SILVER SPRING, Md. - An MS-13 gang member was convicted of organizing a hit on two people simply because of what they were wearing.
Investigators say Jose Zaldivar-Medina was only 16 years old and a known member of the notorious gang when he ordered other gang members to assault two people at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg in April 2016.
Mall surveillance video from that day showed four Hispanic men holding knives chasing the two victims through the mall parking lot. You can see a suspect in the grey sweatshirt swing a large knife and stab one of the victims.
Investigators said it was Zaldivar-Medina who spotted the two men at the mall wearing the color "red," and he assumed they were members of a rival gang. He then ordered other MS-13 members to scare the victims by slashing their car tires and assaulting them.
“As a result of mistaking these men as being members of a rival gang, Mr. Zaldivar, who was only 16 at the time, ordered them to be killed,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. “He ordered other members of MS-13 to track them down. By the way, they were not gang members. They just were in gang territory by the mall, controlled by 18th Street crew, and they were wearing clothing that was the wrong color.”
McCarthy said Zaldivar-Medina is facing more than 60 years in prison.
Because of cases like this out of Montgomery County, McCarthy is now addressing an ever bigger problem – prosecuting members tied to organized crime. He said that state lawmakers need to revise the current statute because it is not strong enough.
As of right now, he said in order to even try them under the state's gang statute, it has to fall under a long list of certain of criteria.
“It is not enough and I will tell you that it has not been enough to help us really address gang crimes in Montgomery County,” McCarthy said. “So we have a real challenge to the legislators of Maryland to go back to the drawing board and to begin to design some greater tools to assist prosecutors, particularly here in Montgomery County, to help us combat gangs.”
Montgomery County leaders also recognize on their end that the gang activity has escalated in the county, but they said they are still working hard with local and federal law enforcement.
As far as why it has gotten so bad in Montgomery County, they said there is no real answer.
“It’s a continuing challenge,” said Montgomery County Executive spokesperson Patrick Lacefield. “Gangs have taken root in some places in the county and some places throughout the metro area. But we are working hard with the feds, with the state, others to try and combat the gangs.”
The state's attorney also said that a lot of these gang members or those affiliated with gangs are unaccompanied minors who are recruited. We are told about 5,200 unaccompanied minors have come into the county.