MAIN LIBRARY — After an intense, undercover investigation that involved the use of court-authorized wiretaps, Santa Monica police have arrested three suspected gang members for the 2008 slaying of Preston Brumfield, a resident who was beaten and left for dead on a busy street in the Pico Neighborhood.
SMPD Chief Tim Jackman on Wednesday also announced the arrests of six other suspected gang members for selling rock cocaine within the city. The arrests, part of what narcotics investigators dubbed “Operation Tombstone,” came as a result of the telephone taps issued to find Brumfield’s killers.
A fourth suspect in the murder is still at large and detectives are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to secure federal arrest warrants for four additional suspects regarding their participation in street gang activity, police said. Detectives are asking for the public’s help in locating the suspects.
Police hope the arrests deal a significant blow to the two street gangs active in Santa Monica: the Graveyard Crips and Santa Monica Gang.
Standing in front of a row of officers, flanked by white posters decorated with mugshots, Jackman told reporters during a press conference at the Main Library how the suspects and the street gangs they represent are responsible for years of terror in the Pico Neighborhood, violently attacking and killing innocent bystanders along with rivals, holding some members of the community hostage.
“For years, neighborhoods in Santa Monica suffered from illegal drug activities that have financed gang operations as well as fueled a high level of violence,” Jackman said. “This violence has included stabbings, shootings and other acts of aggression and intimidation, and in Preston’s case, murder.”
Sammy Murphy, 50; Gwindon Love Murphy, 65; and Jason Anthony Hurtado, 26, have all been charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney with murder, conspiracy to commit an assault with a deadly weapon, and violations of the state’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act.
Sammy Murphy and Gwindon Love Murphy, who are brothers, were additionally charged with solicitation to commit an assault with a deadly weapon.
The fourth suspect, Jason Eddie Coleman, 27, also of Santa Monica, is being sought in connection to the Brumfield murder. Police believe he is still in the area.
Hurtado was charged with murder in October 2008 for the shooting death of 28-year-old Byron Lopez of Gardena, who was killed in the 2000 block of Court 19, according to police.
Brumfield was found late at night on Sunday, May 11, 2008 severely beaten and laying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk in front of 1948 20th Street. He had a previous head injury which required him to have a metal plate installed in his skull, Jackman said.
Brumfield was transported to Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center where he died four days later. Brumfield, 49, had been a recognizable street figure in the Pico Neighborhood, Jackman said, and residents in the area were “outraged” over his murder. Detectives said Brumfield was beaten because he allegedly insulted one of the suspects, an alleged member of the Graveyard Crips.
Detectives were forced to use wiretaps because of the nature of the investigation. It was difficult to infiltrate the gang because of its small size, around 20 active members, and its level of intimidation within the community, Jackman said.
Detectives turned to the D.A.’s Office and the California Department of Justice for assistance in securing the phone taps, which were approved in late 2008. While listening for any information on the Brumfield murder, detectives heard suspects from both gangs discussing drug deals.
The investigation expanded, leading to the arrests of six suspects for the distribution of cocaine. Those suspects were identified as Shawn Rodney Martin, 25; Dante Lamar Harrington, 32; Dino Joseph Henry, 46; Guillermo Castellgarcia, 22; Frank Javier Villareal, 28; and Crystal Laurette Clark; 44.
Law enforcement officials are trying to secure federal arrest warrants for suspected gang members Florencio Astorga Hernandez, 32; Juan Godinez, 38; Filiberto Garcia Pena, 39; and Mynor Alfonso Chacon, 35. Jackman said at least five of the suspects are foreign nationals.
Any person with information on the Brumfield murder or the location of the outstanding suspects are encouraged to contact SMPD Det. John Henry at (310) 458-8978 or Sgt. Ira Rutan at (310) 458-8959, or the watch commander at (310) 458-8495.
Jackman said people have been afraid to come forward. Those wishing to remain anonymous can use the We-Tip hotline at (800) 78-CRIME (27463). Those who contact We-Tip may be eligible for a reward if information provided leads to an arrest and conviction.
While Santa Monica does not experience the level of gang violence seen in other areas of Los Angeles County, Jackman said the impact has been felt nonetheless, with many innocent civilians getting caught in the crossfire. In nine years, there have been more than 168 incidents — assaults with a deadly weapon, attempted murder and murder — involving gang members, with 90 of those involving victims who could not be confirmed as gang members.
“This means more often than not gang members are targeting innocent members of the community with violence,” the chief said. “This must stop.”
Jackman praised the work of his detectives and assisting agencies as well as the City Council and City Manager Lamont Ewell for dedicating the financial resources needed to combat gang violence.
Councilmembers Pam O’Connor and Richard Bloom attended the press conference and were pleased to learn about the arrests. O’Connor praised the SMPD for working collaborative with other agencies as part of a regional approach “to identify the suspects, collect the evidence and get them off the streets.”
Focusing resources on gang suppression is “critical” Bloom said because while the number of gang members in Santa Monica is relatively small, their impact has been persistent.
“I like that the department was creative with the resources that they have in bringing this investigation to where it is now,” Bloom said. “[The arrests are] really good for the community.”