Sal Martinez wants the homeboys to know that he isn't talkin' to 5-0. Never has. Never will.
His talkin' to 5-0--a gang-slang reference to the television police drama Hawaii 5-0--was just a vicious rumor put out on the streets by his enemies. The same enemies who tried to silence him last July, but instead shot and killed Venus Montoya, the nineteen-year-old mother of a four-year-old boy ("The Gang's All Here," July 17). Spreading the rumor, Sal adds, are the cops, who don't mind sowing a little dissension among gang members.
Like Venus Montoya, Salvino Michael Martinez was raised by his grandmother. Born in February 1975, he was handed over to the old woman when he was just four by a mother he couldn't get along with.
His father was in prison. For what? "Ahhhh, so much shit, I don't remember what for," says Sal, a beefy six-footer with dark tattoos accenting the brown skin of his arms and neck. His black hair is shaved close to his round head, and a heavy gold chain circles his thick neck.
Sal was his grandmother's favorite. She tried hard to keep him on the right track, always wanting to know where he was going, what he was doing and who would be with him. He grew up in a number of westside projects, playing with friends like "Smug" and "Baby G." Everyone was poor. Everyone dreamed of getting ahead. Few knew how to go about it.
In those days, the gangs weren't so prevalent. Sal would hear about them, but they didn't control the streets like they would someday.
If there was a single person Sal looked up to besides his grandmother, it was his brother, Davey Angelo Martinez. Three years older, Davey was everything Sal thought was cool. But when Sal was thirteen, his brother was killed. "By his so-called best friend," Sal recalls. "His friend thought he was seeing his lady, so he stabbed him in the heart."
Three months later his grandmother died. Sal had to move back in with his mother, who lived in Lakewood. Away from the 'hood, Sal became a loner. And for reasons he says he can't explain, the police picked on him.
"I'd be walking down the block and they'd call the dogs out on me," he says. "Or I'd be at school standing around by myself...there'd be ten kids fuckin' around over there, but the cops would pull me over."
Around the neighborhood, he began to notice that the homeboys were "flamed up"--wearing bright red, the color of the Bloods, a gang that had started in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
Sal says he didn't feel pressure from gang members, because he wasn't afraid to stand up to them. At a party, if gang members showed up and demanded money, he'd tell them where to get off. "'What the fuck,'" says Sal, recalling his response to the strong-arm tactics. "'You can't come in here and punk me.' I wouldn't put up with it, but some did."
Still, Sal hung out at the park with the Westside CMG Bloods, "drinkin' and smokin' grass." He had dropped out of school; there was nothing there that interested him. One day when he was seventeen, the Bloods said, 'Hey homie, you been hangin' with us, it's time we put you in.'"
Sal describes his decision to join the gang as something that "just happened...I knew it would mean trouble down the line...but it was good to have a 'set' to be with, somebody who would back you up."
Those first few years, Sal was a regular banger. Sometimes that just meant chillin' with the homies, drinking and smoking. Sometimes it meant cruising, looking for rival gang members to shoot.
As a Blood, he was indoctrinated into the ways of a gang. Surrounded by the rival Crips, he was to "go out like a soldier," claiming his loyalty to the Bloods. But the number-one rule was never to talk to the police, even about rivals.
Sal's adult arrest record began in 1994 with a charge of misdemeanor assault. Some other members of the gang had nearly pistol-whipped a fifteen-year-old boy to death, he says, "but I took the rap for that."
Sal's arrest record continued through 1994 and 1995 with a series of minor violations: public urination, vandalism, curfew violations and traffic offenses. The most serious charge came in February 1995, when he was arrested for distributing marijuana. He served six months in jail for that.
After that, there would be no more arrests for two years. Sal found himself "floatin' away" from the bangin' life.
He wanted "things," and the bangin' lifestyle did not lend itself to upward mobility. Whatever money was made through robbery, theft, drug-dealing or extortion would be "pissed away" on booze, drugs and "bitches."
Sal, who had fathered two children, wanted more from life. "I had no car, no money," he recalls. "Sure, there were bitches, drinkin' and bangin'...but that don't put a roof over your head or feed your children or get you wheels."
It wasn't that Sal walked the straight and narrow: He ran his own illicit enterprises and put his money away. He used some of the money to purchase Lincoln Towncars, which he turned into beautifully detailed lowriders (one of which won first place this year at the Cinco de Mayo festivities).
It was the "jealousy and envy" of other gangmembers that got him into trouble, Sal says. In particular, the money and the cars drew the attention of Daniel "Bango" Martinez, Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas, his brother Gerard "G-Loc" Ornelas, Samuel "Zig-Zag" Quintana, and even Sal's childhood friend, David "Baby G" Warren.
This clique within the Westside CMG Bloods considered themselves to be the hardcore members, Sal says. They'd show up at a party and demand jewelry and money from those in attendance, but that wasn't the worst of it. "They'd put a gun to a girl's head and say, 'You're gonna fuck me and all my homeboys.'"
They couldn't get away with such tactics with older Bloods or people who stood up to them. "They could have never done it to black Bloods... the blacks would have put them down fast," Sal says, referring to the mostly black Eastside CMG Bloods.
It was young or weaker "fools" who could do nothing when Bango and his cohorts robbed them and raped their girlfriends. And they knew that if they talked, they were liable to get shot.
Bango and his boys, Sal notes, are generally small in stature. "They can't fight for shit...they're bitches when it comes to fighting," he says. "But they'll use a gun, and that scares some fools."
Sal's refusal to recognize Bango or Speed, a reputed "shooter" for Westside CMG, as leaders earned their enmity. "I told them that shit with the women was going to catch up to them one of these days," he says. "But they got big heads; they think they were in charge."
The bad blood led to Bango and his boys taking shots at Sal, who says he returned the fire and hints that he may have initiated some of his own. "Some of their cars got shot up, and somebody blew up Ornelas's mom's house...it might have been me and maybe it wasn't," he says. "But what it got down to was: Who is going to kill who first?"
At one point, Sal says, he caught Bango and pistol-whipped him to the ground. "I could have killed him then, but I let him slide," he says. "But after I beat his ass, the animosity really kicked in."
Sal was ready for the gunplay. But then Bango and his troops "did the absolute worst thing they could do," he says. They put the word out on the streets that he was talkin' to 5-0...that he was a snitch.
The rumor alone was enough to get a man killed. Friends wouldn't talk to him anymore, Sal says, and some refused to do business with him until he could explain what was happening. Then came word that Bango had ordered a hit on Sal.
But even with the snitch rumor out and the hit on, Sal refused to hide. He drove around town in his easily recognizable car and visited the same friends. "Think about it," he says. "I got a light record; there was nothing for me to snitch about so that I could save my ass from a long time in the pen.
"I'd rather do a year or two than spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder because I talked to 5-0 about the Bloods. I never talked to 5-0 about nothing."
On the night of July 18, 1996, and into the early morning, Sal Martinez and one of his "homies," Richard "JC Love" Biggs, spent some time partying with girls who'd rented an apartment in a complex off Sheridan Boulevard. One of Sal's brothers knew one of the girls, Venus Montoya.
"She was real nice," Sal recalls. "We just sat around doing shots. There were some other guys there, but she said, 'Don't be tripping on each other, just chill,' and that's what we did."
A little before 4 a.m., Sal and Biggs left to pick up Sal's girlfriend. A few minutes later two figures in black ski masks crept up to the screen door of the apartment and began shooting. Venus, who just that week had asked her grandmother to take her son home for his own safety, was killed by several shots to the head.
Sal Martinez heard about the killing the next day. It was all over the streets. Word was that the Ornelases and Quintana had gone looking for him and that Alejandro and Quintana had shot Venus.
Sal didn't tell the police what he knew, which he says shows that he's no snitch. "Or they could have arrested them that day," he adds. "It just blew my mind...I mean, I was just there. I wouldn't want that to happen to my mom or sister or my daughter. I felt bad that she got killed because they were trying to get me. But that's the way it is on the streets."
Lakewood police detective Scott Richardson even called him, Sal says, to tell him that Bango and Speed were saying that Sal had stolen the murder weapon from them, used it and then put it back in their car, where police found it. But Sal says he still refused to talk. He would take care of Bango and Speed in his own way.
That's if he could get to them first. Word on the streets was that Bango's group had "jacked" some big-time Mexican gangsters for a few kilos of marijuana.
But it was their attitude toward women that caught up with them first. On the night of May 30, fifteen-year-old Brandy Duvall was seen leaving the house of a friend. Her body was found the next day, lying next to Clear Creek on a highway west of Golden.
Sal heard what had happened to Brandy on the streets--just as he had learned what had happened to Venus Montoya. She had been raped repeatedly and had pleaded for her life. Fearing that she would tell the police what had happened, though, the gang members took her to the mountains, where they took turns stabbing her, according to court records.
"That poor little girl...that just don't make no sense," says Sal. "I wouldn't call it anger...it's just the way they are."
A police informant called the Jefferson County Sheriff's office and said that Brandy had been taken by members of the Westside CMG Bloods to a home in Adams County. The cops arrested several gang members there. Charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of Brandy Duvall were Bango Martinez, Zig-Zag Quintana, Baby G Warren, Maurice Warren, Fran-cisco Martinez, Frank Vigil and Jacob Casados.
Soon afterward, Detective Richardson arrested the Ornelas brothers. Along with Quintana, who was already in jail, they were then charged with the first-degree murder of Venus Montoya.
In court documents to support the Montoya murder charges, the trio's motive was described as wanting to kill Sal Martinez for being a snitch. Venus was just in the wrong place.
"The funny thing is, they're all rollin' over on each other," Sal laughs. "They said I was a snitch, but they can hardly wait to snitch on each other."
For the moment, the arrests have taken care of Sal Martinez's enemies--although the rumor that Sal was a snitch lives on, and as long as it does, he's in danger.
Even so, Sal is a Blood, and he says he will always be a Blood. In the meantime, though, there's that upward mobility thing. He says he hasn't been bangin' for more than a year; he's currently trying to make it as a musician. His group, Vino GLOC-9 (Gangsters Lost on Cloud-9), will release its first "gansta" rap record on the Threat Records label later this summer.
"There's a lot of money in music," Sal says. "You can retire in five, ten years. And the money's legit. I want that...I want a nice house, kids, nice cars--someplace safe."
He's had only one arrest since 1995, after an argument with his girlfriend in which he broke a coffee table. He regrets not finishing high school and is contemplating getting his GED. He'd stop his own kids from joining a gang, he says. "There was no one--not a homeboy or family--there to stop me."
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But some habits--unlike people--are hard to kill. For example, he has never called Venus Montoya's family to say he was sorry that she died because of a feud between him and Bango.
"I couldn't explain it to them," he says. "There'd be a lot of anger towards me. I'm sorry, but I can't bring her back by saying I'm sorry.
"That's how it is, that's how it goes. That's life on the streets."
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