SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The massacre that left six dead and 12 injured outside bars a few blocks from the California Capitol last weekend was a shootout involving at least five rival gang shooters, the police said Wednesday. Sacramento Police.
Police said they identified at least five gunmen, but there could be more. Only two suspects – the two brothers with gunshot wounds – have been arrested in connection with the shooting and so far only face firearms charges.
“We’re still working on … who the actual shooters in the case are,” said Sgt. said Zach Eaton.
Until Wednesday’s announcement, police had remained silent about what led to the shooting that erupted early on Sunday as bars opened. Rapid bursts of more than 100 gunshots echoed through the streets as terrified patrons ran for their lives and others were hit by bullets.
Police said at least two gangs were involved. They declined to provide further details or name the gangs involved or the affiliation of any suspects.
Experts said if the gangs were to blame, it would mark an unusually bloody feud.
In 20 years of gang research in Los Angeles, Alex Alonso said he couldn’t recall a gang-related shooting with such a high body count.
“It’s extremely rare for a gang shooting to occur the way this is characterized,” Alonso said. “It’s extremely rare for this to happen in a public place with so many casualties.”
Gregory Chris Brown, a professor of criminal justice at California State University, Fullerton, said gangs often target rivals in drive-by shootings with fewer casualties, although innocent bystanders are sometimes hit as well.
The Sacramento shooting location — in a bustling area of watering holes near the entertainment district — was incidental to whatever fueled the fight.
“If rival gang members see each other, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the United States Capitol,” Brown said. “If you see a rival gang member and you’re going to attack them, it doesn’t matter where they are.”
The large number of casualties is the result of high capacity weapons in a crowded area, he said.
Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth who runs gun intervention and prevention programs and has offered his services to counsel families who lost loved ones in the shooting, criticized police for calling the gang crime, which he says will lead some to “think black people.
He said people would see the photos of the black women and men who were shot, assume they were in a gang, and wonder why gang members are downtown.
“That’s the narrative we don’t need at this particular time,” Accius said. “This idea that we’re going to blame a demographic of people and blame them for the violence that ensued.”
Bill Sanders, a criminologist at Cal State LA, said he wanted to see more evidence the shooting was gang-related, a term police often use to gain support. He said gang shootings are more mundane and most happen in what are considered gang neighborhoods.
“If you looked at a map of gang homicides in the city – or any city – over time, you would see the same areas light up – meaning that’s where they’re happening. If these guys were white, it wouldn’t be considered gang-related, not even for a minute.
Authorities credited witnesses who provided nearly 200 videos, photos and other tips with helping the investigation.
Police were trying to determine if a stolen handgun found at the crime scene was used in the massacre. It had been converted into a weapon capable of automatic fire.
They are also investigating whether a gun wielded by one of the brothers, Smiley Martin, 27, in a video was used in the shooting, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. . The official was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to publicly discuss the details and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Martin and his brother were among those injured in the gunfire that broke out around 2 a.m. Sunday as bars closed and patrons filled the streets.
The Sacramento County coroner identified the three women killed as 21-year-old Johntaya Alexander; Melinda Davis, 57; and Yamile Martinez-Andrade, 21. The three men killed were Sergio Harris, 38; Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32; and De’vazia Turner, 29.
Ten people were injured in addition to the Martin brothers. At least two remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Smiley Martin faces charges of Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person and Possession of a Machine Gun. He remained hospitalized and it was unclear if he had an attorney who could speak for him.
Her brother, Dandrae Martin, 26, was arrested as a “related suspect” and appeared briefly in Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday on charges of being a convict carrying a loaded weapon.
He did not plead guilty and his lawyer said she would wait to see if prosecutors brought more serious charges before deciding whether or not to seek his release.
Both men have criminal records. Smiley Martin was released from prison in February after serving about half of a 10-year prison sentence for beating a girlfriend. He was denied parole last year after prosecutors said he “clearly had little respect for human life”, according to documents.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg questioned why the brothers were on the streets.
“These questions need to be answered, and they will be in the days to come,” Steinberg said.
A 31-year-old man, seen carrying a handgun immediately after the shooting, was arrested on Tuesday for weapons possession. Police said they do not believe her gun was used in the shooting.
Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio, Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Don Thompson in Sacramento, Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix, and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.