FARMINGTON – A recent mall shooting in Farmington has sparked increased policing in neighborhoods amid fears of a new gang war.
The Daily Times of Farmington reported that aggressive patrols come after the Farmington Police Gang Unit said the shooting at Animas Valley Mall in late April was gang-related and has caused increased tension among two rival gangs.
Brothers Alejandro Ramirez, 22, and Luis Ramirez, 28, have been arrested on suspicion of killing Johnny Benjamin Vialpando, 25. Vialpando was shot and killed April 27, while he was a passenger in a car parked at the mall. His wife and children and several other people witnessed the shooting.
A suspect matching Alejandro Ramirez’s description approached Vialpando and said, “This is for Gary,” just before shooting him 15 times, according to court documents.
Police believe that was a reference to Gary Martinez, a 17-year-old who was killed in what police believe was a gang-related drive-by shooting in October 2008. After the shooting, police questioned Vialpando, but he was never charged with a crime in connection to Martinez’s death. The case remains unsolved.
Farmington police Cpl. David Karst said the Ramirez brothers are gang members, but declined to discuss the specific gang affiliations.
However, police have said the shooting involved people linked to Farmington’s two largest gangs: the South Side Locos and Tortilla Flats.
“The recent South Side-Tortilla Flats incident ... has caused a lot of conversations and tension between the two gangs,” said Erik Haanes, an officer in the gang unit.
It was unclear if the Ramirez brothers had attorneys.
According to police, more than 600 gang members live in San Juan County, and there are about eight confirmed gangs in the region. Gangs include people of all ethnicities, Karst said.
The South Side Locos are the largest gang in the area and are comprised of many sects. The next largest gang is Tortilla Flats, according to the gang unit.
Both gangs have a strong presence in south Farmington. But unlike gangs in certain cities that have strict boundaries separated by something as obvious as a street, Farmington’s gangs scatter throughout the area and collaborate with members of opposing gangs to commit crimes, Karst said.
The gangs commit crimes often to make money and intimidate rivals. In Farmington, the two most common crimes committed by gang members are dealing drugs and guns, Karst said. But they also rob, burglarize and steal identities.
“They do criminal activity to further the gang. It’s not just a group of criminals banding together to burglarize a house for their own gain,” he said. “Whatever they are doing is an enterprise for a group.”
Throughout the country, there are gangs that call themselves South Side Locos and Tortilla Flats, but local neighborhood gang groups take on the attributes of their leaders, said Moises Prospero, an adjunct professor of criminology at New Mexico State University.
“Your loyalty comes from your neighborhood,” he said. “They may have a sense of belonging, but they are not soldiers.”