EVERETT — Gunfire in recent weeks is likely part of an ongoing gang feud that already claimed the life of a 17-year-old boy.
The gangs, primarily operating in south Everett, have been shooting at each other for more than a year. Houses and cars have been riddled with bullets. Teens have been shot, including Anthony Camacho, who was killed Dec. 12. Other teens have been sent to prison for decades.
Police have made some arrests but say often their investigations are hamstrung by uncooperative victims and reluctant witnesses. The gangs resort to retaliation, sending more bullets flying.
“This back-and-forth is at the very center of the problem. We are trying to do something to get it under control before we see worse outcomes,” said Mark Richardson, a lieutenant with the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force.
That’s no easy feat for some police departments who say they are already strapped for resources. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have a team of deputies assigned to monitor or root out gang crimes, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said. The assaults and drive-by shootings often fall to the major crimes detectives or patrol deputies.
“We know there has been ongoing gang-related violence in south county for years. We simply don’t have the resources to address it like we wish we could,” Ireton said.
In Everett, some resources have been shifted to focus on gang violence and gang-related crimes, primarily along Casino Road, police officer Aaron Snell said. The city saw a spike in gang crimes last year. It assigned a gang detective and also deployed a two-officer car to focus on gang crimes. More recently, the department’s pro-active team has been assigned to target known gang locations. Extra patrols have been added to Casino Road.
So far, the city has seen an overall decrease in gang activity this year, Snell said. In 2015, there were 22 gang-related shootings between January and Oct. 10. Those included assaults but also drive-by shootings that didn’t result in injuries. There have been 11 this year during the same time frame.
That includes three recent shootings along W Casino Road in the last month.
An 18-year-old man was shot around 2:30 a.m. Sept. 9 in the parking lot of The Bluffs apartments. Witnesses said two suspects drove off in an “older sedan.” The victim declined to talk to detectives. No arrests were made and the case has been closed.
A 13-year-old boy was shot Sept. 16 near the Casino Lane Apartments. Several people were seen running from the scene and police were looking for at least two suspects. The teen survived.
His brother, 15, was shot last week not far from the same scene. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with serious injuries. An update on his condition was not available.
Police arrested two Lynnwood-area brothers, 18 and 14, Thursday for illegal gun possession. Witnesses told police the teens were in possession of a gun that may have been used in the recent shootings.
All of those involved are suspected gang members, according to court papers. The 18-year-old who was arrested Thursday is a suspect in another drive-by shooting.
Two days after the Oct. 10 shooting, Everett police sent out a press release, saying they couldn’t confirm that it was gang-related. They also declined to say whether the gunfire in September was connected to gangs.
Five hours later, Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman told City Council members at a public safety committee meeting that the shootings were tied to gangs and part of an ongoing retaliation between “two or three different groups.”
Some police agencies have been slow to tell the public when gunfire is the work of gang members.
At a meeting with neighbors on Casino Road in late September, crime prevention officer Eddie Golden called the shooting of the 13-year-old “an isolated incident.”
Snell said his department can’t jump to conclusions. Officers need to be able to show a nexus between the incident and a gang member before it’s categorized a gang crime, he said.
“Not all drive-by shootings are gang-related,” Snell said.
The task force is hoping to develop a database that will allow police departments to share verified information about gang members and their associates.
The task force also is encouraging police agencies in Snohomish County to assign a higher priority to drive-by shootings, Richardson said. Recovered bullet casings can be analyzed and compared against others found at crime scenes. That may help detectives link suspects or guns to multiple crimes.
The task force also recently started meeting with Everett police, sheriff’s deputies, the FBI and the state Department of Corrections to talk gangs.
“It’s here and it’s not going away. We have to deal with it,” Richardson said.
The gang feud in south Everett, inside and outside city limits, dates back more than a year.
Bad blood between the rivals was behind a homicide in December 2015, according to court papers. Camacho was gunned down outside a house in the 12000 block of 4th Place W. Three teens were arrested and charged with murder. Two have pleaded guilty and a third is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
That homicide likely was retaliation for a shooting and other gang violence months earlier. In the summer of 2015, an 18-year-old fired on a pickup truck of rival gang members with an assault-style rifle. A 15-year-old was hit in the heart but survived. He later purchased a stolen gun for protection and accidentally shot his 11-year-old brother in the face. The younger boy recovered from the gunshot.
Lynnwood police continue to investigate a March 30 drive-by shooting near 44th Avenue W and 168th Street SW. “The victims have not been cooperative,” Lynnwood police detective Zac Olesen said.
The suspect in that shooting may be responsible for gunfire Aug. 19 in south Everett, according to a search warrant filed last month.
That drive-by happened outside the same house where Camacho was killed last year. “This address has also been a known hangout for gang members,” Snohomish County sheriff’s detective Brad Walvatne wrote.
Bullets hit the house, garage and a vehicle parked outside. A woman with a 5-month-old baby was standing outside at the time. No one was hurt. Witnesses were reluctant to talk to police.
About a week later, the suspect in a June 12 drive-by shooting on Gibson Road was the likely target of shots fired near Highway 99, according to court papers. A witness reported seeing two cars turn onto Lincoln Way from the highway. The cars stopped and a man exited a Mercedes. He approached the other car and kicked it. Someone from inside the car reportedly fired at the man. A second passenger in the Mercedes jumped out and was holding his arm as if he was injured, according to court papers.
The cars drove off. About 30 minutes later, the Mercedes driver called 911 to report that someone shot his car. He and his two passengers, known gang members, were “less than helpful” in providing information, Walvatne wrote in a search warrant.
The driver later told detectives he wasn’t going to cooperate because he feared for the safety of his family.
Deputies recovered a spent .45-caliber casing on Lincoln Way. The same caliber shell casings were recovered at the scene of the Aug. 19 drive-by shooting. Those casings are being tested for possible connections, court papers said.
Police say some of these crimes go unreported. That can make it hard to track trends. Traditionally there tends to be an uptick in gang activity during summer months when young people are out of school.
Everett police and the sheriff’s office rely on their school resource officers to combat some of the gang activity in schools. Those relationships are important, as are the partnerships with community agencies, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, Snell said.
“It’s not just a police problem though,” he said. “Gangs are really a community problem.”
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.