Saturday, March 16, 2013

Racial Overtones May Be Cause For Man's Killing

Carl Valverde Jr. enjoying time with his 5-year-old daughter Destinee before he was killed.

Violent Homicide of Yet Another Young San Pedro Man Ends Up Saving  Many Other Lives; Los Angeles Police Want His Killer and His Family and Friends Want Justice

By Diana L. Chapman

He was the kind of kid most of us in the more affluent enclave of San Pedro don't want to know about. He did drugs. Had two children, one when he was 14, the other at 19. He moved from house to house many times because he didn't want to work or follow his mother's "tough love" rules after she made herself a better life and remarried.

He was estranged from his biological father, who is currently in jail. His mother, Angela Perez, knows the exact day she first lost her 19-year-old son, Carl Valverde Jr. He was 11-years-old. His toddler brother, Robert, 3, had pulled balloons out of Carl's pocket and began chewing on them.

When they both yelped asking what he had, Robert gasped, inhaled, and Carl watched his baby brother choke to death in front of him. He never forgave himself, his mother said. After that, she knew he was lost because she too was lost, swimming in her own grief and addictions. Carl became angry and  began to engage in drug usage. He quit going to school and was speeding downhill fast.

His whole world was defined by the moment his brother died. And the story was well known to those close to him.

Samantha and Carl's baby, Robert
But it appeared he was getting better when he fell in love, family and friends say. He had met a girl from elementary school, Samantha Milner, 18, and his life arrived at a turning point. Once the twosome celebrated the arrival of their cooing, happy hazel-colored eyed baby, not surprisingly named Robert, he vowed to change and enrolled in a recovery program. It was as though a light of responsibility finally flicked on but it would quickly be snuffed out. 
Instead, the young man, nicknamed the "Beast" for his football player size, was fatally shot and killed in an unprovoked attack as the couple strolled home on Halloween night, possibly falling victim to African-American gang members. No matter what Carl has done, he didn't deserve to die, LAPD detectives said.

 "Our belief is that Carl did nothing wrong," said Los Angeles Detective Greg Halka of the LAPD's Harbor Division adding that Carl had no gang ties and was a complete "innocent." Both Halka and his partner, Detective Scott Coffee called the crime despicable, possibly racial and in some ways unusual. The detectives didn't judge Carl's lifestyle. They just want to catch his killer. And so do his family and friends.

Samantha and Carl before their baby was born.

"When Sabrina called me, I was devastated," said Christopher David Young who manages a Fred Brown Recovery Home in San Pedro and is the boyfriend of Samantha's mother, Sabrina Zanvich. "Carl was trying to get on his feet. Everybody's got to have a second chance and he was trying to love and take care of his baby.

"He was a good kid and someone stripped him of his chance. It's shameful. It's cowardly."

In death, Carl would save four other lives. He would never have a chance to fix his own. He died, holding Samantha's hand, on a cold Los Angeles street the night America celebrates its ghost and ghouls. He also joined the ranks of numerous other killings of mainly young men in the Harbor Area and across Los Angeles that remain unsolved. Often gang related killings have erupted in the City of the Angels, most stemming from mounting tensions between Hispanic and black gang members.

Those killings, however, began spilling over into everyday people's lives, often based on color. Carl might have been one of them. While homicide crime numbers are down, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's first admitted the racial tensions existed, but then began to back away from  the idea that his city had been rocked by hate crimes. His  former LAPD Police Chief William Bratton stood by his side.

It might have looked too bad for the city of the Angels. Bad for tourism. Bad for business. Bad that visitors might quit coming scared of getting shot.

Carl's death gained little media attention. It appears the families involved, Carl's friends and two LAPD detectives working the case are the most concerned about bringing the shooter and accomplices to justice. Other's have simply forgotten his murder. Or don't care.

Detectives said the killing has the markings of gang member activity. Gangs are thriving in Los Angeles city and county. In the city alone, 450 gangs rule the streets " with a combined membership of 45,000 individuals," according to an LAPD website. Some are 50 years old.

In the past three years alone, gangsters have committed  "16,398 verified violence gang crimes":  491 homicides, 7,047 felony assaults, 5,518 robberies and "just under 98 rapes," the LAPD  reported.

Detectives said on Halloween night Samantha and Carl went to visit her grandmother, close to where his 5-year-old daughter Destinee lives. While he didn't financially help out, he showered Destinee with love and she adored him, lighting up the minute she saw him, friends said. Samantha didn't seem to mind visiting with Carl's daughter who he had with a 16-year-old girl when he was 14.

 Destinee lives with her grandmother and her mother, Rachel DeLucas, now 22.

 One of Carl's best attributes was that he loved children and they loved him back. He would have been happy to have a "football team of kids," Rachel said, adding that he was an excellent father, often visiting, babysitting and hanging out with Destinee. When he had a job briefly, he spent his money buying clothes for his daughter.

Carl with, Destinee, and his former girlfriend, Rachel DeLucas
Now, instead of a visit, Rachel said, she was trying to figure out how to tell her 5-year-old that her dad was dead. 
Fortunately that night, Carl and Samantha left baby Robert tucked at home safely with other family members and were headed home about 9:40 p.m. A couple who joined them were further ahead as they neared 13th Street and Grand Avenue. Trick-or treaters were still milling about and plenty of people were walking the streets making it a "solvable crime" detectives said, if only witnesses would come forward.

Three African American men or youths apparently dropped behind the couple. Samantha began twitching with nervousness. They seemed young to her. Maybe in their late teens, perhaps a bit older. But Carl wasn't particularly afraid. He'd been in fights before. He'd lived in these streets a long time but stayed clear of gangs.

Then the men or boys fell behind the couple and began "mad dogging"  them, giving "bad looks," Samantha said recalling what happened in detail. When one cut away, relief swarmed over her until someone shouted out: "Hey."

Carl turned, looked back at the assailants, turned again to look at Samantha when a bullet suddenly pierced the back of his head. Carl went down, but stood back up. He told Samantha he had to race home to shower the blood away. He made it about a block to Pacific Avenue and 13th before he faltered again. He grabbed Samantha's hand as blood gushed over both of them.

"I saw him fading and he wouldn't let go of my hand," Samantha recalled, lips trembling. "He said he knows he's leaving. He told me he loved me and said I made him happy. I cried all the way to the hospital. The doctor told me there was nothing they could do. He was brain dead. I was screaming."
Carl with his girlfriend Samantha when  their baby Robert was born.

One thing Carl could grasp in those few moments in the black street where he was dying was that he was with one of the woman he apparently loved. Samantha held his hand until the light nearly went out, instantly crushing three families, two of them now having to raise a beautiful infant who will never know his father. A third child might be on the way. In a complication that Carl left behind, Rachel said she's seven months pregnant with his baby.

The baby's arrival date is June 2 and her name is Carlee Valverde. Samantha chooses to not believe it.

Heading to the hospital, a hysterical Samantha called her mother, Sabrina, and Carl's mother, Angela. They both arrived at the emergency room, Sabrina first, where she found her daughter coated  in blood at UCLA Medical Center in Carson. Still confused about what happened, Sabrina thought her daughter had been shot.

"She was covered in blood and screaming," Sabrina said, "saying: 'It's not me. It's Carl." Samantha and Carl were "inseparable" and living with her at the time, Sabrina said. She immediately let go of her frustrations that the couple still hadn't pulled their lives together yet. In fact, she made them go live in Utah to change their environment and become drug free. Carl wasn't the only one playing with drugs.

They came back drugless, pregnant and jobless, Sabrina said. While Carl had studied and got his certificate to be a dental assistant, he never followed through with the program. Samantha's mom had known Carl since he was eight, found him "self-willed" and "Samantha's first crush" when her daughter was in elementary school. He was a kid, she noted, who was possibly brilliant if he would only let himself be.

He didn't.

His mother agrees, citing that he became afraid to love anyone anymore fearing he would lose them. After his brother's death, he buried himself in excessive use of weed and alcohol. It only worsened when Angela's oldest son, Michael, got married and moved to a small town in Iowa to get away from all the gang violence. Angela, realizing this would be a good move for her 16-year-old daughter, Vanessa, who was getting into fights already, asked Michael to take her too to get her out of town.

Vanessa would eventually graduate with a college degree and is now 23.

Because he was too young, his mother didn't send Carl. But his sense of loss only deepened, his mother said. He couldn't understand why his half-brother and half-sister were leaving him if they truly loved him.

Their departure capitulated the teen even further down in his dark pit. He refused to go to school and often would lay around until his friends called. He was depressed,  Angela thought. She quit her excessive drinking, cleaned herself up and turned her own life around.

She remarried.

But Carl's refusal to do anything, his numerous truancies and growing drug use forced his mother to put him in a "placement" group home where he would at least be in school. It provided counseling, but Carl refused to talk. All Angela's efforts had proven fruitless. After that, Carl would go from one placement home to another, getting out and starting all over again.

 But for once in his life, Carl's mom said, after he met Samantha again, she could see him slowly beginning to emerge, a flicker of change was there and he began to show he was ready "to become a man."

Samantha and Carl hadn't seen each other since elementary school, but when they ran into each other again as teenagers at age 17, the sparks were instantaneous. They traveled together everywhere, worried their moms endlessly and Carl started to live at Sabrina's home.

No one could deny they loved each other.

When Angela got the phone call to come to the hospital, she was baffled. Carl had told her earlier that day that he was happy, excited and had "everything ready to go" to move into a recovery center. Now, she was getting calls to rush to the hospital about  her son.

When Angela arrived bringing Rachel, doctors told her what Samantha already knew. Carl was brain dead. This time his mother knew she lost Carl forever.

Doctors asked if she would donate Carl's organs.

"Yes," she said. "I figured if one life has to go, I thought other people deserved to live. "If Carl's organs were transplanted,  Angela also believed, she would still have a bit of him left on Earth.

Carl would live on life support for four more days until his organ's were harvested.

Carl's shooting garnered little media attention other than a few paragraphs in a local paper. He wasn't an A student. He didn't have a stellar reputation. He wasn't a popular football and basketball player like San Pedro High Laterian Tasby (L.T.) , 17, who was fatally shot at a weekend party a week before Halloween in 2007.

Tasby, an African-American who some called the 6'6'' "monster," tried to protect his friends when allegedly some Hispanic youths crashed the party, toting knives and provoking a brawl. Tasby was shot in the chest trying to save his friends.

The case was never solved.

Carl also wasn't 14-year-old Cheryl Green, an African-American girl gunned down in broad daylight when she was standing on a corner with some friends. The friends were chatting in her Harbor Gateway neigborhood on December 2006 when a Hispanic gang member shot at them, killing Cheryl and injuring several of her friends.

It was blatant "hate" crime. African Americans living in the neighborhood revealed that Hispanic gangs harassed, beat them and showed clear boundaries of where African Americans were allowed to move in their own neighborhood. Several Hispanic gang members were later arrested in Cheryl's death and sentenced to life in prison.

A new recreation center run by the Boys and Girls was opened in 2009 as a safe haven for kids in Harbor City, Harbor Gateway and Torrance. It was named after Cheryl.

Unlike Carl's case, the media descended upon L.T.'s story because of his transformation at the Boys and Girls Club from near gang member to a star athlete, playing both football and basketball at San Pedro High School. Students who witnessed his stunning changes said he inspired them, but not one teenager at the party would step forward as witnesses to snag the assailants.

 They were terrified, not just for themselves but for their families. Those killers were left to roam the streets.

 Cheryl's case drew a much bigger media frenzy and went nationally because her death was considered a hate crime bringing in the FBI, Villaraigosa, then LAPD Police Chief William Bratton, then Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn and hordes of  cameras and media crews. At that time, Villaraigosa and Bratton admitted there were racial tensions brewing in the city between Hispanic and African Americans gangs . But gang members weren't just killing each other anymore.

Their violence was spilling over the lives' of everyday people. People like Carl.

Carl had no city officials swoop in after his death. His death wasn't considered a "hate" crime, although his loved ones wonder why. His story wasn't sexy enough.  He was just another kid shot and killed in what many San Pedro residents consider a poor, crime riddled neighborhood. From some assessments, San Pedro is "a Tale of Two Cities," a local principal said one day.

There appeared to be an invisible, long-harbored demarcation line with the impoverished, petty criminals and gangs living east of Gaffey Street even though many professionals have moved in over recent years. The thoroughfare conveniently slices San Pedro in two-divides.

 Middle and upper middle class residents tended to live to the west of the major boulevard, often warning friends to stay far away from the area in an industrial community that started out on the backs of fisherman and now boasts the Port of Los Angeles, the largest in the world.

The area also has a sprawling and embedded housing facilities called Rancho San Pedro. It is blamed consistently for all of San Pedro's woes.

As the mothers sat at the hospital together they both agreed too many kids and young adults, were dying from violence in Harbor Area streets where they both live.

Los Angeles police detectives assigned to the case weren't judgmental of Carl's life style and could see in the years ahead he might of transformed. While Carl had no gangs ties, he was cordial to gang members, they explained, like so many other youths living in gang-ridden neighborhoods who want to survive.

But the detectives are frustrated too as only rumors have poured in, nothing concrete with any evidence. They can't convict anyone without evidence and are waiting for that single lead, no matter how small that could help them make a case.

The suspected killers, who allegedly might have been members of the Dodge City Crips, were believed to be between the ages of 16 to 22 and around 5' 6" and 5' 10'' tall. After the shooting, they slipped away in the darkness of the night and vanished.

Hakka and Coffee find a few oddities with the case. One was that no discussion happened between the victim and the suspects. Usually, some conversation happens even if it's short, such as a gang member asking a victim what neighborhood they're from.

"This is not typical," said LAPD Detective Scott Coffee. "It was a pretty random thing. We don't have a lot of walk up shootings. It is consistently gang like and it  happened really quick."

The detectives are asking the public "to do the right thing" if they witnessed anything, overheard any "bragging" conversations pertaining to the case or have knowledge in any other facet that would bring justice to Carl and his family.

Anonymous options are available through Crime Stoppers, they said, a non-profit organization not run by police that makes it easy for witnesses to call in anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).  The detectives can also be reached: Halka at 310-726-7886 and Coffee at 310-726-7880.
The officers working to solve the case the are asking the families for "patience."

While family and friends noticed Carl was transforming, including Rachel, she  believes the possible overhaul of his life might not have been about "the two women he loved," but for his children.

Her daughter, Destinee, cried when Rachel told her her father was dead and continues to ask for him. While some of those involved want Rachel to take a paternity test when her new baby is born, she said she doesn't need too. She knows exactly who the father is.

Carl really never stood a chance, those that loved him said. It seemed he might have suffered from depression after his brother died. Sabrina, Samantha's mom, said she argued with him all the time and was furious when her daughter became pregnant.

All involved agree, including Samantha, that Carl's son Robert will be cared for by other  family members and that she needs to return to school to find a career.

 Now as Sabrina holds a giddy, gurgling Robert in her arms with interested family members surrounding them, she knows that the 4-month old infant will have a much greater future than his father. There are so many who love him. And in the end, she is happy that she has a grandson and now believes Carl did didn't have much of a chance given his circumstances.

"As much as we would fight with Carl, I wanted more for my grandson," Sabrina said as she clenched his gurgling baby in her arms. "But in the end (Carl) wanted more out of life too."

A shrine remains for Carl at Grand Avenue and 13th streets, littered with signs posted by friends that they love and miss "the Beast."

Much of the words left for him flap in the wind.


 Four lives were saved using Carl's organs. One Legacy, the organization
that  handle his case, outlined where the donations went in a letter written to his mother. Four out of five of the transplants were successful. Here are the people he saved and the one where the transplant failed:

--Carl's left kidney and pancreas were donated to a man living in California, in his 30s, married and working for a school district. It is the first time the man has been able to be off dialysis in three years.

--A teenage boy, also in California, who likes to play soccer and basketball, received Carl's kidney. The successful transplant allowed him to terminate
dialysis after being on it for  two years.

--Carl's liver was transplanted in a woman in her 60s."While everyone involved expected a positive outcome, the liver did not function once transplanted," the letter stated. "This woman is hopeful  that another family will say yes to donation as you so generously did."
--A man in his 20s, a tutor and resident of California, received Carl's lungs and
has been doing well, the letter said.

--The father of two children in his 50s who lives in Rhode Island received Carl's heart. He is a doctor now enjoying taking care of his children and "his heart is recovering well."