Santa Rosa leaders react to Fourth of July shooting, part of deadly weekend of US gun violence
The hail of gunfire that killed one man and injured three other people early Monday in Santa Rosa swept the city into a nationwide wave of deadly gun violence over the holiday weekend and extended a string of local shootings that authorities and elected officials say is cause for new concern.
In Santa Rosa, the violence played out in the street, at the tail end of a holiday block party that hours earlier had drawn hundreds of people before police and fire officials tried to shut it down. The gunfire came from suspected gang members in a car and someone in the crowd who fired back, police say.
It claimed the life of Javier Montes-Medina, 35, while critically injuring a 17-year-old girl who remained unconscious Tuesday and a 29-year mom who underwent her second surgery after a bullet ripped through her abdomen. A 16-year-old boy also struck by gunfire was treated and released from the hospital.
Across the nation, gun violence claimed as many as 230 lives between 5 p.m. Friday and Monday morning, according to CNN. The shootings came amid an increase in U.S. gun violence that dates back to the spring of 2020.
In Sonoma County, and in particular in Santa Rosa, that increase has played out in an uptick in violent crime, gun arrests and homicides, with three gang-related killings and two other homicides in the city so far this year.
“We are halfway through the year and we have five,” said Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro. “That really concerns me about what is it going to look like at the end of the year.”
City officials reacted to the weekend’s shooting with condolences to victims and their families. They also promised to invest in programs and economic opportunities to help prevent youths from joining gangs, which have preyed upon parts of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods, especially in the southwest corner where Monday’s shooting occurred.
“My heart goes out to the families and the people that are involved,“ said Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Natalie Rogers. ”Although this is something that we’re seeing nationally it does not mean that it does not need to be addressed here.
”We need a game plan as to how we’re going to address it as a city,“ she said.
The city has seen at least eight shootings in the last month, and at least 30 this year, according to Navarro. Gangs have accounted for a “significant piece” of the violence and gun arrests, he said.
As pandemic restrictions are loosening, more people are in the streets and there is more opportunity for rival gang members to run into each other, he said. However, he cautioned that the department did not have evidence to convincingly say the city was seeing a gang “war over territory.”
Monday’s shooting, took place just after midnight at an unsanctioned block party on Beachwood Drive, south of Hearn Avenue. A car pulled up to those outside of a house, where people were setting off fireworks, and someone in the car shouted the name of a local street gang before more than 20 shots were fired from the vehicle, police said. Moments later, someone in the crowd fired back, police said.
The encounter appeared to involve members of a local Latino gang, authorities said. They would not specify that gang, wishing to withhold any credit they said gang members seek in the aftermath of shootings.
Investigators are still trying to learn whether any of victims were intended targets.
At the county level, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has investigated at least four shootings and a stabbing in recent weeks that are gang related, Sgt. Juan Valencia said. He attributed the spike in violence to an uptick in confrontations between and among groups generally aligned with the Norteño and Sureño gangs.
“We’re starting to see a lot more Sureño and Norteño gang activity,” he said.
The surge in gang violence comes while both the sheriff’s office and Santa Rosa Police Department, the county’s largest law enforcement agencies, are without task forces dedicated to gang response teams in recent years. The sheriff’s office eliminated a countywide collaborative force in 2017 and the police department reassigned its gang task force members to patrol duties 18 months ago.
Officials in both departments said those decisions resulted from budget pressure.
Now, amid the spike in gang violence, the lack of dedicated gang officers with street contacts, experience in identifying and combating gang activity and time to pursue complex investigations is exacting a high toll, those officials said.
“It’s been very difficult,” Navarro, the Santa Rosa chief. “Our gang unit was not only very proactive... but helped with identifying some of the more violent gang members and picking them off the street.”