Los Angeles. Los Angeles detectives are warning Elysian Park visitors, who frequent to the southeast portion of the park off North Broadway, to be aware of criminals who have been robbing park-goers over the last several weeks.
"We recognized the MO pretty quickly," said Lt. Paul Vernon, head of detectives downtown. "This area of the park is secluded and it has a reputation as a meeting place for sexual liaisons between strangers."
Two persons were stabbed in separate robberies starting in early March. The suspects in both cases were Hispanic men, probably gang members from the Lincoln Heights area. "We had seen this MO before: gang members were targeting victims who put themselves in a vulnerable situation," Vernon said. "The suspects gambled their victims would not call police."
Following the two incidents, detectives and vice officers staked out the park. They arrested a Hispanic gang member who was armed with a long butcher knife. "We figured he was there to rob someone, but he got spooked by one of the undercover police cars," Vernon added. The assaults and robberies stopped after this man was identified and booked on a weapons charge.
Then April 6, a 29-year-old Hispanic man reported to police that he had been kidnapped at gunpoint from the park, forced into the trunk of his car, and driven to Glendale, where the suspects abandoned the stolen car and their victim in the trunk. This time, though, the suspect was Black, not Hispanic. The victim, who speaks only Spanish, recalled several stops and hearing more than one voice.
Detectives canvassed the block of 1200 S. Brand Avenue in Glendale and found a suspicious Hispanic man had tried to cash a money order, but ran from the store when the clerk questioned the document. Detectives identified the man as Jamie Gutierrez, 20, from Los Angeles.
Thirty-two hours after the kidnapping, Gutierrez was in custody on a narcotics warrant. That arrest led detectives to Justin Daniel Cox, 27, as the second voice the victim heard after he was kidnapped. Cox is a known 18th Street gang member who lives in Glendale and is on parole for manslaughter. Glendale police officers arrested Cox on Barrington Way outside a known drug house. Los Angeles detectives arrested Cox on a warrant for the kidnapping after the victim identified Cox from photographs.
The trail next led to the primary suspect with the gun, identified as Ernest Monroe, 36, from Los Angeles. Detectives arrested him on the evening of April 8 near his father’s apartment on Monterey Road in Monterey Hills.
Detectives served a search warrant, April 9, at Cox’s home on Barrington Way and found documents belonging to the kidnap victim as well as an air pistol, which resembled a 9mm Beretta handgun.
"While these arrests should reassure the public, I still want to encourage people to avoid putting themselves in vulnerable situations where criminals might take advantage," Vernon added. "We have sent our vice and patrol officers into the park to warn persons parking there. If the friendly warning does not deter them, then we may have to take enforcement action for their own good."
Detectives released the photographs of the three men in the hopes other victims may come forward.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office filed the following charges against each suspect:
Ernest Monroe – Kidnapping, Witness Intimidation, Robbery, and Burglary
Justin Cox – Kidnapping, Witness Intimidation, and Robbery
Jaime Gutierrez – Kidnapping, Witness Intimidation, Burglary, and Forgery
Bail for Monroe and Cox was set at $1 million. Gutierrez’s bail will be adjusted up once he is arraigned on the kidnapping and other charges.
Anyone with information is urged to call LAPD’s Central Robbery Unit at 213-972-1244. Persons can also call the 24-hour hotline number, 1-877-LAWFULL (529-3855).