Subscribe

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.”

The department has begun tasking officers as it is able to to do more proactive policing, Navarro said. A sergeant has been using a group of officers to investigate gang crimes, but those officers do so on overtime pay, Navarro said.

Both agencies have sought to increase patrols in areas that have played host to the violence, particularly around municipal parks, Navarro and Valencia said.

Two weeks ago, the Santa Rosa City Council restored $1 million in funding for four police officer positions and one dispatcher post. Most other other city agencies took cuts and the restored police funding prompted pushback from several council members who saw fault in cuts to social services they said could help reduce violent crime.

The Santa Rosa Police Department is recruiting aggressively but it could take months to hire and train new officers, Navarro said.

Rogers, who said she voted against the budget in part because it increased funding to two agencies — police and parks — while the city remained in a structural deficit, called for investments in more than just law enforcement as a response from City Hall.

“Of course we need law enforcement but we also need to be proactive,” she said. “We need childcare. We need preventative measures to teach children about guns and gangs and things they should not be involved in. Law enforcement is a part of it but the puzzle is so much larger than that.”

The city’s mayor, Chris Rogers, agreed. “It’s a two-pronged approach,” he said. “We look at what are the reasons that people join a gang and then try to do the upstream investment programs that we need to do to make that choice a lot harder.”

The city will soon have a chance to make such investments, at least in the short term. On July 13, the council is scheduled to come together and parcel out $34.6 million from President Joe Biden’s pandemic recovery package and more than $27 million in wildfire settlement money from utility company PG&E.

The other prong of the approach was restoring funding to the police department, said Rogers, the mayor. If Navarro believes he needs more officers, Rogers said he for one was open to such consideration.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been corrected to accurately characterize the five homicides in Santa Rosa so far this year.

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette