Española officials are pointing to the killing of Cameron Martinez as one of the main reasons they have agreed to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to deputize one of their police officers, which would open the door for city police to file federal gang indictments.
While one of the suspects in the shooting is alleged to have ties to a local gang, state prosecutors have not argued that the incident was caused by any gang-related activity. Prosecutors have said the shooting was a case of mistaken identity, and the main suspect, Mark Hice, was afraid for his life over an alleged drug debt.
“The Cameron Martinez homicide does not appear to be gang related,” New Mexico State Police Officer Ray Wilson said. “The three shooters are not documented gang members.”
New Mexico State Police handled the investigation into the shooting, and made the subsequent arrests.
In public meetings days after the shooting, District 3 City Councilor Manny Martinez and Officer Abraham Baca cited alleged “gang violence” as part of the need for the agreement, which gives a yet-to-be-named Española police officer the authority to present charges in federal court for gang-related crimes investigated as part of the agreement.
It also allows the officer to pursue cases that extend beyond the city government’s authority into the neighboring tribal lands, Santa Clara Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh, but only when investigating cases for the Safe Streets Task Force. Cameron Martinez died on State Road 68 near the Ohkay Hotel Casino.
The proposals being made at the Española City Council are important as city officials prepare a report from a community summit held Oct. 30 that will describe the exact problems related to violence in the greater Española Valley. That report is expected before Dec. 10, when the same organizers will hold another meeting to put forward solutions.
Five days after the shooting, Manny Martinez said all of the families involved, including those of the victims and the suspects, need prayers and support.
“Also though, with that, mayor, I’d like to see what we can do as a city council uh, to try and help end this violence, this gang violence that is going on,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t want to say the word ‘gangs,’ we don’t want to admit that that’s happening, and it is, it’s here, and I believe that part of this that happened this weekend in the end, it’s gonna come out, that it was uh, uh, I don’t want to say gang-related, because that implies something, but that violence does stem from that, and it’s been happening. We’ve seen more and more of it.”
He said children are doing “disturbing” things on social media. He told the city government’s Public Safety Committee in light of Cameron Martinez’s death, he wants police to monitor social media and wants new laws related to gang enforcement, because there were posts on social media about the shooting before it happened.
“We, as a community, need to come together and see what we can do to do our most utmost efforts to end this type of gang violence that is, not only the violence, but the drug trafficking that happens within our community,” Martinez said. “I notice there are other municipalities that have ordinances to try and help combat gang violence, and violence in general.”
Then during the Oct. 23 city council meeting, the motion to approve the agreement with the FBI came almost immediately after Officer Abraham Baca said, “From what I understand, this is gonna focus on our current gang violence, and then of course, our drugs in the area of Española.” Councilors unanimously voted to approve it.
Later, Martinez said, “I hope the community does see that the city of Española is moving forward on saying, ‘We’re not going to tolerate gangs, not going to tolerate violence, not going to tolerate drugs being dealt in our city, or any of our neighboring communities.’”
Not a major problem
Police officials with the Española Police Department and Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office say there are active gangs in the area, but disagree about whether the main issue facing Española is gang violence or drug trafficking.
For the last 18 months, Española police have had encounters with 15- to 21-year-olds who identify as members of the “On the Rise” gang, Det. George Martinez said in an interview.
But George Martinez is hesitant to call it a major problem. The gang does not have any territory, and it is difficult to name any particular rival group with whom they fight, he said.
“As long as I’ve been here, we’ve never had a major issue or gang shooting,” Martinez said in an Oct. 25 interview. “We don’t have a major issue, it’s more drugs than anything.”
Axel Zamarron’s social media posts indicate he is a member of the “On the Rise” group. He has posted multiple photos of himself with other young men drinking, and holding weapons. There are also several original rap songs that the group has produced. His social media activity suggests that instead of being called a gang, “On the Rise” could more accurately be defined as a group of young people with an interest in becoming rap musicians.
Española Deputy Police Chief Roger Jimenez said during the same interview in his opinion, organizations involved in drug trafficking are more dangerous than local street gangs. But he also said gangs are a local problem.
“Don’t get me wrong, the street gangs are a problem, because they’re menacing to the society and the community,” he said. “But I don’t think those are the people we should be fearing, it should be the drug trafficking organizations.”
Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Maj. Randy Sanches said gangs are not a major problem in the County as a whole.
“There’s nothing on the forefront that would indicate that there is organized gang infiltration,” he said. “Now there are gang members that live here, yes, but we’re not a hub to the Sureños. We’ve got a bunch of kids that are self-affiliated, but there’s no gang mecca, per se.”