Sweep nabs 15 suspects in Tri-Cities gang crackdown after recent flare-up in violence

Security cameras show gang suspects following victim

Home security cameras show final moments leading up to May 5 fatal shooting of Andrea Nunez, 20, in the 700 block of East Seventh Avenue in Kennewick.
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Home security cameras show final moments leading up to May 5 fatal shooting of Andrea Nunez, 20, in the 700 block of East Seventh Avenue in Kennewick.

Police and federal agents swept through the Tri-Cities arresting 15 suspected gang members and gang associates on Monday.

The crackdown followed a recent flare-up in gang-suspected violence, including the deadly predawn shooting of a pregnant 20-year-old woman in a Kennewick street.

Two 17-year-old suspects were previously arrested in her death and another man is being sought.

Monday’s arrests are suspects wanted for a combination of misdemeanor and felony crimes. Two were juveniles.

It was the first gang-focused sweep in five years, said Kennewick Chief Ken Hohenberg.

Eight other people were arrested previously in connection with a series of drive-by shootings in Kennewick.

“Anytime that anybody is shot ... that certainly resonates with all of us,” said Hohenberg. “When somebody is shot and killed, I don’t want to say we take it personally, but we take it personally.”

Hohenberg unveiled the results of Monday’s sweep, called Operation Safe Streets, during a Tuesday news conference where he was flanked by officials from federal, state and local agencies.

gang sweep
Tri-Cities, state and federal law enforcement officers arrested 15 people with suspected connections to street gangs during Operation Safe Streets this week. Washington State Patrol

In all, 76 law enforcement officers from 20 agencies gathered in Kennewick and head out looking for 51 people wanted on a variety of warrants.

The agencies included the Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla county sheriff’s offices and the Pasco, Richland, West Richland and Prosser police departments.

The Washington State Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Port of Pasco, Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice Center, Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Marshals and Department of Homeland Security also were involved.

Law enforcement leaders began organizing the sweep while they were investigating Andrea Nuñez’s murder, the chief said. They focused on the people most likely to commit violent crimes, he said.

Who was arrested?

While investigators were looking for people with warrants, they also arrested three on new charges.

More than half of the arrests came in Kennewick, while five people were picked up in Pasco, one in Richland and another in Benton County. Several of the suspects have lengthy criminal histories.

Those arrested were:

  • Fernando Becerra, 23, for illegal gun possession escaping community custody and not following court orders related to charges of assault and driving with a suspended license. Becerra spent much of his teens and early 20s in and out of trouble, including being stabbed during a gang fight in 2013.
  • Anthony Colbray, 32, for not showing up to court on charges that he destroyed property.
  • Justino Contreras-Cardenas, 18, for fleeing from malicious mischief and misdemeanor assault charges.
  • Paula Corrales, 24, for not showing up to court on charges of driving with a suspended license.
  • John Dorsey, 32, for theft and not showing up to court on charges of criminal possession of rented property.
  • Eric Falcon, 20, for failing to pay restitution for a 2017 robbery. He has a series of property crime and drug convictions during the past seven years.
  • Reynaldo Leonides, 29, for escaping custody and failing to show up to court on theft charges. He also has a previous conviction for running from police.
  • Anthony Orozco, 27, for failing to show up on charges of driving without a license and reckless driving.
  • Heriberto Pinto-Ramirez, 39, for driving with a suspended license.
  • Jimmy Lee Rodriguez, 42, for unlawfully possessing a gun. His criminal history dates back to the early 90s. While his most recent crimes involved drugs or illegally gun possession, he has a history of theft, drive-by shooting and assault.
  • George F. Rodriguez, 33, for failing to follow court orders for driving with a suspended license and failing to obey a police officer. Rodriguez was stabbed during a fight on Court Street in 2009 and shot in the face during a confrontation in 2016.
  • Carlos M. Rodriguez. 25, was booked on drug charges, having brass knuckles and resisting arrest.
  • Tieray Swain, 19, was booked for failing to show up at a court hearing on third-degree assault.

What is next?

Police will continue to pursue the other suspects on their list, Hohenberg said.

“We have the resources and we have the method to address these challenges,” he said. “People have a choice they can either be good citizens in the community or they can find a different community or they can go to prison.”

The chief credited community involvement for helping catch criminal suspects. Whether it was through supplying security video and tips through Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers.

One way people can continue to help is by reporting graffiti as soon as they see it, officials said. Call 509-628-0333.

It’s important to respond to graffiti quickly because gang-related tagging tends to attract rival gangs as they cross out tags and add their own, said officials.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.