Violence linked to gangs increases

A man beaten as he ate with his family at Rogue Valley Mall is the latest victim

Three teenagers suspected of being affiliated with a Sureños gang offshoot called RAW were arrested on assault charges stemming from an attack on an Ashland man at the Rogue Valley Mall food court Saturday.

The attack, which one of the suspects told investigators was sparked because the teens didn't like the way the man looked at them, was the third assault in recent weeks that Medford police have linked to possible gang activity.

"We are seeing a spike in gang activity, but we don't think it will continue because we are arresting the suspects," Medford police Detective Sgt. Mike Budreau said. "We think quick enforcement action will stop it."

Two 17-year-old boys and a 15-year-old boy were arrested on third-degree assault and disorderly conduct charges and lodged in the Jackson County juvenile detention center after the incident at the mall, police said.

The 29-year-old Ashland man reported that he was eating at the food court with his wife and child when three boys wearing blue bandanas approached him, asked him what was up and made a hand gesture. He said they began hitting him until mall security intervened and called police at about 1:45 p.m. Saturday.

Security officers detained the 15-year-old boy until police arrived to arrest him, but the two older boys fled. Officers caught up with one of the 17-year-olds on Court Street, near Ohio Street. Witnesses pointed out the second 17-year-old later on East Jackson Street near Bartlett Street, and he was arrested, too.

Investigators have linked the three teens with a Sureños gang offshoot called RAW, an acronym for Ready and Willing, Budreau said.

Sureños gang members and RAW associates in particular are suspected in an upsurge in assaults that started in late March, he said. Typically, groups of gang members target a suspected rival when he is alone, Budreau said. Attacks by groups of people garner third-degree assault charges.

"Gangs are always rivals and it starts a back-and-forth where they try to one-up one another," Budreau said, noting that police saw a similar pattern of escalating violence in early 2008 with fights, stabbings and finally a drive-by shooting in which no one was injured.

At about 9:45 p.m. March 22, a 21-year-old Medford man was attacked by at least four men who hit him with their fists and with metal bars or bats, police said. The victim, who police suspect might have connections to a Norteños gang, had his jaw broken and was treated at Providence Medford Medical Center, Budreau said.

Police have arrested three men in connection with that assault and all are suspected of being affiliated with RAW. Demetrio Hernandez, 24, was arrested April 3 on two counts of third-degree assault and one second-degree assault charge and remains lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $500,000 bail. Juvenal Adan Vega, 23, was arrested April 3 on two counts of third-degree assault and one second-degree assault charge and remains in jail on $500,000 bail. Ramon Guadalupe Rodriguez, 19, was arrested April 8 on charges of second- and third-degree assault, and he, too remains in jail on $500,000 bail.

Police are looking for another suspect, Orlando James Chavez, 24.

"Citizens and victims are getting involved and we are arresting and prosecuting suspects," Budreau said.

Another suspected gang-related fight was reported at about 8:20 p.m. April 7 at Winco, 251 E. Barnett Road, Medford. All the people involved in the fight left before police arrived, but officers were summoned to Rogue Valley Medical Center where a 16-year-old boy was being treated for injuries he received in the fight. The teen told authorities that rival gang members confronted him, then attacked him as he left the store. The suspects are alleged to be Sureños. The case remains under investigation, police said.

"It's important that we don't have a tolerance for this," Budreau said.

Medford police track increased gang activity through the number of calls they receive that could be gang-related. While they consider this the best indicator, they also document suspected gang members using Department of Justice criteria. Jackson County's list now includes 55 documented gang members, including members of Norteños and Sureños, which are two Hispanic gangs with roots in the California prison system, as well as Crips and Juggalos.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.


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