The mass killing that left six people dead and 12 wounded outside bars just blocks from California’s Capitol last weekend was a gunfight involving at least five shooters from rival gangs, Sacramento police said Wednesday.
Police said they identified at least five gunmen but there may have been more. Only two suspects — both brothers wounded by gunfire — have been arrested in connection with the shooting and, so far, only face firearms charges.
“We’re still working through … who the actual shooters are in the case,” Sgt. Zach Eaton said.
Until Wednesday’s announcement, police had been silent on what led to the shooting that erupted early Sunday as bars were letting out. Rapid-fire bursts of over 100 gunshots echoed through the streets as terrified patrons ran for their lives and others were hit by bullets.
Police said at least two gangs were involved. They declined to provide more details or name the gangs involved or the affiliation of any suspects.
Experts said that if gangs were to blame, it would mark an unusually bloody feud.
In 20 years of researching gangs in Los Angeles, Alex Alonso said he can’t remember a gang-related shooting with such a high body count.
“It’s extremely rare that a gang shooting happened as the way this one is being characterized,” Alonso said. “It’s extremely rare to have that happen in a public place with so many victims.”
Gregory Chris Brown, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Fullerton, said gangs often target rivals in drive-by shootings with fewer victims, though innocent bystanders are sometimes also struck.
The location of the Sacramento shooting – near the Capitol, in a bustling commercial area — was incidental to whatever fueled the fight.
“If rival gang members see each other it doesn’t matter if they’re in the Capitol of the United States of America,” Brown said. “If you see a rival gang member and you’re going to attack them, it doesn’t matter where they are.”
The large number of casualties was the result of high-capacity weapons in a crowded area, he said.
Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth who leads gun intervention and prevention programs and offered his services to counsel families who lost loved ones in the shooting, criticized police for characterizing the crime as gang-related, which he said will lead some to “think Black people.”
He said people will see the photos of the Black women and men who were shot, assume they were in a gang and wonder why gang members are downtown.
“That’s the narrative we don’t need at this particular time,” Accius said. “This idea that we’re going to put blame to one demographic of folks and blame them for the violence that ensued.”
Authorities credited witnesses who contributed nearly 200 videos, photos and other tips with helping the investigation.
Police were trying to determine if a stolen handgun found at the crime scene was used in the massacre. It had been converted to a weapon capable of automatic gunfire.
One of the brothers in custody, Smiley Martin, 27, was seen brandishing a handgun on a live Facebook video hours before the shooting, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Martin was freed from prison about two months ago and last year was rejected for earlier release after prosecutors argued he “clearly has little regard for human life,” documents show.
Investigators were trying to determine if the gun seen in the video was used in the shooting, according to the official, who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to publicly discuss details and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Martin and his brother were among those wounded when gunfire erupted about a block from the state Capitol at about 2 a.m. Sunday as bars closed and patrons filled the streets. Smiley Martin remained hospitalized and it wasn’t clear if he had an attorney who could speak for him.
The Sacramento County coroner identified the three women killed as Johntaya Alexander, 21; Melinda Davis, 57; and Yamile Martinez-Andrade, 21. The three men killed were Sergio Harris, 38; Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32; and De’vazia Turner, 29.
Ten people were wounded in addition to the Martin brothers and at least two remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Dandrae Martin, 26, was arrested Monday as a “related suspect” and appeared briefly Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court on a charge of being a convict carrying a loaded gun. He did not enter a plea.
A 31-year-old man seen carrying a handgun immediately after the shooting was arrested Tuesday on a weapons charge. Police said they don’t believe his gun was used in the shooting.
Smiley Martin’s criminal history dates to 2013. He was released on probation from state prison in February after serving about half of a 10-year sentence for punching a girlfriend, dragging her from her home by her hair and whipping her with a belt, prosecutors said.
Dandrae Martin, who was held without bail, was freed from an Arizona prison in 2020 after serving just over 18 months for violating probation in separate cases involving marijuana possession and aggravated assault.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg questioned why the brothers were on the streets.
“Those questions need to be answered and they will be answered over the days ahead,” Steinberg said.
Defense lawyer Linda Parisi said any effort to seek Dandrae Martin’s release on bail will depend on whether prosecutors bring stiffer charges.
“If it turns out that the evidence demonstrates that this was mere presence at a scene that certainly argues more for a release,” Parisi said. “If it shows some more aggressive conduct then it would argue against it. But we don’t know that yet.”
This version corrects that Smiley Martin served about half of a 10-year prison sentence, not about two years of the term.
Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio, Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Don Thompson in Sacramento, Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.