‘Stray Bullet’ targets heads of gang

Sheriff’s Department’s Operation Stray Bullet arrests top 25 members of Norteno street gang operating in Cutler-Orosi area

By Reggie Ellis

VISALIA – A street gang that terrorized northern Tulare County was dismantled last week after its most violent members were arrested in a massive operation involving local, state and federal law enforcement. 

“These violent criminals have no regard for human life, and they need to be stopped. And this morning, we did just that,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said. 

At 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 16, nearly 300 law enforcement personnel from agencies throughout Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Kern counties, along with federal agents with the DEA and FBI, served 25 local search warrants and 28 federal and state arrest warrants in Farmersville, Visalia, Tulare, Cutler-Orosi, and Orange Cove. Known as “Operation Stray Bullet,” the five-month investigation targeted violent gang members for the last five months who are responsible for more than 30 reported and unreported drive-by shootings. Boudreaux said no officers or suspects were hurt during the arrests.

As a result, 25 Norteno gang members were arrested, some on federal charges and others on state charges, ranging from drug sales, gun sales and shootings to conspiracy to commit robberies, home invasion and conspiracy to commit murder. Boudreaux said two of those arrested were teenagers, a 15 and a 16-year-old on charges of possession of a stolen vehicle and gang conspiracy, both with gang enhancements.

“Those kids should have been sitting in school this morning wondering what they were going to do for the winter formal or some type of school event,” Boudreaux said. “Instead they are sitting in a jail cell today. Their lives have been truly stolen by gangs.”

The man Boudreaux said was the cause of “havoc and terror” of law-abiding citizens and responsible for “poisoning the minds of our children” was 27-year-old Edward Moran of Cutler. Moran was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, gang conspiracy, sales of an assault weapon, burglary of an occupied residence, possession of a firearm while being a documented gang member, possession of a controlled substance for sales, possession of marijuana for sales, bringing a controlled substance into a jail facility, all with gang enhancements. 

“The people in this community deserve to feel safe when they lay their heads down at night. They shouldn’t live in fear. And without these criminals lurking around every corner, the good people of Cutler/Orosi can breathe a little easier tonight,” Boudreaux said.

Another of those arrested was 19-year-old Jorge Barajas of Cutler, the main suspect in a shooting in Seville last fall that nearly killed an 8-year-old girl. The shooting happened at about 10:30 p.m. in the 15300 block of Visalia Avenue in Seville and was impetus for the multi-agency operation. When deputies arrived, they discovered two people had been shot, including one adult and an 8-year-old girl. The little girl was shot in the hand and taken to Children’s Hospital Central California with non life-threatening injuries. The adult victim was shot in the legs and is also expected to make a full recovery.

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks during a press conference about Operation Stray Bullet on Jan. 16 at Sheriff’s Headquarters. Photo courtesy of Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.

“But we are happy to report that, today, she is fully recovered and doing great,” Boudreaux said. “TCSO deputies delivered Christmas presents to her a few weeks ago and she was all smiles.”

Barajas is being charged with possession of a firearm while being a documented gang member, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder and possession of a controlled substance for sales, all with gang enhancements. 

“We believe he was targeting another gang, and in that act a little girl almost lost her life,” Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Torres said.

During the five-month investigation, detectives seized 12 pounds of meth, 150 pounds of processed marijuana, ½ pound of black tar heroin, 18 firearms, four assault rifles, one grenade, two silencers and two stolen vehicles. Torres said the guns recovered during the operation were stolen from Tulare and Fresno counties and the serial numbers were filed off.  

Boudreaux said more arrests could be announced in the coming weeks as many witnesses and people with information remain hesitant to come forward for fear of retaliation.

“We are learning info on new cases that are possibly coming out of this,” Boudreaux said. “There have been a lot of steps in place to prevent retaliation. Gangs have a heavy influence due to that fear factor.”

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