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May 19, 2010

MS-13 members to stand trial in alleged gang attack outside downtown club

In a city as violent as Baltimore, there are an untold number of crimes that elude the press as we try to get basic information about shootings and homicides while trying to report on broader topics or delve deeper into individual cases. Here's an example of one that appears to have slipped through the cracks.

Prosecutors say four men from the DC suburbs are due to stand trial Thursday in the stabbing of a woman after a fight inside the Iguana Cantina on April 13, 2009. The Sun has written about violence at the downtown club, which was located in the Power Plant area and has since reopened under a different format. The club was a particular thorn in Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld's side and one of the main reasons he ordered officers to stop moonlighting at city bars.

But this stabbing, which prosecutors say is linked to the MS-13 gang that has terrorized the Washington suburbs, appears to have completely flown under the radar. One of the four men is also being prosecuted under rarely-used gang legislation enacted in 2007. His defense attorney is a state delegate from Montgomery County who sits on the House of Delegates judiciary committee.

According to charging documents, Leonel Herrera, Claudia Ortiz and Vanessa Santos were inside the club when a fight broke out. None of them were involved in the fight, police said, but a large group was ejected from the club by security in trying to deal with the chaos. 

The three began walking toward their car when a group of four males ran past them, who were joined by another six men. They began making hand signs and shouting "MS-13." Herrera, according to charging documents, said he put his hands up and said he was not part of a gang and did not want any problems. The 10 males began punching and kicking him.

Herrera said he observed one man identified as Jose Hernandez, armed with a knife as the group turned their attention to Ortiz and Santos. When the males fled the area, it was discovered that Ortiz had been stabbed 10 times, seven times to the right arm, twice to the right side and once to the left shoulder. Santos was also stabbed once in the back. 

Police said they located four suspects fleeing the scene and arrested Luis Menendez-Mata, Luis Morales, Antonio Ventura, and Vladimir Douglas. Hernandez was later identified through a photo array, as was Mitchel Estrella. 

Court records show that all charges were dropped against Menendez-Mata, while Estrella shows up as a co-defendant but I can't see the status of his individual case. 

Only Hernandez is being prosecuted under the gang legislation, on charges of gang association and participation in addition to assault and attempted first-degree murder. His defense attorney? Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Democrat from Montgomery County who sits on the oft-criticized judiciary committee. 

Officially known as Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 has long had a prominent and violent foothold in the Washington suburbs. A 2007 indictment made it clear that the gang's activity has spread throughout the Baltimore region, though major cases appear to have been brought in Howard and Baltimore counties, not the city. The defendants charged in this Iguana case all hail from the Hyattsville, Rockville, and Riverdale areas, so this hardly suggests an uptick in local presence.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Downtown, Gangs


peter when it comes to new i can tell you that you are better than all the baltimore local news stations and i hope you keep the good work up and please do not forget to consider are coming soon mayor little Shaffer you are the words for us that can not speak for our selves again thank you

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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