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.
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.
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.