Police believe the arrest of a known Norteño gang member on several attempted murder charges might quiet escalating gang activity.
Toby Alexander Martinez, 22, was being held Thursday on more than $13 million bail in the Jackson County Jail on six counts each of attempted murder and attempted first-degree assault, as well as charges of second-degree assault, attempt to elude, and various warrants stemming from attempts to elude police, reckless driving and reckless endangerment.
He is accused of firing at groups of rival gang members in two separate shootings last month.
A 16-year-old believed to be involved in the shooting was also being held in the Jackson County Community Justice Juvenile Center on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, first-degree theft, and possession and distribution of a controlled substance.
"Hopefully these arrests will calm things back down," said. Lt. Mike Budreau. "It sends a significant statement to the gang population out there."
Martinez was the alleged target in a gang shooting last year, but wasn't injured.
Medford police said the first of two shootings Martinez was involved in took place at about 5 p.m. March 8 in the 1500 block of Bryant Street. Witnesses reported a Honda sedan occupied by five or six young Latino men dressed in red clothing pulled up near a home. The men, believed to be part of the Norteños gang, confronted several other Latino males — believed to be part of the rival Sureños gang, police said. Investigators said Martinez fired a .22-caliber handgun at the group. No one was hit, but the group scattered and fled.
At 1 a.m. the next day, five Sureños gang members were walking on Chestnut Street when a red Saturn Vue pulled up alongside them, police said. Some of the same Norteños from the earlier shooting were inside. Martinez allegedly fired six or seven times into the group, striking one person in the arm. The victim did not seek medical treatment for the injury, police said. The type of gun used in the second shooting is not known.
Investigators from Medford police and the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement — MADGE — team tracked the 16-year-old to an apartment in the 2500 block of Table Rock Road. During a search of his home March 15, detectives found a WASR 7.62 assault weapon reported stolen in Washington County. Three handguns and two types of painkillers he didn't have prescriptions for also were found. He was arrested and lodged in the Jackson County Community Justice Juvenile Center.
By this time, police had identified Martinez as the shooter. On the afternoon of March 15, police tried to stop a black Mercedes sedan that he was driving near Bursell Road and Beall Lane. He sped away and officers couldn't catch him.
"Since then we think (he'd) been trying to lay low to avoid police detection," Budreau said.
On Wednesday, officers from the Medford police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department tracked Martinez to a home in the 5800 block of Table Rock Road. Martinez ran when police saw him, but was arrested after a short foot pursuit.
Budreau said gang investigations are difficult because the subculture adheres strongly to a strategy of clamming up when dealing with police.
"Even the intended victims don't want to talk to us," Budreau said. "Unfortunately, they believe they can handle things on the street, which leads to more violence."
The gangs can go for weeks without causing trouble in the city, but then suddenly a flurry of fights, shootings and stabbings occur over beefs that have accumulated over time, Budreau said.
"Sometimes when they are too quiet, that's when we start to worry that something's about to happen," he said.
In all, the department has documented 329 active gang members in Medford. Of those, 164 are Sureños and 76 are Norteños.
"We have a few other people in gangs, but the bulk of them belong to one of these two groups," Budreau said.
The goal is to send Martinez to prison for a long time for his alleged crimes, Budreau said.
"We want to get people like him off the street because they are a danger to everyone," he said.
Tough enforcement is but one piece of the gang puzzle, says Phil Ortega, who is a safe-schools coordinator for the Eagle Point School District.
"The mission of the police is enforcement and my mission is prevention," Ortega said.
He said he believes youths join gangs because they have no strong role models in their lives. Gangs fill the need to belong and be a part of something larger than themselves, Ortega said.
"These kids have needs that are not being met," Ortega said. "These people who introduce the kids to gangs become their mentors, and unfortunate mentors because they lead them to trouble."
Ortega works with juvenile crews who travel the area removing gang graffiti. He says it is helpful to instill a sense of pride and responsibility in the youths before they become too caught up in the gang lifestyle.
"Gangs are not just a police problem, or a schools problem, they are a community problem," he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.