52 arrested in Tulare County gang sweep

Fifty-two people in the Norteño gang have been arrested in connection with homicides, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and other crimes, Tulare County law enforcement officials said Thursday.

One of those arrested is Pedro “Pistol Pete” Sanchez, 32, of Lindsay, a Norteño leader in charge of the gang’s day-to-day operations, the California Attorney General’s Office said.

The street gang is suspected in three homicides, including two in Visalia, police Chief Jason Salazar said at a news conference at the International Agri-Center, the site of the command post for the multi-agency operation.

Those arrested in Operation Red Sol will be charged with murder, attempted murder, home-invasion robbery, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, illegal possession of guns, drug sales and conspiracy to commit crimes, officials said.

The investigation began in March when several stabbings and shootings signaled “an uptick in gang violence” in Visalia and appeared identical to gang assaults taking place in county areas, the police chief said.

The police and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department collaborated and were joined by the California Department of Justice and the California Highway Patrol’s special operation unit in Fresno, under the umbrella of the Tulare Area Regional Gang Enforcement Task Force.

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said the crackdown Thursday prevented “extreme acts of violence” that gang members had planned.

“These gang members can only be described as terrorists,” he said.

When investigators spoke with victims of gang attacks, “people were fearful to even report the crime,” he said.

Beginning about 6 a.m., officers from several law enforcement agencies served search and arrest warrants in Visalia, Woodlake, Lindsay and other areas of Tulare County.

Officers seized $34,000 in cash, six guns and a small amount of narcotics.

The arrests followed 38 arrests over the past several months, officials said.

Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said it was the largest operation the office has been involved in.

Officers came from the Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Madera and San Luis Obispo counties sheriff’s departments; Tulare, Visalia, Clovis, Porterville and Hanford police departments; the California Department of Justice and California Highway Patrol; and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold