Called the largest gang case in California history, law enforcement officials announced the arrests of more than 40 gang members at a news conference Friday. Dubbed Operation No Fly Zone, multiple federal, state and local agencies arrested multiple suspects Thursday morning, culminating in a six-month investigation.
“To say it was a successful operation is a gross understatement,” Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said. “Yesterday was our Super Bowl, and we won.”
Balderrama said at least 19 shootings and two mass shootings on April 2 and April 11 were prevented thanks to the intervention of law enforcement. A heavy police presence, the police chief said, stopped planned shootings at local bars, averting a repeat of a tragedy that unfolded on the streets of Sacramento two weeks ago.
“The suspects in the case have shown no respect for human life. And (they) not only shot and murdered multiple victims, but they also used human trafficking and the sale of narcotics and firearms to fund their operation,” Balderrama said.
The gangs are charged with up to six murders and 35 shootings. Dozens of weapons were confiscated.
During the takedown, more than 200 law enforcement personnel and 25 SWAT teams executed 36 search warrants.
“This is what ‘cleaning up the city’ looks like,” Balderrama said.
Smittcamp praises Attorney General
State Attorney General Rob Bonta attended the press conference held at Fresno Police Headquarters.
“At the California Department of Justice, we believe that every family deserves and should be safe. This is task number one, and we are working with all of our partners to make this happen,” Bonta said. “Every walk to school should be safe.”
The political implications were bubbling in the background. Bonta, appointed to the AG position in 2021, is running for a full term in the primary elections in June. Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp supports Bonta’s opponent, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
Political pundits view the attorney general election as a referendum on criminal justice reform and where Bonta, a Democrat, and Schubert, registered as no-partisan, run.
Smittcamp criticized early prison release programs and criminal justice reforms during his comments.
“Politicians who claim to care about law and order with soundbites when tragedies occur or show up to say they care about victims during election season, are the ones who continue to support weakened laws adopted by people who call themselves criminal justice reformers. They haven’t reformed anything. They have aided and abetted criminals to continue their aggressive and depraved behaviors.
“So today I’m so excited about Attorney General Bonta’s comments. I’m so glad to hear that you care about law and order. I’m glad to hear that you support our efforts. here in Fresno, and I encourage you to speak to the Governor and members of the State Assembly to stop these political agendas, theories and versions of reform that aren’t working,” Smittcamp said.
Bonta and Smittcamp remained face to face while the other spoke.
Also in attendance were the two men running for the open job of Fresno County Sheriff — Deputy Sheriff John Zanoni and Deputy Fresno Police Chief Mark Salazar. Both men help run their respective agency’s gang unit.
While both men were praised throughout the press conference, only Zanoni had a speaking role.