Shocking Westside Shootings Were Gang-Related, Cops Say

Shocking Westside Shootings Were Gang-Related, Cops Say
File photo by Chris Yarzab/Flickr

Shootings that shocked the Westside last week were gang-related, police said today.

Over the weekend authorities announced that 35-year-old James Pickens of Inglewood was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the first attack on Thursday, which took place at Woodbine Park in the Palms neighborhood.

Pickens was picked up by Los Angeles Police Department Olympic Division officers, according to L.A. Sheriff's Department inmate records. That division patrols Koreatown and some Mid-City neighborhoods. He also has two other arrests, both in Inglewood, listed in the sheriff's database.

The 3 p.m. attack saw three people shot, one fatally, police said. One of the victims fled from the park and then collapsed a few blocks away, causing authorities to create a second crime scene, police officials told us.

A Los Angeles Police Department detective said that violence was gang-related. The gang that claims that area is called West Side Locos, but the detective would not confirm if that group was a victim of the violence.

"It is gang-related," he said. "But we're not sure whether gang rivalry was a motive or not."

The investigator said that while the suspected attacker is black and the victims were mostly Latino but included at least one African-American, it's not clear if a racial street rivalry was at play.

"There are multiple Latino and African-American parties to it," the detective said. 

The victim who didn't make it, 27-year-old Justin Aguilar, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police initially told us that this wasn't a "drive-by" shooting. A light-colored SUV wanted in connection with the attack was found by the Gang Narcotics Division Friday, police said. That vehicle appeared to be connected to the suspect, the detective we spoke to indicated.

The second shooting was reported 20 minutes later at National Boulevard and Overland Avenue in Westside Village, police said. Apparently, as sirens were raging and a helicopter circled just blocks away, someone thought it was the right time to open fire at a 7-Eleven-anchored strip mall near million-dollar-plus homes.

Two male victims were hit and then hospitalized with what cops called "non-life-threatening" wounds.

Police appeared to initially believe that a suspect in a white SUV was responsible for sequential attacks in the same area, but now investigators believe they were separate attacks, both gang-related.

An LAPD Pacific Division gang official did not deny that the victims in the Overland attack were affiliated with the Sotel gang, which calls the Sawtelle Japantown community to the northwest its main home.

In that second shooting, the official said, "We have new leads that look promising."

Pickens was being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Anyone with information on the attacks should call 877-527-3247.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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