A massive raid targeting powerful gang leaders resulted in 37 arrests in the Salinas area today, Attorney General Jerry Brown announced this afternoon.A coalition of more than 200 federal, state, and local law enforcement agents served some 44 state and federal search and arrest warrants about 7 a.m., according to Brown’s office. By 1 p.m., the officers had arrested 37 members of the Nortenos and Surenos gangs suspected of more than three-dozen murders and 200 shootings in Salinas and nearby areas.Agents also seized 40 pounds of cocaine, 14 pounds of marijuana, nine ounces of methamphetamine, $34,000 in cash, and 12 guns. The raids were organized and conducted by agents from Brown’s Gang Suppression Enforcement Program, part of the state Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the outcome of “Operation Knockout,” which focused on Salinas but also targeted other parts of Monterey County and areas of San Jose, at a news conference in Salinas this afternoon. Brown also announced the formation of a regional task force to maintain the suppression of gangs in the area. The Monterey County Narcotic and Violence Task Force will be overseen by the California Department of Justice and will include the California Highway Patrol, Marina Police Department, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Monterey Police Department, Salinas Police Department and Seaside Police Department. “We have to take a very intelligent, very sustained, very tough approach,” Brown said. “These are some serious shot callers who have caused the devastation.”Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf said today’s effort was the result of a historic summit held in August 2009 addressing gang violence in the area.Addressing the gang members, Fetherolf said, “Welcome to day one of Judgment Day. Our combined efforts are going to continue long after this press conference is over.”Today’s sweep is the culmination of an eight-month investigation targeting members of the Nortenos and Surenos gangs that contributed to increased gang violence in Salinas and terrorized its residents, Brown said. Before today’s raid, the investigation netted an additional 57 arrests. In 2008 and 2009, the city recorded 55 homicides and only two of those homicides were unrelated to gang violence. During those years, there were more than 200 reported shootings related to gang violence.On March 23, 6-year-old Azahel Cruz was fatally shot by a stray bullet as he played in his backyard in the 1000 block of East Laurel Drive. Police say it was likely gang members who fired the shot that struck Cruz. On April 17, a 10-year-old girl was shot when a stray bullet hit her in the leg while she was walking along Roosevelt Street with her mother.The Nortenos and Surenos are two of Monterey County’s largest gangs and major distributors of powder cocaine, rock cocaine, and crystal methamphetamine throughout the county, according to Brown’s office. Their members are suspected in dozens of homicides and shootings. Beginning in August 2009, Brown’s gang suppression agents collaborated with the Salinas Police Department to identify the key gang leaders. During the investigation, agents found that most of the violence stemmed from a conflict between the Nortenos and Surenos over turf dominance and control of illegal drug trafficking. Agents also identified a large cocaine and methamphetamine distribution group supplied by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations and controlled by Nortenos gang members operating in Salinas, Brown’s office said. Law enforcement agencies that assisted with today’s operation included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; California Highway Patrol; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Monterey County District Attorney’s Office; Monterey County Sheriff’s Department; Salinas Police Department; United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
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