAPD is doing good."
Two blocks from where Escalante fell, at the Principe de Paz Church that Escalante's parents often attend, the pastor says the difference between now and two years ago is almost unbelievable.
"We had memorial services for 13 people, including Abel," says Pastor Andrew Catalan. His was the 13th service. "Since Abel, we have not had any. I think his death helped stop the killings."
Escalante's parents live less than 50 feet from where he died. It is still too painful for them to speak about their son. "I can't talk about him," says his father. His wife is behind him, just off to his side. She is slowly shaking her head.
They both put their right hands over their hearts, tap three times, thank a stranger for not pushing it and walk inside their home.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city