IMAGE IS EVERYTHING

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

Told by New Times that several witnesses saw people running into her carport that night, Grende says no officers came to her house that night. "You'd think they would have raided my house [if they thought someone was there]," she says.

"They made it seem like it was my fault," Grende says of the questioning by detectives. "Like everything I said was a lie. . . . Gosh, I'm sorry for what happened, but I don't think there's anything I could have done."

The day after Tommy's funeral, Suzzane Rivera showed up with her own gun, a Tec-9, at Grende's door, because juveniles were congregating on Suzzane's sidewalk, laughing, playing with the bullet holes in her fence as if it were a spot where a hunter had felled a prize deer. She told herself, this is crazy, this has got to stop.

Grende: "I said to her, I'm sorry. I can't help what happened, I can't help what happens in the street. I didn't do it--I don't know who did it. The reason we broke [the party] up was because there was people we didn't know. It could have been anybody out there."

Detective Mills: "It's a tragic situation, where a young man was apparently gunned down. It's frustrating not to have the resources of people able to identify the person involved."

As to why officers didn't approach the Grende house or the people that witnesses say they saw milling around that night, Mills responds: "I've been there [the neighborhood] many times [on other cases], and talked to those people. They are not exactly prone to making spontaneous and culpatory statements.

"There's a supposition in the first place that, one, the suspect is identifiable, and, two, that the people down the street would talk to you in the first place. Because you live in a different world than the Hollywood gang members."

Although neighbors of the Riveras say otherwise, Mills says, "Those folks down the street obviously didn't hang around. They weren't waiting for officers to come interview them. It's not reasonable to think that; you're talking 20-25 minutes, maybe more."

But why not try?
"My recollection is that they did [knock on Grende's door], and they got no response," he says. Like Mills' claim to a neighbor that he had knocked on the door himself, this reference to other officers doing so is not supported by the police report. Officers, however, did collect several beer cups similar to one found just outside the Rivera fence after the shooting, he notes.

But again, he says, you're presupposing they would even talk to you.
But journalists, it is pointed out, have to try speaking to sources they're sure won't talk to them, just as a matter of course.

"Sometimes," Mills says, "it's a matter of timing."

John Loredo returned from a day trip on Sunday, December 4, to find a series of telephone messages alerting him to the death of his friend, Tommy Espinoza.

He was on the phone immediately, urging those of influence to write to the police department so it wouldn't take the case lightly. Working under then-city councilmember Mary Rose Wilcox in 1990-91, Loredo had overseen funding to police and fire programs, and part of his job was to ride around with various officers to see what they did.

Since then, many of them had moved into prominent positions. So when he heard about Tommy being killed and the way his friends had been treated, he started calling everyone he knew, home numbers, the whole bit, to try to arrange some sort of resolution.

He peppered the Maryvale precinct with calls, never getting any response. He swamped gang-squad detectives with voice mail. Finally, someone put him in touch with Commander Don Swanson, the department's liaison to the city manager, who listened patiently, and told him he'd have someone call to hear him out.

So the next day, he says, which was December 20 (the day the report clearing the department of wrongdoing in the Edward Mallet choke-hold case was released), Loredo gets a call from police spokesman Sergeant Mike Torres, who tells him he understands Loredo is having a lot of problems. So Loredo says, yeah, and all the time, he's wondering why it's Torres, the press guy, calling him about this, and the way he remembers it, Torres asks him to fill him in on the situation.

So he does, and Torres says he'll have to get a copy of the report to review the details, and then Loredo says he can't get any response from the Maryvale precinct or the gang squad or anybody else.

"`It's because you don't know what you're doing,'" he remembers Torres telling him. "`You don't know who to call.'"

"`I don't know what I'm doing?'" Loredo remembers saying, because by now, he's completely ticked. And George Diaz Jr. is sitting right next to him, laughing at the whole thing. "I said, 'You know what? I worked for the city council for two years. I don't know who to call?' And I just went off. And George is just laughing, he's dying. I said, 'I know exactly who to call. This is not because I don't know how to do casework, and it's not because I don't know who to call, it's because you guys, you're just not being responsive.' And right away, it's a totally different attitude: 'I'm sorry, Mr. Loredo, I didn't mean to imply--if I can be of any help. . . .' And then he hung up."

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