IMAGE IS EVERYTHING

FRIENDS OF A MURDER VICTIM SAY POLICE LABELED THEM AS GANG MEMBERS--AND IGNORED OPPORTUNITIES TO CAPTURE THE KILLER

"They come in here, and all of a sudden, they see color. Oh--well, black bandanna, blue bandanna. You know, brown skin. We don't see that. I don't understand--are they conditioned to do that? We were really angry. Because we weren't expecting that. We weren't heard. We weren't listened to. We were taken for granted. I told the officers: Look, I work with kids--what do you mean, what gang am I from? Josie was dressed in jeans and--just like Betty, jeans and a blouse. And she goes, excuse me, officer, but could you tell me if I'm wearing the wrong color or something? I don't understand--how dare you insinuate I'm from a gang. And she's a Head Start teacher. She couldn't believe it. She said she's heard about cases like this, but she never would have believed it."

People say the Wedgewood neighborhood was fairly quiet until a few years ago, when the elderly folks and young families with little kids started moving away. The people that took their place tended to be a little more rowdy, loud music at night, thumping car stereos and so on. John Loredo, a friend of Tommy's who lives in the area and has been trying to elicit a response from the police department, figures just about every other house has guns for protection.

"It's very common," says Loredo, who, like George Diaz Jr., is a former president of MEChA at Phoenix College and spent some time as a Phoenix City Council intern. "It's pretty obvious on the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve. It sounds like a war movie--machine guns, shotguns, pistols."

But this little stretch of street was particularly quiet, some say, until the people down the road and on the corner and across the street moved in, and now it gets to be 3 in the morning and the music is blaring, and you just have to complain to somebody.

Some speak specifically of the Grende home as a turning point, saying young men started congregating there on weekend nights late last summer, looking too young to drink but drinking anyway, one kid especially belligerent after a while--just one of those drunken voices that stands out, as one neighbor put it.

And that was the voice the neighbor remembers the night Tommy was killed, the one that was still bellowing, punctuating the phrases "leave me alone" and "get off me" with profanities as others pushed him into a car and whisked him away not long after the shooting.

"This kid with the big mouth, I think he wanted to stay and go back and fight some more," the neighbor says. She has no idea what he looks like. "It was not just a little pop gun."

Victoria Hansen, another neighbor, thought for sure police would talk to her, because when she called 911, she requested police contact, so she stayed up for a couple of hours, looking out the window, waiting. "I never saw police go and talk to them [the people in the Grende house]," she says. "We were just sitting here. We thought police would come talk to us. Finally, we figured, they're not coming." As of last week, they still hadn't.

Yet another neighbor wasn't interviewed until Suzzane Rivera told police the neighbor might have important information. This neighbor saw the same person Adam Tarango saw, a guy holding out his arms and facing the Rivera home from the driveway of Grende's house. His left shoulder was bloodied.

The neighbor says several vehicles were still at the Grende home when the police arrived at the Riveras', that one of them--a Chevy Blazer--had its parking lights on, and that a Mustang convertible left and then returned, all while the cops were grilling those in the Rivera home. She says she knows this because she was on the phone with a friend after the shooting, watching until 3:30 a.m.

When Detective Mills questioned her, she told him: Nobody ever went over to that house and investigated. "He said, 'Yes, we did. I went over there myself and knocked on the door. No one answered.'" The neighbor says she told Mills, "`I didn't see anybody right away over there . . . I was up a long time.'"

If Mills did knock on Grende's door, he didn't mention it in his report.
For her part, Grende, who is 21, tells New Times that she allowed Bobby Casarez, the father of one of her two children, to have a birthday party at her home the night of December 3. However, she says, he did all the inviting, and she guesses word spread, and pretty soon, strangers were showing up.

"Finally, we said, 'The party's over. Everybody's gonna have to go home.'" And except for a few friends, she says, everybody left. A little while later, they heard gunshots, then people at the carport door, trying to get in. There were noises in the backyard. "I didn't open my door," she says. "I didn't go outside. I didn't know what happened until the police came."

But according to Grende and police reports, that didn't happen until the evening of Tuesday, December 6, two and a half days after Tommy was killed.

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