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LAPD Arrests 2 Highland Park Gang Members For Veterans Day Murder

Northeast Division Capt. Jeff Bert explains why the murder is not being investigated as a hate crime even though the victim is African American.

LAPD Northeast Division Capt. Jeff Bert at the Community Policing Advisory Board meeting on July 22, 2013. Credit: Ajay Singh
LAPD Northeast Division Capt. Jeff Bert at the Community Policing Advisory Board meeting on July 22, 2013. Credit: Ajay Singh

Two Highland Park gang members have been charged with murdering a 19-year-old Eagle Rock resident, and homicide detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division are searching for any additional witnesses to the recent Veterans Day crime that sent shock waves in the community.

“We have been working on the case from the second it came out and had a possible I.D. of the suspects within a day,” Northeast Division Capt. Jeff Bert told Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch, adding that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office charged the suspected killers this past Friday.

The two gang members are Latino residents of Highland Park, Bert said, declining to identify their gang affiliation. Both the suspects “very clearly match” witnesses’ accounts of two assailants who had tattoos on their faces, Bert said.

Andrew Michaels Sittiams was stabbed to death while walking with a friend in broad daylight on Nov. 11 on the 7100 block of North Figueroa Street, near Highland Park’s border with Eagle Rock.

According to some witness accounts, one of the gang members got into an argument with Sittiams after asking him which gang he was from, LAPD Sgt. Lisa Philips, a watch commander, told Patch earlier.

Although Sittiams was African American and was not a gang member, his murder is being investigated as a gang-related crime instead of as a possible hate crime.

“It is LAPD policy that anytime a suspect in a crime is a gang member or the victim is a gang member—or any combination thereof—the crime is considered gang-related,” Bert explained, adding: “So if gang members shoot an old lady, for example, that’s a gang crime.”

Besides, there is no indication that Sittiams was targeted because of his race, Bert said.

“The gang we are looking at has black members,” the captain explained. “It’s not like other gangs in Los Angeles, such as the Canoga Park Alabama (CPA) in the Topanga Division, which targets Blacks.”

Turf gang members work through fear and intimidation and are more inclined to challenge young people instead of older folk, Bert said.

Asked if witnesses to the murder of Sittiams were inclined to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of the suspects, Bert said: “I’m not going to go that far.”

Bert also said he was not at liberty to disclose what the witnesses have told detectives about the crime.

Meanwhile, the LAPD is still looking for any leads to the drive-by shooting in July of two gang members on Cypress Avenue in Glassell Park, Bert said.

The gang members were evidently shot to death by members of a rival gang because they were tagging the rival gang’s territory in Cypress Park.

Another gang-related murder that remains unresolved is the May 28, 2013 shooting of Ernesto Ramirez, 21, on Benner Street in Highland Park.

Ramirez was shot to death multiple times while standing outside a house where his relatives live in an area known to be a stronghold of the Avenues gang. Although Ramirez was a documented gang member, the LAPD believes his killing was neither tied to his gang affiliation nor part of retaliatory gang warfare. 

“We do have some good leads” in the case, Bert said. “But it’s difficult getting witnesses to come forward because of fear of gang retaliation,” Bert said. 

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