March 8th, 2010
10:10 PM ET

Homicide in Hollenback: Why a killing caught on tape can go unsolved

Program Note: Five years ago we reported on gang violence in the Los Angeles community of Hollenbeck. This week, all week, we follow up on the neighborhood. Through the eyes of cops, criminals and crusaders, we witness the corrosive effects of violence and what's being done to prevent it. We take you inside the investigations of homicides as they unfold in a community where 30 percent of all killings remain unsolved. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Milton Bueno looks outside his bedroom window toward the drive way where his son Steven was shot and killed.

Stan Wilson
CNN Producer

Hollenbeck sits 15-square miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Although nearly one-third of its residents live at the poverty level, and unemployment is twice the national rate, Hollenbeck is a vibrant predominately Latino community. Faith is a central part of the community, traditions run deep and ‘mom-and-pop’ stores line the streets.

But there is another side of Hollenbeck, often invisible to outsiders. It’s a place where every block is claimed by a street gang. Police and prosecutors often call gang crime a form of terrorism — because gangs use violence to intimidate entire communities.

While gang-related homicides declined 60 percent over the past seven years, LAPD detective Dewaine Fields has seen gang crime go up and down. Fields has spent more than 10 years supervising the LAPD’s Hollenbeck gang unit. He said he was not surprised when five people were murdered in a single week last summer.

In Hollenbeck, these cold-blooded killings were a reflection of the ruthless cycle of gang violence. Detective Fields says fear of retaliation, the code of silence, witness intimidation and vigilante justice are common threads that prevent his team from solving 30 percent of all homicides in this community.

Steve Bueno was 20-years-old when he was killed.

When Detective Fields arrives at a murder scene, he looks for clues on ground. But there’s one other place he looks for information. “One of the first things we do is look up for cameras because in the city of Los Angeles there's a lot or cameras.”

In the drive-by shooting that killed Steven Bueno, a.k.a. “Grinch”, Fields found what at first glance appeared to be the smoking gun. A neighborhood surveillance video had captured it all. The videotape, obtained exclusively by CNN, shows a gunman in a green Honda with his arms stretched out of the car window in broad daylight firing at four alleged gang members.

Steven Bueno was one of those targets. He was shot in the head. But it turns out the video was not enough to solve this case. Detective Fields needs information from eyewitnesses: Bueno’s friends, the guys who survived the shooting. And, unfortunately, none of them is providing much information, said Fields.

“He got blasted and his homeboys do not have the guts to come up and say I know who did it,” says Detective Fields. “Gangsters don't like talking to the police. They don't trust us. They don't trust their own homeboys. If their homeboys found out they threw a rat out on somebody, they may be attacked by one of their own homeboys.”

Steven Bueno’s family hoped it would not end like this. When Milton Bueno moved from the Bronx to Hollenbeck 30 years ago, he envisioned a community of first rate schools, lush parks and close-knit families.

When he first arrived in Hollenbeck, Milton Bueno said he was oblivious to gangs. But it did not take long for him to realize that shootings and gang violence were a routine occurrence. Bueno vowed to shield his sons from gangs by raising them in a two parent household nurtured by faith, academic discipline and respect for authority. Two of Bueno’s sons would follow that path. But not Steven. He joined a gang.

On the day of the drive-by shooting, Milton Bueno was inside the family home. He told Anderson Cooper that he was on the second floor window looking toward the driveway.

“I saw him just look and then drop when the fourth shot came,” he said. “I ran down I told the guys from upstairs he got hit…I saw him try to get up with his elbows and he couldn't get up when I went to him he got shot in the head.”

Moments later: the worst thing that a parent could possibly imagine. “We were calling the ambulance 911 and I saw him curl up his hands and I knew right away he was going into shock.” Even before paramedics arrived, Steven was brain dead.

“It’s hard for a person to see your son get shot in front of you, to see him get shot and there’s nothing you can do but hold him in your arms while he’s dying, somebody out there had to see something,” said Bueno.

Today, six months into the police investigation, Bueno’s three friends who survived the shooting are still not offering much information, said Fields.

This surveillance camera captured a drive by shooting that killed 20-year-old Steve Bueno in September 2009.

“I guarantee you some of these guys that were standing next to Bueno have talked to their friends and told them who it was. And even their friends aren't telling me who it was,” he said. “I have a good idea who it was because I'm hearing a lot of street rumors. But street rumor isn't enough to arrest or convict anybody,” said Detective Fields.

Detective Fields is hoping that someone inside the gang will come forward with information or offer a tip that could lead them to the murder weapon or the green Honda used in the drive-by shooting.

But one of Steve Bueno’s friends who stood nearby by spoke to CNN. Robert Deras, or “High Tech” as he is known on the street, is not a gang member but grew up with Bueno. He claims that the moment Steven was shot, he was standing in a patio area of Bueno’s house but never saw the car or gunman. “I was in the back so I didn’t really see anything or understand anything. I was in shock you know like I wasn’t really trying to think of all that. I was just worried, concerned about my homeboy,” said Deras.

While Steven Bueno’s father wants the killers in prison, he’s afraid that, instead, there will only be “street justice” – round after round of retaliation in which another young life will be lost or an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire.

He said there’s a lot of concern in the community about being labeled a ‘snitch’ – someone within a gang who comes forward with information.

“It’s a term that here is very serious, here you can get killed for it,” said Milton Bueno. “You gotta understand the gangs out here would call you that and label you that and kill you for it,” he added.

Two blocks away, Detective Fields sees tagging on the wall as a warning sign. “Everybody's head is going to be on a swivel and all these gangsters are going to be packing because they don’t want to be the next one in line.”

Milton is urging someone to come forward. “I wish one of them at least that saw the whole thing would come forward, at least help put Stevie to rest in peace because he needs this.” But unless someone talks its unlikely that justice will be served and Bueno’s death will remain another unsolved killing in Hollenbeck.

Filed under: Homicide in Hollenbeck
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Dee

    Where do you think they get the guns? The guns these stupid thugs have were stolen. sometimes from shipments and from peoples homes. Although they can probably just go to a gun store and buy one and then kill someone with it. As long as their record is clean they could just go and buy what they want. Or wait for YOU to buy one and steal it. Noone wants stiffer gun laws right? Well think about the fact that a gang banger or your violent neighbor could buy one. Look at the VA Tech shooter. He just went out and bought a gun and then shot people up.

    March 9, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  2. Cheryl

    I really don't understand why the police are so surprised by the code of silence when:
    1. The police have their own code of silence, which,
    if broken, can end the career of an officer.
    2. Far too much "confident" information given to the
    police is quickly known to people on the streets.

    March 9, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  3. Gloria Garcia

    All gang members and criminals think they are so tough and macho they need to be rounded up and dropped in Iraq. Then we'll see how tough they are.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  4. Joel

    Gun control does not work. The vast majority of firearms used in crimes are not even legal. Instead of taking away firearms from citizens who want to protect themselves, why not have increase the penalty for unlawful possesion of firearms? I know the gangs have guns stashed all over their territory for easy access without running that risk. This can be countered by having police with trained dogs to detect these stashes. Once found, ID the people who stashed the weapons and charge them. All the weapons are serialized and it should be easy to find out who supplied the weapons and charge those people as well.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Ashley

    When you live by "street law" you abide by "street law", and that means no snitching. Why should the kids in these communities trust the police? LAPD hasn't exactly been the most honorable police force.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  6. joaquin

    why do people not understand? guns don't kill people, people kill people. Tougher gun laws will not fully solve this crisis. Since when do criminals respect gun laws? When guns are outlawed only the outlaws will have guns.

    fight crime, shoot back.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  7. jimmywhite

    The sad thing is that the "no snitch" culture exists within the police forces as well, ensuring that bad apples are allowed to perpetrate misdeeds and go unpunished within their ranks.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  8. DEE

    I live in Wasilla Alaska which is very peaceful, quiet and beautiful. I work in Anchorage Alaska which is a nice town full of families but also gangs and violence and shootings. I could not imagine raising my children in Anchorage let alone Hollenbeck or LA. My heart goes out to this family... I am so sorry for your loss and your continued pain. I hope you are able to find the answers you need... the senselsss killings in everyones home town USA has got to stop. We all need to stand up to the violence... the police cannot do it alone.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  9. Dan

    Hollenbeck Divisions area isnt as bad as it used to be. While Northeast Divisions jurisdiction has seen an upspike in gang violence

    March 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  10. Brian

    People who join gangs deserve what they get. I just feel badly for their family members who try to help them and have to deal with this senselessness!

    March 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  11. Deanomt

    All the comments calling for Gun Control ask yourself one thing...Do gang members care about the laws? Why do you beleive gun control would stop gang violence?

    March 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  12. donmb

    there should be a special task force that no one knows about.... who will kill any and all gang members when they least except it..... you belong to a gang your a dead man plan and simple.... they serve no purpose to anyone

    March 9, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  13. Rose Marie Vitacco

    From birth my first encounter with violence was abject poverty. There is alot of truth to Andersons' opinion regarding "how being born into a certain zipcode influences an entire life-time". Hollenbeck desperately needs heroes. To break this towns' cycle of drive-by shootings and gang related deaths, people need to take a stand. Easy to say, however if the authorities would offer people and their families huge protection ( e.g. witness protection) I wonder if people would stand up and be counted. Generational genocide is what all this is. This being said what are the solutions? My son is a musician and song writer and I often let him know he needed to be mindful of what he was putting out there. Words and music are powerful, and those artists who perpetuate gang violence and romanticize it while making big bucks are in fact exploiting Hollenbeck. Assimilating into the American culture while keeping their roots intact is vital. I think many of these young guys are buying into the machismo out-dated thought processes and are killing any future they have. When one lives by the sword they die by the sword. What are their parents doing? Where is the leadership? RM Vitacco

    March 9, 2010 at 5:46 am |
  14. GeliSD

    I think that is a really sad story for this family. Why do gangs fight to protect their neighborhoods when it is them who bring the violence into their neighboring streets?! I hope that a witness with a good soul will help solve this crime.

    March 9, 2010 at 5:14 am |
  15. Ralph a Rocha

    I am a former gang member who over the past thirty years have lost about forty friends do to gang violence. I am fifty years old now and can look back and remember all these senseless acts of violence, that have taking innocent lives for no reason other than being a member of a certain gang or live on a certain street. It just don't make sense!

    If I could offer some positive advice, it would be to offer more work and after school programs, aswell as tougher gun regulations. I would all so like to see some type of big brother/sister mentor programs that provide counseling for our youths.

    Ralph Rocha

    March 9, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  16. jerry

    I just think is so sad to young people killing each other 4 a block I lost my best friend January 22 on my birthday in front of me and don't really care if they call me a snitch I'm going all the way with it to court

    March 9, 2010 at 2:15 am |
  17. lucyblu7656

    It's rather like having a home-grown -USA-Taliban controlling Hollenbeck. They control the citizens,w/threats of violence + then act on those threats. The citizens hide + cover their Taliban members – just as citizens hid the Taliban in Iraq, Packistan, + Afganistan. Fear, once it is shown to be valid, is a very effective manner used to control people.

    March 9, 2010 at 2:12 am |
  18. Oigie1

    The code of silence is a street code and is not ridiculous to all who live in the environment that will get you and/or your family killed. Its ridiculous if your silent in a environment that you can afford the comforts of protection. If you disagree its simply because you do not understand the difference. Its not something thats stupid but more something that is sadly the truth.

    March 9, 2010 at 1:25 am |
  19. oldlawoman

    I grew up in Los Angeles near a border of Elysian Park, above Echo Park area, in a time when LA was beautiful, exciting and relatively peaceful. I long to go home, to visit friends and my parents' gravesites. However, the fear of visiting those premises is filled with fear. The last few visits included some dreadful things including thugs hanging out in Fern Dale, a pimp beating a woman at a bustop, and long devious stares at my kids in our old Volvo. Why is this evil permeating our cities. I now live in Santa Barbara where crime is overtaking our beautiful city, as well. Just read Edhat.com's Roger Scanner reports so you will know. I have no answers, only this statement of sadness.

    March 9, 2010 at 12:43 am |
  20. mary mcgugan

    good Morning from India Anderson: What would happen If as many servicemen were killed in Afganistan as are children in the United States by guns every years? One might think there would be massive anti-war protests. As for the wanton murder of children, will anyone speak up to ask why are guns so readily, easily, and joyously accepted. Or is life not a right abouve the right to bear guns?

    Keep up the good work anderson!!


    March 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm |