Logan Heights: From Varrio to cross-border violence

Like many gangs, Barrio Logan — known to many gang members as Varrio Logan Heights — was known for its involvement in drug trafficking, murder and other violent crimes


Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo was a man of the cloth, respected by the Catholic majority of his country.

As such, Cardinal Ocampo had to concern himself with the spiritual wellbeing of Mexico and the business of the Catholic Church.

As he was chauffeured into the Guadalajara Airport, the gangs that plagued Southern California were probably among the furthest things from his mind. 

Casualties in a Furious War
As a resident and representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, the largest denomination in the country, Cardinal Ocampo was not oblivious to the violence associated with the countries drug cartels. He saw the daily aftermath of the gang-on-gang violence and the innocent casualties who were caught in the crossfire of rival cartels.

He was acutely aware of the effect that the cartels brought to his country and had spoken out against them, despite the inherent danger of doing so.

As the white Mercury Town car carried him through the airport grounds, the Cardinal was likely focused on his work, his travels, or something else of more immediate concern than drug-related violence.

He may never even have noticed them — the group of armed men approaching his car from different directions.

He may not have heard the first volley of gunfire, even though some accounts say it was fired from as close as six feet from where he sat.

But whatever his final thoughts were, it is almost a certainty that Cardinal Ocampo wasn’t thinking about the gangs of the United States in the moments before he died.

San Diego Roots
Having been in existence since the 1960s, the reputation of the Logan Heights Varrio has extended well beyond their San Diego roots. According to some accounts, a group of several Chicano youth — including members of other smaller varrios — united in the area of Chicano Park in Southeast San Diego.

Chicano Park lies underneath the Coronado Bridge and came into existence when local activists pushed for the land to be used by the community. The pillars that support the bridge on the Logan side are covered with dozens of murals detailing Mexican culture and local history.

The gang adopted the name of the immediate area just east of the park — Logan Heights. Many car club members and early members of the gang would congregate in the park or at nearby businesses and residences.

One such residence, which is visible from Chicano Park, stands out from others because of the exterior staircase which was painted bright red. This structure was the origin of one of the original clique names as the Logan Heights Varrio grew and divided — Red Steps.

Other cliques including 30th Street and 33rd Street also formed over the years as the gang expanded their area of operation to other San Diego neighborhoods and still exist today.

Like many gangs, Barrio Logan — known to many gang members as Varrio Logan Heights — was known for its involvement in drug trafficking, murder and other violent crimes. And while their original rivalries were generally with other San Diego area varrios, their expansion to other parts of the country brought them new rivals as well.

Today, the primarily Chicano gang has some presence in Las Vegas, Denver, Minneapolis, Tacoma, and other cities — usually associated with drug trafficking in those areas. Expansion into new areas has not only brought them added profit, but it has also brought them conflict with gangs already operating in those areas. This dynamic is nothing new to gangs across the United States; they grow, they expand, and they find themselves in violent conflict with other gangs.

The most defining moment for Varrio Logan Heights, however, came from their association with larger, more powerful criminal organizations in Mexico and a gruesome murder that was shocking even in a city plagued with cartel violence and almost daily drug-related homicides.

In late 1992, Logan Heights gang member David Barron formed an alliance with members of the Arellano-Felix Drug Organization — also known as the Tijuana Cartel — after allegedly helping the Arellano-Felix brothers and some close associates escape an ambush staged by a rival cartel in a Tijuana night club.

Not long afterward, the Tijuana Cartel capitalized on their new relationship with Barron as they began supplying cocaine and other drugs across the border to Logan Heights Varrio members, who would in turn sell the drugs for them in the United States.

But drug sales were not the only business between Logan Heights and the Arellano-Felix Organization. Barron and other Logan Heights members travelled regularly to Tijuana where they were trained by Cartel members and employed as sicarios, or contract killers.

Since the Tijuana Cartel was in a constant state of war with the Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel, the Logan Heights hitmen carried out several attacks and assassinations against Sinaloa Cartel members and associates.

They assassinated members of rival organizations and acted as security for the Tijuana Cartel’s business interests and leaders. In 1993, however, their actions would bring unwanted trouble to the Arellano-Felix Organization and would force the government of Mexico to take a stronger stance on narco-trafficantes.

In retaliation for attacks on the Arellano-Felix brothers, David Barron and his sicarios planned to assassinate Chapo Guzman at their first opportunity.

Conflicting Intelligence
On May 24, 1993, Barron received information that Guzman would be at the Guadalajara Airport, the vehicle in which he would be travelling — a white Mercury Grand Marquis — and the time he would be there. Confident in the intelligence they were given, Barron’s team planned to ambush Guzman as his vehicle travelled through the airport, securing victory in the war between the Arellano-Felix Organization and Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel.

They armed themselves, took up strategic positions on the airport grounds, and waited for the white town car to appear.  When the car was spotted, the Logan Heights members approached and opened fire, by some accounts from as close as only a few feet away.

When the gunfire stopped, almost half a dozen civilians had been killed including the occupant of the town car, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo.

The target of the attack, Chapo Guzman, may not even have been at the airport at the time of the attack that took Cardinal Ocampos life. Some believe that Guzman himself had planted the intelligence that led Barron and the Logan Heights members to carry out the attack.

Others believe that Cardinal Ocampo was the actual target because he chose to speak out against the cartel violence that plagued his country.

The facts seem to support that Guzman was the intended target of this attack and that the only contribution Cardinal Ocampo made to his own murder was to be the passenger in a white town car, a vehicle known to be popular with narco-trafficantes.

In the aftermath of Cardinal Ocampos murder authorities in both Mexico and the United States became aware of the direct connection between Varrio Logan Heights and the Arellano-Felix Organization. 

Federal and local authorities in Mexico, who were often known for turning a blind eye to cartel activities out of a sense of survival, now faced pressure to be seen taking action against the cartels, no matter how insignificant or symbolic the action would be.

Authorities in the United States, now aware that Varrio Logan Heights played a role in the international drug trafficking of the Tijuana Cartel, targeted significant members of Logan Heights as well as cartel members and associates identified operating with them in the United States.

Today, with the Arellano-Felix Organization devastated by arrests and murders of key members, Varrio Logan Heights has lost much of its international notoriety. They reportedly continue to have direct business dealings with Mexican drug cartels and have established a presence not only in San Diego but in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Tijuana and other locations.

But true to their roots, members young and old can still be found congregating in and around Chicano Park on the Southeast side of the city — the original territory of Varrio Logan Heights Red Steps.

About the author

Andrew Eways has been a police officer for more than twenty years and is currently employed by the Aurora (Colo.) Police Department. Prior to moving to Colorado, he served with the Maryland State Police from 1994 to 2011 where he worked in several capacities and rose to the rank of Sergeant, supervising patrol, investigative and covert investigation units.

During his career, he worked Field Operations (Patrol), Criminal Investigations, Organized Crime, Homeland Security, Intelligence and Gang Enforcement, Field Training and other assignments. He worked in both overt and covert capacities and supervised covert investigations, street-level gang and narcotic enforcement operations, and a series of Title III Wiretaps. He has also had the opportunity to work with departments throughout the United States on multi-jurisdictional investigations into organized crime groups, gangs, and terrorist organizations. He has testified as a court-qualified expert witness in numerous gang-related cases ranging from drug conspiracies to homicides.

Eways has also been certified by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission and several court jurisdictions as an expert in criminal gangs and specific organized crime groups. He has provided and continues to provide training to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in gang recognition, conducting gang and organized crime investigations, domestic terrorism and extremism, tactical narcotics debriefing, Narcoterrorism, and many other related fields. He has also provided expert instruction on Sureno Gangs to members of the Mexican National Police and Federal Agents in Mexico City as part of a delegation of police officers invited to do so by the Department of Homeland Security.

Eways has authored numerous articles about gangs which have been featured in law enforcement publications, law enforcement and correctional websites, and online police magazines. He has also recently co-authored the book BEST: Barrio Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and Other Sureno Gangs Across America, which is currently available for purchase through Police and Fire Publishing. He is a member of several professional organizations and is an executive board member of the International Latino Gang Investigators Association. He is a contributing author for PoliceOne and an associate instructor for the Homefront Protective Group.

Contact Andy Eways

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