Called the largest gang case in the history of California, law enforcement officials announced the arrest of more than 40 gang members in a Friday news conference. Dubbed Operation No Fly Zone, multiple federal, state, and local agencies took several suspects into custody Thursday morning culminating a six-month investigation.
“To say that this was a successful operation is a gross understatement,” said Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama. “Yesterday was our Super Bowl, and we won.”
Balderrama said at least 19 shootings and two mass shootings on April 2 and 11 were prevented because of law enforcement intervention. A strong police presence, the police chief said, stopped shootings planned at local bars, avoiding a repeat of a tragedy that unfolded on the streets of Sacramento two weeks ago.
“The suspects in the case showed no regard for human life. And (they) not only shot and murdered multiple victims, but they also use human trafficking and the sale of narcotics and guns to fund their operation,” Balderrama said.
The gangs are accused of up to six murders and 35 shootings. Dozens of guns were confiscated.
During the takedown, more than 200 law enforcement personnel and 25 SWAT teams executed 36 search warrants.
“This is what ‘clean up the city’ looks like,” Balderrama said.
Smittcamp Praises Attorney General
State Attorney General Rob Bonta attended the news conference held at Fresno Police headquarters.
“At the California Department of Justice, we believe every family deserves and should be safe. It’s job number one, and we’re working with all our partners to make that happen,” Bonta said. “Every walk to school should be a safe one.”
The political implications bubbled in the background. Bonta, appointed to the A.G. role in 2021, is running for a full-term in the June primary election. Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp is supporting Bonta’s opponent, Sacramento County DA Anne Marie Schubert.
Political experts view the election for attorney general as a referendum on criminal justice reform and where Bonta, a Democrat, and Schubert, registered as no party preference, stand.
Smittcamp criticized early jail release programs and criminal justice reforms during her comments.
“The politicians who pretend to care about law and order with sound bites when tragedies occur or show up to say they care about victims during election season, are the ones who continue to support the weakened laws passed by the people who call themselves criminal justice reformers. They haven’t reformed anything. They have contributed and encouraged criminals to continue their assaultive and depraved behaviors.
“So today I am so excited about the comments of Attorney General Bonta. I am so thrilled to hear that you are about law and order. I am so thrilled to hear that you are supportive of our efforts here in Fresno, and I would encourage you to speak to the governor and to the people in the state Assembly about stopping these political agendas, theories and versions of reform that are not working,” Smittcamp said.
Both Bonta and Smittcamp remained stone faced while the other spoke.
Also in attendance were the two men running for the open Fresno County Sheriff job — Assistant Sheriff John Zanoni and Fresno Deputy Police Chief Mark Salazar. Both men help lead their respective agency’s gang unit.
While both men were praised throughout the news conference, only Zanoni had a speaking role.