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DIGGING DEEPER: Suspects of officer-involved shooting tied to gangs

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TUCSON (KVOA) - In August, Tucson Police Department was involved in two officer-involved shooting tied to gangs.

One suspect had ties to one of the most notorious and violent prison gangs in Arizona.

The video above may be disturbing to watch.

"M-M" or Mexican Mafia is the most powerful and dangerous gangs in the state. Once you are in, you can never leave and the gang operates behind the prison gates.

Showing a picture of a tattoo, Pima County Jail Commander Captain Sean Stewart said that this gang member killed three people.

"There are gang members that I have interviewed over the years (who) have told me that becoming an 'M' member is like that getting that college degree," Stewart said. "That's what they strive for."

Stewart is known nationally for his work on prison gangs. He even co-authored a book written by a long-time "M" member.

"He became an informant and worked with law enforcement to help bring individuals down within that organization," he said. "So he's protected, but if they had a chance, they would kill him."

On Aug. 22, 34-year-old Fernando Valenzuela shot at TPD officers. Police said he was a member of "M".

He was driving a rental car that had not been returned when an officer pulled him over.

Another officer turned the corner and came face-to-face with Valenzuela, who had a gun in each hand - a 40-caliber handgun and a 22-caliber AR pistol.

The officer fired his weapon at Valenzuela, striking him four times.

Officer rendered aid until Tucson Fire Department paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital.

Stewart said "M" is an organized crime syndicate that operated within the prison system.

"They are not sitting idle in their cells. They are being judicious for their prison gang. They're recruiting. They're running street gangs on the streets," he said. "There's all kinds of rackets that they run - tax fraud, come tax time. They'll get people's social security numbers and they'll be filing false tax claims."

Jail Security Services intercepted conversations between gang members here is a portion of that.

Inmate #1: "They have to give us 25% of what they are selling if not they go straight to Michlan (Hell), Home. Send them with a bullet in their dome."

Inmate #2: "Yeah Homey, I give you my word, homie."

Inmate #1: "Don't leave no witnesses that's a priority right there."

Stewart said they monitor known gang members to make sure the Pima County Jail is not a conduit for criminal activity.

On Aug. 26, 17-year-old Simon Pancho pulled a gun on officers after undercover officers purchased drugs from him.

Police identified him as committing two armed robberies. TPD also said he was involved in a street gang.

He was shot and officers quickly rendered aid. However, he later died.

"A lot of these kids aspire to be patched members of the Mexican Mafia," Stewart said.

Fernando Valenzuela was released from the hospital and booked into the Pima County Jail where Security Services is keeping a close eye on him.

He faces eight charges that range from two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer to being a prohibited possessor. That is because he is a convicted felon.

He is also has a fugitive warrant out of Virginia. He is being held without bond.

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Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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