Pierce County prosecutors and Tacoma police said Monday that they've struck a series of blows this year against one of the city's most violent gangs, charging 19 of its members in connection with three homicides.
One of those men, Moises Larreinaga, pleaded not guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Court Commissioner Patrick Oishi ordered him jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.
Prosecutors allege Larreinaga and three other men orchestrated the homicide of the leader of the Eastside Lokote Surenos earlier this year so Larreinaga, 22, could ascend to the top of the gang when released from prison.
The three other men, all state prison inmates, are expected to be arraigned on the conspiracy charge later this month.
Tacoma police detectives arrested Larreinaga last week when he was released from prison after serving a sentence on a weapons conviction.
Authorities believe the May 12 assassination of Juan Zuniga, 26, is one of three homicides attributed to ELS members since February. Seven ELS members have been charged in Zuniga’s death.
On Feb. 7, 20-year-old Camille Love died after members of the gang opened fire on her car. Police and prosecutors allege the attack was in retaliation for an earlier shooting that wounded an ELS member.
Instead of finding a rival, prosecutors allege, ELS members fired on Love and her 19-year-old brother, Josh, who police say were randomly targeted and had nothing to do with gangs or the earlier shooting. Josh Love survived the shooting.
Seven ELS members were charged in Love’s death.
On March 25, Saul Lucas-Alfonso, 25, died after being shot during a apparent robbery in Tacoma’s South End. Five ELS members or associates have been charged in that case.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that the Love and Lucas homicides were particularly troubling.
“What Jose Lucas and Camille Love have in common is both of them are innocent victims,” Lindquist said. “Neither of them were involved in gang. Both of them just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Police detective Dan Davis said more arrests are expected as law enforcement continues to investigate the gang, which got a foothold in Tacoma about 10 years ago.
“There’s still a lot of work to do with this group,” Davis said at a news conference in Lindquist’s office after Larreinaga’s arraignment.
In some of the cases, prosecutors have charged that the defendants committed the crimes to maintain or elevate their status in a gang. That would allow prosecutors to seek a sentence higher than the standard range should they win a conviction.
“We’re going to go after any violent street gang that’s committing criminal acts in Pierce County,” Lindquist said.