30 suspected Calif. dealers arrested in crackdown on drug hot spots
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Rich Vierra remembers being there before, at 87th Avenue and Holly Street, one of Oakland's worst drug dealing corners, to make an illicit purchase.
On Thursday, Vierra returned with his Oakland Police Department badge and an arrest warrant for Anthony Mustard, 18.
"You remember me? Rich from San Leandro?" Sgt. Vierra asked Mustard, who sat in the back of a police car denying he'd done anything wrong. "You sold to me right here -- twice."
It was a scene that was repeated Thursday throughout East Oakland as police swarmed into homes and street corners to serve 65 arrest warrants, all for people who had allegedly sold narcotics to undercover officers. By day's end, police had 30 people in custody and planned to continue their sweep.
The crackdown is expected to bring some relief to a city besieged by violence. There have been 90 slayings so far this year in Oakland, compared with 94 in all of 2005, and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and Police Chief Wayne Tucker have been struggling to curb the bloodshed.
"This violent subculture is very much connected to the sale of drugs in the same locations, year after year,'' said Brown, flanked by Tucker and City Administrator Deborah Edgerly at a morning news conference at the Eastmont police substation in East Oakland before the sweeps occurred. "Oakland is not the place to do criminal business."
Lt. Freddie Hamilton said the majority of Oakland's violent crime "in some way, in some form is tied to the narcotics trade." Some drug dealers are robbing each other as a way of making money, Hamilton said.
The undercover police sting began in February, with undercover investigators disguising themselves to buy drugs at known hot spots. But rather than making arrests immediately, police documented the alleged transactions, took down names of suspects and presented the evidence to prosecutors, who filed charges against 65 suspects. Of that number, 40 were indicted by an Alameda County grand jury on charges relating to sales of crack cocaine, marijuana and the party drug ecstasy.
Most suspects are men, and many are repeat offenders, said Sgt. Mike Poirier. Five of the defendants are juveniles.
Police routinely conduct drug operations, but the last time suspects were arrested on grand jury indictments was about two years ago, authorities said.
Although Oakland police announced this month that they planned a new program to focus on 100 of the city's toughest young criminals, Thursday's operation was unrelated to that crackdown.
"It will make a dent," Poirier said of Thursday's arrests. Poirier said he had a book with a list of 65 named suspects and predicted that some of them might not be dealing drugs this weekend.
During the sweep, a police helicopter named Argus beat overhead, police on the ground moved in teams that included at least four police cars and eight officers, and they coordinated their movements on a tactical radio channel before making arrests.
"Every drug dealer out there should be looking over their shoulder, wondering whether or not they, in fact, sold to an undercover officer," said police Capt. Dave Kozicki, who christened the crackdown, "Whatcha gonna do when they come for you," referring to the theme song from the television series "Cops."
Most of what the suspects did when they were approached Thursday was to deny they had done something bad.
On the 1200 block of 85th Avenue, police officers served an arrest warrant for Davone Thompson, 31. Thompson's mother initially said her son wasn't home. But the suspect came to the front door and said, "Hey, what's up?"
"Turn around for me," an officer instructed Thompson, telling him he was under arrest.
"For what?" he demanded.
"Sales of narcotics," the officer said.
Thompson made a sound as if he didn't believe any of it.
"Remember that day?" asked Vierra, showing Thompson a picture of him that the sergeant said was taken during an alleged drug sale months ago. Vierra said he was doing Thompson a favor by not arresting his mother for lying to police.
At a home on 91st Avenue, officers found suspect William Tanz, and arrested him on a drug warrant.
"He sold me three rocks," Vierra said, reffering to Tanz, who was also shirtless. Vierra went through the same procedure. "Remember me, Rich from San Leandro?"
"I don't know a Rich from San Leandro," Tanz insisted.
Officers also stopped several men as they walked on the sidewalk near the corner of 83rd Avenue and International Boulevard, another drug hot spot. After checking them for warrants, they were released.
Tom Dao, 50, watched the activity from A&T Auto Repair, which he manages. "It's very good, because it gets quiet. More better for business."
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