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Local police see resurgence in gang activity

In the wake of a gang-related murder in September, the number of gang members and associates known to police has soared.

Medford police report they have identified about 100 people with some affiliation to gangs, up from 55 last spring.

Although the list includes white supremacists, outlaw motorcycle gangs and a few Crips, the surge in growth has come in Hispanic street gangs, Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said. Most active here are Norteños and Sureños, which have roots in the California prison system, and subsets of those two gangs.

While intense investigations and crackdowns by police have helped authorities learn more about existing gang activity and build the list, gangs are growing, Doney said.

He described gang activity in the Rogue Valley since the early 1990s as "like the tide," ebbing and surging over time.

"Gang activity is still big-time on our radar," Doney said.

Representatives from the Medford and Central Point police departments and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Community Justice, the Commission on Children and Families and the District Attorney's Office have met to discuss and coordinate enforcement efforts, he said. Gang activity and ways to prevent it are common topics at monthly meetings between Medford police and school officials.

"We recognize that this is bigger than law enforcement," Doney said, calling for community intervention before kids get involved in trouble.

"We're currently working with schools, nonprofits and local churches to address some of the issues related to the explosive growth of gangs in recent months since the stabbing," he said.

Although planning still is in the early stages, the police department's Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team has started work with the Medford School District, Kids Unlimited, the YMCA, Youth for Christ, Mediation Works and the Catholic church in an effort to build a broad coalition that can tackle gang prevention and intervention. Doney said a meeting of possible partners should happen within a month.

Right now, police are keeping a close watch on a cluster of young men who were peripherally involved in the fatal fight at a Beatty Street apartment complex Sept. 15 and now are being released from jail.

Although prosecutors repeatedly have said all the direct participants in the clash that left 24-year-old Marco Diaz dead face serious consequences, other young men who were present at the time or who returned the next day in an attempt to incite further violence are back on the street.

Omar Quinonez-Aispuro, 24, who grew up in White City but now lists a Minden, Nev., address, was released from jail Friday.

He had entered a guilty plea Nov. 9 in Jackson County Circuit Court to a charge of disorderly conduct filed against him for going to the Beatty Street apartment Sept. 16. Police said a group of young men smashed the windows of a parked car and fled when officers arrived. A riot charge from that night was dropped.

Quinonez-Aispuro was one of six men arrested that night in a fleeing Ford Explorer. While he was in jail, police also filed charges related to drug possession and attempts to elude police. He pleaded guilty to attempting to elude police on foot and in a car. He completed his full sentence of 55 days in jail on Friday.

On Oct. 29, Zenaido Quinonez-Aispuro, 20, of the 8200 block of 23rd Street, White City, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for the Sept. 16 incident, and had a riot charge dropped. He also was arrested in the Ford Explorer. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and, with credit for time served, was released the day he entered his plea.

Another of those in the Explorer, Ramon Guadalupe Rodriguez, 20, of Coos Bay, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Oct. 30 and had a riot charge dropped. He was sentenced to the 44 days he already had spent in jail and released.

Filiberto Molina Cazares, 18, no address listed, also was arrested on Sept. 16 in the Explorer. He has pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance on Nov. 3. A preliminary hearing is set for Monday.

Jose Salvador Banuelos-Mercado, 20, of the 2400 block of Beall Lane, Central Point, was arrested Sept. 16 in the Explorer and had been at the fatal fight the night before, investigators said. He pleaded guilty Nov. 4 to two riot charges and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Jackson County Jail records indicate he will be released Dec. 1.

The final person arrested in the Explorer, 18-year-old Sergio Meza, of the 100 block of Dehague Street, Medford, faces first- and second-degree assault charges for allegedly stabbing and slashing two people during the Sept. 15 fight. Both those victims — Lucas Molina and Guibran Ramirez — recovered and are in jail facing felony assault charges, too.

Martin Rodriquez-Banuelos, 18, of the 8200 block of Kimberly Court, White City, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Oct. 29 and had a riot charge dropped. Investigators said he was part of the group that went to the apartment complex Sept. 16, but he wasn't arrested until late September. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, given credit for time served and released.

Court records show that Omar Salas Ibarra, 20, of the 3200 block of Antelope Road, White City, accompanied Rodriquez-Banuelos on Sept. 16 and also was arrested in late September. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Oct. 30 and had a riot charge dropped. Jail records show he is set to be released Dec. 31.

Dustin Michael Freeman, 21, of the 1400 block of Spring Street, Medford, pleaded guilty Oct. 19 to disorderly conduct for being at the scene of the Sept. 15 fight. A riot charge from that night was dropped, as were disorderly charges linked to him for threatening people and claiming gang affiliation while watching a wildfire burning on the outskirts of town Sept. 21. With credit for time served, he was released.

Police said they have had further contact with some of these people since they were released from jail and fear that more violence could erupt.

However, Doney noted that increased enforcement and community awareness had helped stem gang activity in the mid-1990s.

Although gangs are resurging now, he pointed out that of the roughly 87,000 calls for service that Medford police respond to annually, few are gang-related. The ones that are, though, tend to be particularly violent and shocking, he said.

"When a person is dead, it's gotten as bad as it can get," he said. "There has to be intervention to keep kids from coming in contact with police or the medical examiner."

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