Before the Second Saturday shooting
Here’s what happened at Second Saturday in the hours that led up to the shooting on J Street
This past Second Saturday, city officials tried a new approach to quell the mob of teenagers and 20-somethings that overtakes 20th and J streets each month. As the evening progressed, police dramatically ratcheted up their presence, arrested minors for violating curfew and directed loiterers to head elsewhere. The goal was to curb underage drinking and crime, but the result was the worst-case scenario: shots fired, three wounded, one dead.
And while Mayor Kevin Johnson and Midtown leaders contend that the killing, which occurred less than two blocks from 20th Street, had nothing to do with Second Saturday, there’s every indication that the shooting may have been a consequence of a troubling young crowd and a ton of police.
Signs of trouble first appeared around 8:30 p.m., when a throng of mostly under-25 kids—some likened it to a high-school quad—engulfed the block between J and K near the MARRS building. City police had intended to keep 20th open to vehicle traffic, unlike past Second Saturdays, but surrendered to the pack and shut it down anyway.
During this time, there was visible evidence of open alcohol containers, in addition to two fights.
At 10 p.m., the plan to enforce curfew went into effect. Police cars began rolling up and down 20th, lights flashing and blaring announcements:
“Ladies and gentleman, Second Saturday is now over.”
“If you do not vacate the area and are under 18 years old, you will be subject to arrest.”
Some kids dispersed, but most remained, lingering at the end of the block near J Street. A dozen or so officers on foot—26 patrolled this Second Saturday, in addition to 8 plainclothes officers—ushered revelers onto the sidewalk as cop cars continued roving 20th. After nearly a half-hour, the block reopened to cars.
Around this time, police began stopping kids and asking to see their identification. If they were over 18, officers told them to “cross the street” or “just move on.” But if they were under 18, they were arrested.
Curfew had never been enforced at past Second Saturdays, so everyone was confused, including tall blond kid from Wilton, whose underage friend was cited, arrested and sent downtown.
“I wish we would have been informed,” Jeremy said, “because then we would have left, because we knew he wasn’t 18.”
Nearby, a black girl in a red shirt and jeans yelled into a cell phone. “She was with grown-ups,” the girl complained. “Why are they taking her? And they’re not even telling me where she’s going.”
All the kids were loaded into a police van parked on J Street and would later head downtown to 300 Richards Boulevard to be booked. Citations would cost their parents anywhere from $100 to upward of $1,000, plus possible court appearances.
By 11 p.m., a crowd had gathered to watch the arrests.
Four more black girls, all under 18, were supposed to meet their dad near L to get a ride home, when an officer stopped them on 20th and J.
“Where is your dad now?” the officer asked.
“Waiting for us to get back to the car,” one girl explained.
“Our phone is dead,” added another.
But the cop didn’t buy the story and loaded all four girls into a second police van, which was parked in a lot on 20th.
Minutes later, however, one of the girls’ fathers arrived.
“I’m pissed,” is the only words he could muster. The officers would not release his daughter and her friends; he would have to pick them up downtown.
A half-hour later, at 11:30 p.m., the dad was still waiting next to the police van, the four girls quietly locked away inside. A total of 17 minors were arrested during the sweep.
Around this same time, a couple hundred loiterers, many of whom had been on the block hours earlier, still decorated the corner of 20th and J. Four cop cars dotted the boulevard between 19th and 20th. Unmarked minivans pulled over drivers. Hundreds more 20-somethings filled the sidewalks east and west along busy thoroughfare. Traffic rushed past, kids darted across the streets.
At a quarter past midnight, the scene turned frantic. Sirens cut into the night, blasting near and far on the grid streets. Officers ran westward, and late-night revelers scattered in the opposite direction.
One block west, out in front of Plum Blossom, a Chinese restaurant, police had already begun hanging yellow crime-scene tape. An officer handcuffed one young man for crossing the police line. People were drunk, panicked, chatting and pointing.
“The dead body’s right there,” one girl pointed.
And there it was: a 24-year-old later identified as Victor Hugo Perez Zavala was lying face down on the J Street sidewalk in the shadows next to a tree trunk some 25 yards from the corner of 19th.
Police swiftly expanded the crime scene to 20th and as far west as 17th, including most adjoining alleyways and side streets. Officers shined flashlights under parked cars and scoured the crowds for witnesses. Some claimed they heard six shots. Others less. Some kids shouted, “Creek Mob!” Others cried.
Just after 1 a.m., the city information officer showed up at the 17th and J intersection and announced that there had in fact been a homicide. The scene would remain locked down for hours, police lights still flashing as the sun trickled into the sky.
By 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, Midtown residents and volunteers had already cleaned up the abundant trash and litter from 20th. But just a block away, 19th still was taped-off as crime-scene investigators pored over the J Street sidewalk, looking for evidence of how things went so very wrong.