In the wake of Sanger’s first killing of 2016, city leaders say they are making a stand against gang violence.
More importantly, perhaps, they’re standing up for law-abiding citizens.
The New Year’s Day killing brought to a head this collision of good and evil. It happened in an apartment complex envisioned just three years ago as a shining commitment by the city to build affordable housing for low-income families in one of the more neglected parts of Sanger.
The $10 million Sanger Crossing Apartments opened in September to fanfare and promises of providing families the opportunity to raise their children in a safe, clean environment.
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But four months later, gang member Ritchie Jimenez, 23, was shot to death inside the complex. Police found his body at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
Jimenez’s death prompted Mayor Pro Tem Raul Cantu and Councilman Humberto Garza to take a closer look at the city’s investment. They said they learned gang members living at the complex were on the brink of taking it over.
With help from police Chief Silver Rodriguez, Cantu and Garza met with representatives of the two-story complex on Wednesday. Within minutes, they were on the same page.
When Rodriguez asked for an armed security guard to patrol the premises at night and guard against gang retaliation, the complex representatives said they would hire one immediately. When Rodriguez said surveillance cameras would be a good idea, the representatives said they wanted to know which company to call.
“It’s sad that a tragedy like this had to happen,” said Denise Carter, chief portfolio officer for Pacific West Communities Inc., one of the owners of the complex. “But we also want to provide a safe environment for our residents.”
In addition to the safety measures, Carter said five families who were seen associating with gang members were given eviction notices. One family whose members could have witnessed the killing of Jimenez already has packed up and left, she said.
This proves if we work hand in hand, things will get done.
Sanger Mayor Pro Tem Raul Cantu
After Wednesday’s meeting, Cantu, Garza and Silver thanked Carter and Cameron Johnson, who represented the developer, Encino-based AMG and Associates LLC. But the Sanger leaders said the real heroes are the tenants who were brave enough to alert police and management about the festering gang problem.
“It’s called open communication,” Cantu said. “This proves if we work hand in hand, things will get done.”
A motive for the killing is unclear: Police say Jimenez was shot around 5:40 a.m. after a fight broke out at the complex, which is on J Street, just east of Academy Avenue and north of North Avenue.
Tenants, who were too scared to give their names, gave this account during Wednesday’s meeting:
On the day of the killing, the tenants said they were awakened around 4 a.m. to the sounds of men fighting and women screaming. The tenants called 911 and police came to the complex. But once officers arrived, the combatants scattered.
Then after 5 a.m., the tenants said they heard gunfire. They heard someone tumbling down a flight of stairs. Once they looked out, they saw men race off in cars and a woman cradling Jimenez’s head and asking people to call 911.
The tenants said that gang members began moving into the complex in October and immediately started to threaten the law-abiding residents, including the elderly and children.
“They bark at us, threw gang signs at us and got into fights,” one woman said.
“Our children can’t play outside. No one uses the gazebo. No one uses the playground,” the woman said. “We all live in fear.”
Sanger leaders say the tenants who were brave enough to alert police and management about the festering gang problem are heroes.
Cantu had heard the complaints first, soon after Jimenez’s death. Cantu called Garza, who in turn called the police chief and arranged the meeting with representatives of the complex.
“No one should be living in fear,” said Garza, whose council district includes the Sanger Crossing complex. “Besides, we made a promise to them to provide a safe place to raise their children.”
Sanger Crossing Apartments is one of the more significant multi-family construction projects in the city in the past 10 years, Garza said. The city sold the land to the developer at a low interest rate, deferred developer fees and helped the owner get federal and state tax credits. Tenants pay rent ranging from $350 to $900 depending on their annual income.
The 45-unit complex is unique, Garza said, because in addition to a playground it has a built-in swimming pool, one of the few pools in his district.
Garza said the city invested in AMG and Associates LLC because it has a good track record. It has similar affordable housing developments in the San Joaquin Valley, including Avenal, Corcoran, Huron and Hanford.
At the meeting Wednesday, Sanger Crossing management officials told Cantu, Garza and Rodriguez that all tenants must clear financial and criminal background checks and have their name on a lease before they are allowed to live there.
They said Jimenez was not named on a lease. But tenants said Jimenez has lived there with his girlfriend – a practice other gang members were doing to avoid detection by management, the tenants said.
Rodriguez said Jimenez was a known gang member, but it is unclear if his association with a gang led to his death.
Fresno County Superior Court records say Jimenez has a long criminal record that includes arrests for possession of guns, drugs and brass knuckles, and resisting arrest. In February 2014, he pleaded no contest to felony charges of possession of a gun and sales of marijuana. He was sentenced to two years behind bars, the records show.
Since his death, family and friends have been raising money for his funeral. They have put jars with his photograph in stores and restaurants to get donations. They also have established a gofundme.com account.
“Ritchie Jimenez lost his life to senseless violence,” the account says.