Alleged Avenues Gangsters Plead Not Guilty to Cop Killing


Two alleged Avenues gangsters pleaded not guilty in downtown Los Angeles today to capital murder charges stemming from the August 2 shooting of a 27-year-old Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy as he was preparing to go to work at the Men's Central Jail. Juan Escalante was shot from behind about five times

in the head and upper body in the early morning with a .40-caliber pistol, outside his

boyhood home in the 3400 block of Thorpe Street in Cypress Park. The LAPD

allege that two men connected with the Drew Street clique of Highland

Park's Avenues gang are responsible for the murder.

The murder charges against 24-year-old Carlos "Stoney" Velazquez and Guillermo "Pee Wee" Hernandez, 20, include the special-circumstance allegation that both were members of a "criminal street gang" and that the murder of Escalante was carried out to "further the activities of the [Avenues] criminal street gang.'' Velasquez is also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. No word yet on whether the D.A. will seek the death penalty.


L.A. Weekly reported

last month that the two men have close ties to a particularly violent

clique of the Avenues that for years has battled with local and federal

authorities, and that Velasquez belonged to an extended family of criminals, presided over by a middle-aged matriarch.

The

two men were picked up on December 12 after a joint four-month

investigation that involved nearly 100 officers and detectives from the

LAPD, Sheriffs Department and the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug

Trafficking Areas unit.

It is still unclear

whether Escalante, a former U.S. Army reservist, was targeted because

of his work in a particularly dangerous jail unit -- which put him in

contact with Avenues gangsters and Mexican Mafia members who, from

behind bars, rule the streets of Cypress Park, Highland Park and

Glassell Park -- or if it was a simple case of mistaken identity.

Both

men are being held without bail and are scheduled back in court

February 9 for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough

evidence to stand trial.


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