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Increased violence puts gang presence on radar

A street fight in Medford and a clash at a party in White City on New Year's Day has police concerned about escalating gang violence in the Rogue Valley.

Medford police said they have seen rising tensions between people associated with Norteños and Sureños, Hispanic gangs with roots in the California prison system.

"It's certainly concerning to us," Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said. "We hope to get this stopped before someone gets killed."

At about 1:40 p.m. on New Year's Day, employees of Rapid Repo and Collections flagged down a Medford police officer to report that they had stopped to intervene in a large fight at Fourth Street and Columbus Avenue, Doney said.

About half a dozen young men had clashed in the area after insults were exchanged between a young man on a bike and a group of people passing by in a car. The posturing turned into physical violence, and ultimately someone in the car showed a gun and someone else smashed the car's windows with a metal pipe, Doney said.

When the Rapid Repo employees stopped, the car fled and several people ran away, but the repo team detained two people, police said. Mercy Flights paramedics treated them for cuts and scrapes. A 17-year-old boy and a 22-year-old man were cited and released on charges of disorderly conduct.

A witness told police which direction the car had gone, and officers found it parked in the 500 block of Plum Street, near Union Park. They went to a house there, talked with the residents and found a Central Point man hiding in the attic. Officers used pepper spray to flush Saul Randy Rodriguez, 21, of the 5700 block of Drake Avenue, Central Point, from hiding, then lodged him in jail on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Police continue to look for others involved in this fight and a growing string of trouble that investigators trace back to people associated with gangs.

"We have been dedicating resources to this," Doney said. "We have zero tolerance. If there is something we can charge them with to get them into the system, we will."

Doney said that detectives, the department's gang and street drug unit, and school resource officers have seen an increase in gang-related problems in recent months. Problems have escalated from graffiti and fist fights to more serious assaults and stabbings among gang members, Doney said.

He said those with gang links include Rogue Valley residents and their friends and family who visit from the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere in California.

A citywide graffiti war has marked walls, construction sites and other surfaces, police said.

The Norteños name appears with a 14 because "N" is the fourteenth letter in the alphabet and often appears as "X4" when spray painted on a wall.

The Sureño name is linked with the number 13, for the letter M, chosen for their association with the Maravilla street gang from East Los Angeles and the so-called Mexican Mafia, and they often tag "X3" here.

The posturing escalated to fist fights, then the frequency and violence of the assaults increased in the past month, although only some of the attacks were reported to police, Doney said.

"The mentality of these teens and young adults is that they want to take care of their own business," he said.

Medford police are still investigating a Dec. 12 knife attack near Union Park that left a 15-year-old boy with cuts and minor stab wounds. Detectives are finding little cooperation from the victim in what is believed to be a "gang-on-gang stabbing," Doney said.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department is also investigating a stabbing and is working with Medford investigators on possible connections to gang activity, Detective Lt. Rich Fogarty said.

That stabbing, which happened at a party on Antelope Road early on Jan. 1, was reported at Providence Medford Medical Center.

Fogarty said deputies were called to a fight involving numerous people at 12:14 a.m. New Year's Day in the 3200 block of Antelope Road, White City. A deputy saw a vehicle speed away and gave chase, but lost the car. It was later found abandoned in a field near Highbanks and Newland roads in the Central Point area and impounded as evidence.

At the house party scene, witnesses told deputies that two carloads of young men drove up, got out of their cars and assaulted partygoers with broken bottles and other objects. Some of the people present at the party tried to defend themselves and told the interlopers that they had called police, prompting the men to leave, Fogarty said.

Some time later, hospital officials called authorities to report a 23-year-old Hispanic man was seeking treatment for stab wounds. The victim and witnesses from the party are unable or unwilling to identify the suspect, Fogarty said. Investigators suspect that this incident may be related to previous clashes that happened in the city of Medford, however they declined to say if the attacks were directly related as retribution.

"We believe that they all know one another," Doney said.

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