Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station detectives’ efforts to solve another shooting with a teenage suspect is part of an escalating rivalry between gangs fighting over turf in Canyon Country and Newhall, according to investigators’ sworn statements.
Evidence submitted in courthouse records describes “intimidation tactics,” graffiti and violence that followed a double murder in March that’s part of a years-long fight between two gangs.
Investigators are remaining tightlipped about the status of their work and any possible connections the juveniles might have because at least one of the recent shootings — the deaths of Brian Chevez, 25, and Cameron Stokes, 16, at The Villages Apartment on March 18 — is part of a pending murder trial.
But much of the ramp-up discussed by detectives is described in statements from witnesses and corroborated by evidence found in the social media accounts of documented local gang members who speak in codes but also share pictures of themselves holding their firearms.
The court records also share insights into the work that led to arrests within hours of the murders back in March.
The suspects in the Chevez and Stokes murder include Anthony Ernesto Martinez Ortiz, who’s facing two counts of murder and due back in court Jan. 8, and a juvenile whom the L.A. County District Attorney’s office declined to identify. Martinez Ortiz, 18, was arrested the same day as the shooting. He’s being held without bail at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
The DA’s office declined to release any information regarding any possible charges presented against the juvenile suspect in the murders.
Courthouse filings from December discuss several recent incidents involving the two rival gangs, which The Signal is choosing not to name at the request of law enforcement officials. They have repeatedly stated identifying the gangs by name acts as a recruitment tool and encourages further crime.
Detectives believe one of the more recent shootings in Santa Clarita, a Sept. 30 incident in the 24900 block of Newhall Avenue, involves a 15-year-old suspected gang member who walked up to a group outside an apartment complex around 11:42 p.m. and, after exchanging words, fired multiple rounds, according to court documents.
In that incident, a man who was struck twice by gunfire was driven to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital by his friends and ultimately survived.
Court reports stated the detectives already had a photo of the teen they believe is their suspect, indicating he was known to local law enforcement. Detectives arrested a suspect in November, but the DA’s office said as of Thursday no case had been presented.
Ten days prior, deputies received a report of violence in the same neighborhood: a person was shot in Newhall in the early morning hours of Sept. 20 and dropped off at a local hospital due to their injuries, according to SCV Sheriff’s Station officials.
An SCV Sheriff’s Station official said that, prior to learning about the person being taken to the hospital, the station received several calls around 12:45 a.m. Sept. 20, reporting gunfire near 14th and Walnut streets in Newhall.
Battles count another fatality
In between the March murders and September’s attempted murders, there were two shootings involving gang members on July 4, according to detectives: During deputies’ investigation of a shooting with two victims in Canyon Country that evening, they caught up to two suspects across town.
Following the first shooting of that night on Fahren Court in Canyon Country, the suspects were reportedly seen in Newhall, according to homicide investigators. After a traffic stop, one of the suspects ran from the car and ultimately was shot and killed by station deputies during a foot pursuit, according to Homicide Bureau Lt. Art Spencer shortly after the incident. Deputies said they recovered a gun that belonged to one of the suspects at the scene of the shooting.
In connection with the Canyon Country shooting, which was not fatal, Angel Aguero, 19, and Jaime Gutierrez, 33, were arrested the following day. Each faces one count of attempted murder and they are both being held without bail at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic. They’re due back in court in February.
Neither has faced a preliminary hearing, a date when the evidence is presented, and a judge decides whether there’s enough for a trial.
The deputy-involved shooting is also under investigation by the DA’s office, which “conducts reviews of the evidence in most officer-involved shootings in the county,” according to its website. “If an officer’s use of force is determined to be within the law, a detailed memorandum is prepared.”
Guns and posts
The Sheriff’s Department’s High Tech Task Force provides crucial bits of evidence for investigators, some of which can be seen on social media, showing the “ramp-up” detectives detail in statements to the court.
It begins shortly after the March 18 shooting:
Detectives tracked down a March 20 post on social media with a juvenile gang member flashing multiple firearms, the court records stated.
An inventory of evidence found during the search of a juvenile suspect for a Sand Canyon incident reflected the age and the seriousness of the allegations: Detectives reported retrieving a 9 mm handgun, a .40-caliber handgun and a general science school workbook.
Detectives believe Covey, 24, and another juvenile were part of an incident in which a firearm was brandished at a 7-Eleven on March 24. Detectives stated he and another teen were trying to intimidate another Hispanic man who denied being a gang member two separate times during the confrontation, according to court records.
In April and May, a Hart High School student allegedly is seen showing off a black semi-automatic handgun in a selfie taken in what appears to be a train bathroom, according to court documents, and then broadcasting a video of himself pointing a weapon at the camera.
On May 3, station deputies responded to a noninjury shooting near downtown Newhall after multiple witnesses reported gunshots being fired from a silver sedan and a report that a vehicle was struck.
Later that month, the same juvenile observed on social media was arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm.
Two weeks before the July 4 shooting, two other underage gang members posted pictures of themselves posing with firearms, according to investigators.
Shootings in Sand Canyon
A Homicide Bureau official this week also dismissed rumors that continued to linger around a Nov. 6 shooting death that happened in a remote part of Sand Canyon.
Detectives wrapped up their investigation this week and submitted their report of the incident to the District Attorney’s Office. Lt. Arturo Spencer described the incident as a fatal shooting that occurred as the result of a negligent discharge, adding any charges would be a decision now in the hands of the DA’s office.
The death of 12-year-old Willians Lemus Ayala, who was found by the side of the road on a remote stretch of Sand Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest, was initially being investigated for any potential connections to local gang activity.
It’s the second incident of a “negligent discharge” involving children in that same area, according to detectives.
And it’s not the first time they heard about a shooting in that area that was not as it first seemed, or as they were told.
Investigative records at the Santa Clarita Courthouse detailed how a pair of teens were playing with a gun in the Angeles National Forest on July 16, when the gun went off and a 14-year-old ended up trying to drive his also-14-year-old friend to the hospital.
At some point during the drive, the pain became too much, and someone called 911, resulting in law enforcement and paramedics catching up with the car and taking the pair to Henry Mayo.
Initially, the incident was reported as two teens who were shot at while parked near the In-N-Out.
After confronting the two over the inconsistencies in the teens’ stories, investigators learned one of the 14-year-olds removed the magazine from the firearm and pulled back the slide, according to court documents. Investigators believe the subject then released the slide with his finger on the trigger, resulting in a discharge that struck the victim.
The court record also reported detectives later obtained social media evidence of one of the teens wielding the gun believed to have been used in the July shooting.
In the second shooting, detectives said they ultimately were able to find another juvenile who said he was with Ayala at the time of the shooting and indicated the discharge was an accident.
Spencer said he did not want to detail the circumstances in the November shooting, which was in the same part of Sand Canyon as the July incident was, until the DA’s office made its determination on any possible charges.