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Sheriff's deputy shot dead outside his Cypress Park home

Neighbors describe Juan Abel Escalante, 27, as hardworking and dedicated, a husband and father of three who served in the military and rose above the violence of his gang-plagued neighborhood.

By Jean-Paul Renaud, Sam Quinones and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
August 3, 2008
» Discuss Article (7 Comments)

A 27-year-old Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, praised by his bosses as a "local success story" after growing up in a neighborhood entrenched in gang warfare, was gunned down Saturday outside his boyhood home in Cypress Park as he left for work.

Law enforcement officials said the motive for the attack remained "wide open" and investigators were trying to track down a white, four-door vehicle that approached Deputy Juan Abel Escalante shortly before gunfire rang out about 5:40 a.m.



Photos: Photos: Deputy shot dead in... Video: Video: Off-duty sheriff's... Coroner
The body of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy is removed by the coroner's office after he was shot and killed near his residence in an apparent drive-by shooting early this morning in Cypress Park, Los Angeles police said. The shooting occurred about 5:40 a.m. on Aragon Avenue between Maceo Street and Thorpe Avenue. More photos >>>
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
August 2, 2008

A neighbor said she heard at least three gunshots, followed by screeching tires. A minute later, the silence was broken by screams of "My husband! My husband!" said the neighbor, who declined to give her name for fear of gang retaliation.

Escalante's wife and mother rushed to the deputy, who was not wearing his uniform, the neighbor said.

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said it was "too early to know" whether the shooting was gang related or connected to the deputy's assignment at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Deputies typically work in the county jails as their first assignment.

Escalante, his wife and their three children were living with his parents but were preparing to buy a home in Pomona.

The blue-collar neighborhood of modest single-family homes northeast of downtown had experienced a fragile lull in gang violence in recent years until feuding between rival groups erupted in January.

In February, a shooting outside an elementary school a few blocks from Escalante's home touched off a fierce gun battle between gang members and police in neighboring Glassell Park. The violence led to a massive gang raid in late June by heavily armed police and federal agents, who stormed an area around Drew Street, about a mile north of where Escalante was slain.

While the number of gang crimes across the city of Los Angeles has fallen this year, the Cypress Park neighborhood and the surrounding northeast section of the city is among the few areas that have seen a significant rise, according to police department crime statistics. The LAPD's Northeast Division reported 11 homicides from January through June 26, up from six over the same period last year.

Bratton said the slaying was the first in the area since the June gang raid.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca described Escalante, a U.S. Army reservist and 2 1/2-year department veteran, as "dedicated and hard-charging in the best sense of the word. . . . He lived up to the dream of serving his country, serving his county and honoring his family.

"Today is a very difficult day," Baca said.

Law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to talk about the pending investigation, said detectives were pursuing a broad range of possible reasons for the attack. Among them are whether the slaying was a gang-related assassination connected to Escalante's work at the jail, a random drive-by shooting or the result of someone's personal grudge.

"The best detectives in our police department are handling this case," said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz of the LAPD.

Police cordoned off two blocks of Aragon Avenue between Maceo Street and Thorpe Avenue as officers blanketed the area most of the day.

For hours, detectives knocked on doors and combed the sidewalk and street near the deputy's home for clues. Several shell casings lay on the street. A hip-high black curtain surrounded Escalante's body, which was covered in a white sheet, until coroner's officials removed the body at 11:45 a.m.

Police officials brushed nearly every inch of the deputy's black GMC sport utility vehicle for fingerprints until it was towed away at 4:05 p.m.

Steve Remige, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, released a statement saying he was confident that Escalante's killers would be caught.

"Tragic events like these remind us that simply being a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles is an act of bravery," he said. "Juan will be missed by all of us."

A local resident, Gloria Ruiz, said that her son and Escalante had grown up together and had both served in the military. She said he had a strict upbringing and his mother "would gleam whenever he had good grades."

The small working-class neighborhood north of Interstate 5 and west of the 110 Freeway is a community gripped by fear. Several neighbors agreed to talk about Escalante but refused to give their names for fear of gang violence. One resident carrying a baby said the sound of gunfire is so common that she decided not to call police when she heard the shooting.

Another neighbor described the deputy as the eldest son of immigrant parents from the Mexican state of Yucatan. His mother worked at a candy store and his father was a construction laborer, the neighbor said.

The neighbor said Escalante was serious and industrious and worked hard after he returned from military service, studying to join the Sheriff's Department. He rarely talked about his work after he became a deputy.

"If someone here knew he was a sheriff, it's kind of like a trophy to kill one of them," the neighbor said.

Escalante's death marked the first killing of an L.A. County sheriff's deputy since Maria Cecilia Rosa was gunned down in March 2006.

Rosa was killed in Long Beach in a botched robbery attempt as she left another deputy's house for work at the Inmate Reception Center in downtown Los Angeles. In May, the gunman convicted in the shooting was sentenced to death. An accomplice was sentenced to life in prison.

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Times staff writers Mary Engel and Jack Leonard contributed to this report.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la...,7868863.story
 

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This is the same neighborhood where my gang unit took part in a multi-agency, multi-search warrant service, two months ago. It's also the same neighborhood where LAPD officers were involved in a gun battle with local gangsters armed with an AK-47 and a handgun.

Not a good place to grow up in. Kudos to this deputy to make it out without ending up in a gang. Unfortunately, it looks like the gangs got him anyway. This looks like a "hit," we'll have to wait and see. May he Rest In Peace.
 

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Rest in peace Deputy.
 

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Police investigate L.A. sheriff deputy's death

Deputy was shot from behind; Juan Abel Escalante may not have seen his killer. Police vow to explore all angles in Cypress Park slaying.

By Richard Winton
The Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - The off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was slain outside his home over the weekend was shot from behind and may not have seen his killer, police detectives said Monday.
Authorities stressed that all angles, including the deputy's work in the jails, his personal life and the gang violence that pervades the Cypress Park area where he died, are being examined for a possible motive.
Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Patrick Gannon said detectives will examine all aspects of Deputy Juan Abel Escalante's life up to the moment he was shot dead outside his parents' home early Saturday.
"We have several different teams looking at the different possible explanations," Gannon said.
Gannon said Escalante may not have seen his assailant approach because he was trying to adjust a child seat in the back seat of his car.
Gannon said witnesses saw a gray car speeding away from the area about 5:45 a.m., when the shooting occurred in the neighborhood about three miles north of downtown.
"Everything is on the table," said Steve Whitmore, a Sheriff's Department spokesman. "They are looking at whether it was personal, related to his job, whether it was gang members. Nothing has been ruled out here."
Escalante, a deputy for 2 1/2 years, worked in the area of the Men's Central Jail where some of the most dangerous leaders of the Mexican Mafia and other gangs are held. That job is one of the avenues detectives are exploring.
But investigators have not ruled out that the shooting was a random crime or that some of the neighborhood's gang members took it upon themselves to shoot a law enforcement officer in their midst or that Escalante was mistaken for a gang rival, detectives said.

Wire Service
 

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Fourth man sought in murder of L.A. deputy

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for a fourth man in the suspected gang-related murder of a county sheriff's deputy.
Investigators have said it's unclear whether Deputy Juan Escalante was targeted for his police work or was a random victim of gang violence. The 27-year-old deputy was shot in the back of the head early Aug. 2 in front of his parents' home in Cypress Park.
The district attorney's office said Wednesday the arrest warrant was issued for 26-year-old fugitive Armando Albarran. The reputed gang member was charged Monday with murder with special circumstances, which could bring the death penalty.
Three other men have pleaded not guilty to murder in the deputy's shooting.

Wire Service
 
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