Gang graffiti scars neighborhood walls |

Gang graffiti scars neighborhood walls

Matt Zalaznick

The graffiti may be evidence a gang with roots in Los Angeles is attempting to recruit members in the Vail Valley. Avon police Detective Mike Leake, however, says officers have so far thwarted the Sureno 13 gang’s attempts to establish a foothold in the mountains.

“They can do it in Los Angeles and they can do it in Denver, but they can’t do it in Avon,” Leake says.

The graffiti was first spotted on an inside hallway early one morning three weeks ago by a property manager at Sunridge. But initial interviews with tenants went nowhere, Avon police Officer Mike Lundblade says.

As he was leaving Sunridge, Lundblade says he spotted the letters “SWC” spray-painted on a trash storage shed at Westgate shopping center, next door to the apartment complex.

“SWC’ likely stands for Southwest Central, a gang symbol that originated in Los Angeles. The name of a gang – Sureno 13 – also was painted on the trash shed, Lundblade says.

“They’re from L.A. and are trying to establish here,” Lundblade says.

“If they’re coming here from Compton, they’re serious about it,” he says, referring to the Los Angeles neighborhood often celebrated in rap music and notorious for crime and gang activity.

A tip a few days later led police to Leo Ruiz, 25, of Avon, who works for a local mechanic, and Gustavo Ramos, 18 – also of Avon – a student at Battle Mountain High School, Lundblade says.

Both denied spray-painting the graffiti, but Ramos showed police a tattoo on his back that matched the symbols found on the trash shed.

Ramos has an S on his left shoulder blade, a W in the middle of his back and a C on his right shoulder – all done in calligraphy-style. Ramos also showed them another SWC on his chest done in the same style as the graffiti on the trash shed, Lundblade says.

Ramos, whom a witness claims to have spotted carrying a paint can, told police his fingerprints might be on the cans used to spray-paint the graffiti because they had been stored in his bedroom closet, Lundblade says.

But he told them the cans had been taken from his bedroom closet and didn’t know who took them or where they went, Lundblade says.

Artwork with symbols similar to the graffiti also was discovered in Ramos’ backpack, Lundblade says.

Lundblade and Leake say they then interrogated a 15-year-old Sunridge resident.

The boy, who was questioned with his sister present, said he and the two older men went out after midnight Sept. 17, and that Ramos spray-painted the graffiti at Westgate and around Sunridge, according to police records.

The boy told police it took 15 to 20 minutes to tag the trash shed at Westgate, Lundblade says.

The boy also said he didn’t know what the symbols meant, Lundblade says.

More artwork with similar symbols and a gold jersey with the number 13 with the words “South Sider” printed on the back was found in the boy’s apartment, Leake says.

That type of jersey is worn by Sureno 13 gang members, Leake says.

The boy was charged for investigation of felony criminal mischief and conspiracy, Leake says.

Ramos and Ruiz were both arrested for investigation of felony criminal mischief, conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Lundblade says.

Both men continued to deny having anything to do with the graffiti, Lundblade says.

“Sureno” means southerner, referring to south Los Angeles, and 13 stands for M, the13th letter of the alphabet and first letter of the word, Mexican, Leake says.

“Avon does not have a gang problem,” Leake says. “This was on isolated incident.”

The tips police received helped them make arrests quickly, Lundblade says.

“It would’ve taken a lot longer if concerned citizens wouldn’t have come forward,” he says.

Both Leake and Lundblade say Avon police have smothered the gangs’ efforts to stake out territory upvalley. But they need help from residents, whom they urged to report graffiti or any other evidence of gang activity as soon as possible.

“It’s vitally important if somebody starts seeing gang activity anywhere that we be called,” Lundblade says. “If we find it on a Tuesday morning, it’ll be gone by Tuesday afternoon. It’s got to be covered up.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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