Witnesses to Violent Crimes Reluctant to Come Forward, Despite Cash Rewards

Eliza Delacruz’s grandmother (left) walks around the neighborhood where her granddaughter was taken before her body was discovered in San Diego County, passing out fliers to neighbors announcing a $25,000 Board of Supervisors reward for suspect information. Photo by Brittany Woolsey

More than two months after three-week-old Eliza Delacruz was found dead in San Diego County after her mother, father and uncle were shot the day before in North Long Beach, police still have no leads as to who committed these heinous acts.

But an independent records search by the Long Beach Post found that Delacruz’s case isn’t the only one remaining unsolved, even after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (BOS) offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the suspects.

daniel-gomezAccording to our search, 24 rewards were issued by the BOS for information relating to Long Beach crimes, like the fatal hit-and-run of Daniel Gomez (pictured left) and the fatal shooting of Olataga Filemoni, since March 2009. Of those 24 rewards issued, three successfully led to witnesses giving authorities information that resulted in the suspects being caught and prosecuted.

The three cases the BOS has paid out rewards for are the murders of Breon Taylor, Dennis Moses and the attempted murder of Ryan Gaines and 46 additional victims, the murder of Melody Ross and the murder of Philip Williamson.

When a reward was issued in July 2011 for information relating to the murder of Williamson, BOS Supervisor Don Knabe said rewards are incentives that “may prompt reluctant witnesses to come forward.” In that case, the reward was successful and led to the murder conviction of Marcel Mackabee in April 2014.

The remaining 21 rewards issued since March 2009 have either expired or are still available to claim, either after an initial issuance or one or more extensions.

Rewards are requested by the municipality where the crime occurred after they have run out of leads, said BOS spokesman Andrew Veis.

The BOS rewards are generally authorized for a three-month period, Veis said. After that, the police department can ask the BOS to renew a reward as they see fit, and it is up to the BOS to vote for renewal.

If a reward offered by the county is claimed, the information is reviewed by a member of the Chief Executive Office, County Counsel, Sheriff’s Department, Board of Supervisor’s Executive Office and sometimes the local public safety agencies involved in the investigation. If the reward is authorized, it is recommended to the BOS.

For many witnesses, especially those who witnessed gang-related incidents, even hefty financial rewards may not be enticing enough to bring forth information due to potential repercussions, said Cal State Long Beach Criminology Professor Zheng John Wang, an expert on gangs.

“When an individual joins a gang via ‘jump in’ (to be beaten) as an initial ceremony, he must be told ‘no quit and no snitch.’ The betrayal usually means a ‘kill,'” Wang said in an email to the Post. “For an ordinary citizen, many retaliations via ‘drive-by shooting’ send a clear message that testifying in court means more troubles or even a death.”

“In addition, under the current budget constraints, our society as well as the law enforcement are not capable of providing sufficient protection for the eye-witness after his or her testimony,” Wang continued. “So, as a policy recommendation, we need to pass a new law allowing an eye-witness to testify behind a screen in a gang-related trial and the judge can verify the identity of the witness on behalf of the court. In this way, the direct confrontation requirement can be met with more people who may be more willing to testify.”

While Supervisor Knabe concedes rewards may not always lead to information, he said they are still necessary.

“We are dedicated to helping law enforcement further their investigations into serious crimes throughout Los Angeles County,” Knabe told the Post. “If detectives believe that a financial reward will help encourage critical eyewitnesses to come forward, we are willing to step up and authorize it. The truth is some people will only come forward with the enticement of money. I’m proud that we have been able to help bring justice and closure to the families and victims of serious crimes which, without the aid of a reward, may still remain unsolved.”

According to the BOS website, rewards are still being offered for information related to the following Long Beach cases:

    • Fatal shooting of Lashown Fils on January 11, 2012 in the area of 14th Street and Cedar Avenue: The deadline to provide information to the LBPD for a $10,000 reward was February 3, 2015 and the deadline to submit the claim to the executive office is April 4, 2015.
    • Fatal shooting of Seaborn Mason on July 23, 2012 in the 400 block of East South Street: The deadline to provide information to the LBPD for a $10,000 reward was January 26, 2015 and the deadline to submit the claim to the executive office is March 27, 2015.
    • Fatal shooting of Sidney Wallace on March 28, 2013 in the 200 block of East Hill Street: The deadline to provide information to the LBPD for a $10,000 reward is September 3, 2015 and the deadline to submit the claim to the executive office is November 2, 2015.
    • Fatal shooting of Olataga Filemoni on July 25, 2014 in the 3200 block of Baltic Avenue: The deadline to provide information to the LBPD for a $10,000 reward is May 16, 2015 and the deadline to submit the claim to the executive office is July 15, 2015.
    • Death of Eliza Delacruz and the shooting of her family on January 3, 2015: The deadline to provide information to the LBPD for a $25,000 reward is April 6, 2015 and the deadline to submit the claim to the executive office is June 5, 2015.
    • Hit-and-run killing of Daniel Gomez on September 13, 2014 in the area of Spring Street and Karen Street: The deadline to provide information to the LBPD for a $10,000 reward is August 8, 2015 and the deadline to submit the claim to the executive office is October 7, 2015.

Witnesses to any of these crimes are asked to call the LBPD homicide detail at 562-570-7244.

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