The neighborhood of Sycamore Drive, one of the main connecting streets between L Street and Auto Center Drive, has become a hotspot for crime over the last few years. Shootings this month have left one man shot in the leg, another in the neck and left yet another paralyzed after taking a shot to the face.
Antioch Police Capt. Leonard Orman noted that when he started working for Antioch in 1985, the drug dealing in the Sycamore area was primarily marijuana and methamphetamines, and was usually done indoors. But now, Orman said, dealers in the area have escalated to crack, a drug that tends to provoke more aggression.
“Historically, that’s always been a very violent area,” Orman said.
Police are still investigating the connections between the recent crimes. But the main obstacles officers face are scared witnesses, who fear that talking to the police could result in retaliation. Without that vital information, police can’t make prompt arrests. So far, three men have been arrested in connection with one of the shootings, but investigators are still tracking down other leads.
According to Orman, witnesses are encouraged to call the police with information, and the department will honor requests for anonymity. “We need community leaders to help foster an environment where people will be willing to cooperate as witnesses,” he said. “It’s very important that people make those calls to us, even if they’re anonymous.”
According to press releases from the Antioch Police Department, the first reports of gunfire came on Monday, April 4 at 4:07 p.m. on the 1500 block of Sycamore Drive. Officers arrived on the scene to find a 24-year-old Antioch man with one gunshot wound to his leg. The man told police that he didn’t know who shot him, but that the shots were fired from a small, black car. The victim was taken to a local hospital and is expected to survive.
About five hours later, officers reported another shooting, this time involving several people on the 1700 block of Sycamore Drive. Though it was unrelated to the prior incident, Orman believes the second shooting was gang-related. A 19-year-old Antioch man was shot in the face, according to Lt. Diane Aguinaga, and is in a medically induced coma. Though he is expected to survive, he might be paralyzed from the chest down.
Two days later, gunshots were reported on the 1700 block of Spanos Drive off Sycamore. Callers told police that they heard gunshots and saw men running from the area, but no one reported seeing the actual shooting, which took place at about 1 p.m.
Officers found bullet holes in the side wall of a detached garage on nearby Magnolia Way, but found no victims. Police determined that two unknown people were shooting at each other while fleeing the area.
That afternoon, local pastor Nicolas Alexander of Do The Word ministries held a rally, attended by about 25 area residents pleading for peace. Alexander also lives in the neighborhood and runs the church out of his home. He has planned a gathering for local pastors on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Contra Loma Estates.
“We can turn this around if we work together under the spirit of cooperation,” Alexander said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
However, despite the efforts of peace-minded citizens, the shootings continued.
On Sunday afternoon, Antioch police arrested three men on suspicion of committing a drive-by shooting in the area of Sycamore Drive and Banyan Way: 18-year-old Leon Moreno of Bay Point, 21-year-old Jerome Logan of Antioch and 21-year-old Emilio Antunez of Antioch. No victims were found in that shooting, but a nearby building was struck by several rounds.
“The department heads have done a remarkable job in a constrained revenue environment to direct as many resources as they possibly can to address this,” City Councilman Brian Kalinowski said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And in fact, it results in a quick, hard chase and the apprehension of three responsibles.”
The most recent shooting in that area occurred Monday at about 12:30 p.m. near the corner of Mandarin Way and Mahogany Way. A 23-year-old Antioch man suffered a non-life-threatening shot in the neck.
Orman said Wednesday morning that police are still investigating that shooting, and no other arrests have been made.
Acting Police Chief Allan Cantando and Orman said recently the department has re-zoned its coverage maps. About a month ago, the city’s police restructured Antioch from six beats into four, allowing for an extra officer to patrol the quadrant that includes Sycamore during swing shifts and graveyard shifts.
Cantando said the department has also been working with the Youth Intervention Network in an attempt to secure funds for better police technology in the area.
Local entities have also entered the fray. The East County-based security firm Strategic Threat Management has been hired by a property management group in the neighborhood as a way to help clean up crime.
Larry Treat, president of Strategic Threat Management, said his guards are generally military or police-trained and that the company is ready to work with Antioch officers to report crime and make the streets safer.
“We have a zero tolerance to criminal activity at any level,” Treat said. “If we encounter it while we’re on patrol, we’ll deal with it accordingly.”
At Tuesday’s Antioch City Council meeting, Cantando spoke of the importance of calling in crimes and suspicious activity, especially in light of the activity around Sycamore Drive. “I can’t reinforce enough how important it is for the community to get involved and actually call us when a crime is happening,” Cantando said. “When they do, we show up and we do make arrests.”
Although this recent stretch of criminal activity looks bad, Cantando noted that violent crimes from January through March were down 19 percent compared to last year.