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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.
Gangs

Breaking the Viking Code

Even a hard-core gang member will sometimes inform when the crime involves a small child.

January 28, 2009  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The following happened in 1975.

A dark colored Chevy sedan crossed into enemy turf and the LASD LAPD jurisdictional border when it slid across Indiana Street eastbound on Whittier Boulevard. It proceeded east past Laguna Park and turned slowly southbound on Dennison. About half way from the end of the block, the dark low-rider pulled to the curb and stopped.

Four East Side Los (ESL) homeboys were in the sedan, two—Psycho and Indio—got out. Dressed in long black trench coats with dark hats pulled low over their eyes they began walking south on the side walk.

Earlier that afternoon ESL scouts had spotted a group of Laguna Park Vikings (LPV) hanging out at a gas station parking lot at the end of Dennison where it met the I-5 freeway.

The Laguna Park Vikings derived their name from the park in their neighborhood, but the park’s name had recently been changed to Salazar Park to honor Ruben Salazar, a reporter for the L.A. Times who was killed by accident by an LASD Flight Right tear gas rocket during the East L.A. (ELA) riots of 1970. The community however, continued to call it Laguna Park.

The ESL gang members tried to be invisible or at least too intimidating to be formally noticed by the “lame slows” (non-gang people) that inhabited Laguna Park Viking turf. But a middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza, recognized them as dangerous predators up to no good. From their porch, the Mendozas watched Psycho and Indio walking south with their hands in the pockets of their trench coats.

The couple wrestled with the idea of calling the ELA Sheriffs Station, but thought better of it. They decided not to get involved. Fate would decide differently.

One of the more charismatic Vikings sat in his 1972 Chevy at the gas pumps and four other Vikings, including Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza’s son, leaned against the Chevy and were talking and laughing with the driver. A sixth person, Husky was a Viking also, but he was working at the service station and moved back and forth between the homeboys and his duties. The ‘72 Chevy faced south and so the group was unaware of Psycho and Indio walking up behind them. 

Husky looked north as he walked back to join his friends and saw in slow motion as Psycho and Indio split up and drew their pistols. “No!” he yelled and then the seemingly endless string of shots began. And one by one the Vikings fell as they tried to run.

Psycho and Indio shot wildly at the fleeing Vikings. The ’72 Chevy suddenly lurched forward with the driver trying to put his vehicle between the shooters and his Viking homeboys. The Chevy’s back window shattered as both ESL shooters chased the vehicle and emptied their guns into the driver.

Psycho and Indio ran laughing back up Dennison to meet the getaway car. It sped onto the I-5 on ramp and was gone in a few seconds.

“East Los Angeles 24 handle, 23 to assist, 245 just occurred,” came the strangely calm and feminine voice on the radio. The call was directed to my unit. She further described that at least four victims were down and an ambulance and paramedics were already dispatched. She said it was possibly gang related.

My partner Jim Vetrovec and I headed toward the Viking turf, but we were redirected by the dispatcher. “East Los Angeles 24, respond to ELA hospital; you have another shooting victim from your Dennison call in the Emergency room, she is six years old.”

We would learn from the child’s mother that their house bordered the gas station parking lot and when the six-year-old heard the shots she mistook them for common firecrackers and climbed up onto the kitchen sink to look out the window. She was struck by a bullet in mid-abdomen. She was not expected to survive. Neither the child nor the mother had seen the suspects and could not identify the shooters.

Our other four victims were at another hospital along with the Mendoza boy and Husky, who somehow had escaped being hit by the gunfire. The brave Viking who had driven his car between his homeboys and certain death was struck several times, including a bullet to the base of the skull at the neck, which had damaged his spine and left him paralyzed from the neck down.

ELA veteran detectives Arnie Garcia and Armando Morales were trying to solicit identification from the victim witnesses and a death bed statement from the paralyzed Viking. He was scheduled for exploratory surgery as the round that struck his spine had traveled down his neck and caused further damage internally. He also was not expected to live.

Holding to the Gang Code of conduct, none of the victims or witnesses would identify the shooters or even give a good description. But detectives Garcia and Morales had learned from Vetrovec and me that the six-year-old child was critically wounded and so they played their last desperate card.

They told the paralyzed Viking, “The doctor told us that you are not expected to survive and, frankly, we don’t care if you do, but a six-year-old child was shot also and may die. Unless you tell us who did this to her, we will never know.”

The room fell dead silent. We could barely make it out but the paralyzed Laguna Park Viking said, “It was Psycho and Indio from East Side Los.”

Once the one Viking broke the code of silence, all of them did. Even Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza were able to pick out the shooters from photo lineups. Armed with search and arrest warrants, late that night we hit the ESL club house on Lee Street in LAPD’s area. The ESL gang members were sleeping in a big pile of mattresses in a garage. Like the Old Italian Mafia they had “gone to the mattresses.”

I put the cuffs on Psycho from ESL and walked him out to my patrol car. He said, “You’ll never convict me. They are all afraid to testify against me!”  “Not this time,” I said. “You shot a six-year-old girl!”

“I don’t give a f__k, why do you think they call me Psycho?”

It was all I could do to not kill him myself. But the little girl survived and later made a full recovery. The paralyzed Laguna Park Viking also survived his surgery and his spinal injury was only temporary. He married Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza’s beautiful daughter. Dep. Vetrovec and I were honored guests at the wedding. But most importantly, because so many of the Vikings had broken the gang code and testified in court against Psycho and Indio, the Laguna Park Viking gang ceased to exist for a while.

Psycho and Indio were convicted but only got four years in the California Youth Authority. Four years later I was a Lynwood OSS Gang Detective and I was able to identify Psycho on a series of robberies that sent him promptly back to prison with some serious time. But that is another story.


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

prosecutorx @ 1/30/2009 11:47 PM

Other gang officers/deputies have similar stories, but few tell them like Sgt Valdemar. He is a treasure trove of experience and has the ability to relate that experience so that we all learn from it. He has helped me and my partner Ruth Arvidson get sixteen convictions in Mexican Mafia murders.

Ofc.RachelT @ 2/2/2009 1:29 PM

I enjoyed this article. I think this was outstanding work on the part of law enforcement. The other part is that even though gangs are tough, violent, and dangerous...they will understand a common goal when a child is involved.

Outstanding work in 1975.

Jbaumgras @ 5/1/2009 12:37 PM

Great article. Working in a prison setting has exposed me to a lot gangsters and taught me a lot about them. One constant is that when a child is involved a lot of the "rules " regarding silence are off.

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