LAPD Announces Arrest of Suspect Who Murdered Community Activist

March 11, 2002

Press Conference

Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter
LAPD Chief of Police Bernard C. Parks
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office
Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the

Vera Davis McClendon Youth & Family Center
610 California Avenue
Venice, CA

March 13, 2002
12:00 P.M.

Los Angeles: On February 26, 2002, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested Byron Lopez for the murder of James Richards, a community activist, and Juan Martinez. On February 28, 2002, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office filed two counts of murder against Byron Lopez.

On October 18, 2000, at approximately 4:00 a.m., James Richards was shot and killed in front of his home on the 700 block of Vernon Avenue in the Oakwood section of Venice. Richards was a long time resident of Oakwood and a very active member of the Community Police Advisory Board. Richards was diligent in reporting gang activity, graffiti vandalism and narcotics dealing in the Oakwood neighborhood. He published a neighborhood newsletter on the internet. Richards’ Web site reported community events, beautification programs and crime problems in the Oakwood Area. Mr. Richards had received threats from local gang members and his property was often vandalized prior to his murder. However, these threats never dissuaded the Richards in his efforts to improve the Venice neighborhood.

Robbery-Homicide Detectives assumed the investigation of the Richards murder and on October 19, 2001 determined that two assailants had ambushed and shot the victim. The investigation revealed that two suspects, who were members of two different Oakwood area street gangs, killed James Richards. Robbery-Homicide Detectives worked jointly with LAPD Narcotics Division detectives and identified numerous suspects linked to the narcotics trade and other crimes in the Oakwood area. In addition, Robbery-Homicide Detectives contacted the Southern California Drug Task Force/Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“LA HIDTA”) Group 51 and conducted a joint nine month investigation of suspects from the Oakwood area.

LA HIDTA Group 51 is a task force comprised of LAPD Narcotics detectives, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents and Los Angeles Port Authority police officers.

A narcotics distribution organization was identified and it was determined that members of this organization were responsible for a violent pattern of cocaine distribution in Oakwood and other parts of the United States. The investigation culminated in the U.S. Attorney’s Office indictment of Cory Mitchell, Maurice Brown and 22 other individuals for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. All, except one, have been arrested and are facing numerous charges. The indictment specified the murder of James Richards and the attempted murder of a male black resident of Oakwood, as overt acts in their continuing criminal enterprise.

During the course of the investigation Robbery-Homicide detectives identified Antwon Jones as one of the two suspects responsible for shooting Richards. However, on April 24, 2001, Antwon Jones was shot and killed in an unrelated gang assault in West Los Angeles. Jones was closely associated with those individuals who were eventually indicted by the U.S. Attorney in Federal Court. Jones’ violent death precluded his prosecution.

Simultaneous to the above investigation, LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division Detectives and Pacific Area Community Law Enforcement and Recovery (CLEAR) officers identified a second suspect in the Richards murder. This suspect is also believed to be responsible for the robbery-murder of Juan Martinez. Juan Martinez was a 21 year-old male Hispanic who was discovered shot and killed on the 3300 block of Beethoven Street in Pacific Area on December 23, 2000.

“The assassination of Jim Richards was a brutal, cold-blooded act that terrorized our community,” said Councilwoman Galanter. “His murder was meant to silence those who defend their neighborhoods and stand up against gangs, drugs and crime. These arrests demonstrate that we will go to any lengths to see justice served and to remove the scourge of violent crime.”

Public Information Officer Guillermo Campos, Media Relations Section, 213-485-3586, prepared this press release.