Marked Man

Felix Medina and his gang compatriots ruthlessly ruled a south central neighborhood. Now the party's over.

"We are not just going to wait for these guys to do drive-bys," Ferraro says.

Attacking gangs at first appears to be an overwhelming task. Phoenix police have documented 356 criminal street gangs with more than 6,100 members during the past 10 years, Ferraro says.

However, only about 30 to 40 of these gangs with about 350 members are routinely committing crimes, Ferraro says.

Medina glances at family members during a September court appearance.
Paolo Vescia
Medina glances at family members during a September court appearance.

Besides busting gang leaders, police have added two new elements to their arsenal with the Eastside LCM case. Immediately after the arrests of Medina and his associates, police offered remaining gang members an array of gang intervention services, including job training and employment and educational opportunities.

While gang members have largely rejected these services, police have stepped up their community involvement by attending neighborhood meetings, encouraging the formation of a Block Watch and urging residents to call police and leave addresses of known drug houses.

As a further hammer to encourage gang members to leave the gang, police have requested a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to issue a civil injunction prohibiting gang members from congregating in the neighborhood.
(See accompanying story.)

Gang members are slowly adjusting their actions as a result of the RICO statutes. Police say some gang members are more reluctant to talk to gang squad officers, declare their membership in gangs or display tattoos or other gang insignia, knowing that the evidence could later be used in a racketeering case that brings stiff prison sentences.

Instead of serving a one- or two-year sentence in the state prison -- which only enhances a hard-core gangbanger's status -- a RICO conviction can send a gang member away for five years or longer.

A RICO conviction requires that the full sentence be served -- no time off for good behavior. There is no possibility of parole. A 10-year sentence is a 10-year sentence.

Last December, Medina knew the cops were after him. He moved to a girlfriend's house about a mile away. Medina said he was happy to be there because he was helping care for his new baby boy -- his third child.

But he decided to pay his mother a daytime visit in the Milpas.

The cops were waiting.

A little after 4 p.m. on March 20, Felix Medina left his mother's house on East Cocopah Street and got into the back seat of a taxi.

Officer John Meche was patrolling on Cocopah when he saw Medina in the cab, which turned north on 13th Street. Meche tried several times to stop it.

"When the cab got to 1127 South 13th Street, Medina took one last look at me. The cab stopped and Medina ran eastbound through the property. I put out a broadcast over the radio and set up a perimeter," Meche states in his report.

More than 20 police units responded to the scene.

Medina ran inside a nearby gang member's house. Police surrounded the property. After obtaining permission from the owner to enter, Meche and another officer began searching the house.

"I found Medina in the northeast bathroom, hiding in the shower," Meche states. "Medina was then taken into custody without incident."

At the police station, Detective Steven Denny joined Stephenson at the beginning of Medina's videotaped interrogation.

"What's all this bullshit for?" Medina asked.

Stephenson read Medina his rights and described crimes he believed Medina committed, including armed robberies and assaults.

Medina denied everything, saying his fellow gang members had kept him hooked on drugs and were committing crimes to impress him.

"Honestly, I've been there when a lot of shit happened," Medina said. "But I was always the type to kick back. And like my homies were trying to impress me. At the time when I was getting high, everybody was there to keep me high. Like instead of saying, 'Gato, go home. Go home. You are really fucked up. Go home.' They were always there to get me high."

Stephenson told Medina he'd spoken to LCM members as well as victims who say Medina was a one-man crime wave. Stephenson was stretching the truth. He hadn't interviewed in detail Medina's closest associates -- Rodarte, Munguia and Valenzuela. But it isn't illegal for police to provide misleading information during an interrogation.

The suggestion that his subordinates had ratted him out clearly rattled Medina.

Stephenson bored in, questioning Medina about a November 1997 assault and robbery of a man we'll call Miguel. The officer said he knew Medina was involved in the beating, which sent Miguel to the hospital, and the theft of Miguel's wallet and jewelry.

Medina denied being involved, but indicated disdain for Miguel, who once lived in the Milpas. Medina said Miguel gave police information that led to Medina's 1995 arrest and reincarceration in the state prison.

"Every time he would go past, I would yell, 'Fuck you, you snitch,'" Medina said. But he claimed he had never hurt Miguel because he was a friend of Miguel's wife, who was like a sister to him.

Stephenson kept pressing.

"Who jumped him? I already know who it is," the officer said.

Medina said he was at a motel with a woman when Miguel was assaulted. He heard about the attack the next day.

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