The Norwood News, WFUV radio, and BronxNet Television have partnered to bring you a five-part series on gangs in the Bronx and their implications to their communities.
At first glance, Manuel Gomez, a private detective, comes across as a modern-day James Bond. His pen doubles as a recorder, reading glasses serve as a video recorder, and he carries a knife and DNA collector. Gomez also carries a 40-pound black briefcase with him at all times that contains handcuffs and a laptop. Gomez, who operates in the Bronx, has a keen interest in bringing the violent Trinitarios gang down, and he uses his detective agency as a way to go after them.
The Trinitarios obtained national attention this past summer when a subset group called the Sunset Trinitarios viciously stabbed 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz to death in front of a bodega on Bathgate Avenue in the Bronx. Lesandro’s death was a case of mistaken identity because the Sunset Trinitarios thought he belonged to their rival group, the Southies, another Trinitarios subset.
Gomez was the person who managed to find and release the video of Lesandro’s murder to the media. He acquired the video from a next-door neighbor of the bodega where the attack took place. The video soon went viral, garnering millions of views online and sparking ‘JusticeForJunior.’ Gomez said that he wanted the video to prompt a sense of urgency in the NYPD and the Bronx District Attorney’s office to investigate the Trinitarios.
“We need to eliminate them off the street and it’s not about people just calling 911. People need to be involved in their community to make it safer,” said Gomez. “If the Trinitarios realize they have nowhere to hide, the gang will dissipate.”
The public’s overall response to the video was complete outrage, particularly over how the Trinitarios targeted a young boy. The NYPD eventually arrested a total of 15 people in connection with the murder. Gomez said that the police are aggressively following all leads in response to the public pressure that they’re now facing. He said that he’s given them several leads involving Trinitarios, but they didn’t pursue them. The NYPD declined to comment.
The Trinitarios are a Dominican-American identified gang. They were founded on Rikers Island in 1989. According to a Rikers’ insider, there are around 200 Trinitarios in Rikers in 2018. The gang has an estimated membership of 8,000 to 12,000 people in states like New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Gomez said that machetes are their weapon of choice.
“Their motto is, ‘give me a knife because it never runs out of bullets,’” Gomez said. “With a gun, you can shoot 6 or 7 times and then it’s no good, but a knife can stab all day long.”
The Trinitarios are known for their excessive violence. The gang attacks in large groups, so the ratio of Trinitarios to the target is usually 15 to 1.
Gomez hasn’t always been taking on the Trinitarios. Before he started Black Ops Private Investigators Inc., he worked as an 18th Airborne Division military intelligence officer in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Gomez has been in the military for 24 years and previously served in Afghanistan and also worked in the NYPD for 14 years as a police officer.
Gomez said he’s different from other P.I.s because he only takes cases where he believes the client is innocent of any gang-related activity.
“What I do is I go to the mom and I say, ‘are you 95 percent sure your son or daughter is innocent because if you’re not sure, I won’t take the case,’” Gomez said. “If you hire me you have to be prepared for the truth because if I find out you’re guilty, I’m going to know, and if you’re innocent, I’m going to know.”
Gomez has had a total of 142 cases over the course of his career as a private investigator in the Bronx. He’s had to drop 44 of those cases after he learned his client was guilty of illegal activity. Of the 142 cases, 98 of them have gone to court, and his client has been successfully acquitted of all charges in every single court appearance.
Since he opened the doors to his detective agency, Gomez has been investigating the Trinitarios. Enger Javier, a former Trinitario, was Gomez’s first case. Javier was accused of being involved in the 2015 murder of Hansell Arias. Arias was stabbed repeatedly by Trinitarios members outside of an automobile shop on Claremont Avenue in the Bronx.
Javier’s mother contacted Gomez to see if he could help with the case. It turned out that Javier was an innocent bystander to the stabbing. He spent two years at Rikers Island awaiting trial, but Gomez eventually found video proof of one of the alleged murderers, Trinitario member Jose Muniz, killing Arias. Two other Trinitarios were eventually indicted and charged with Arias' killing.
Gomez said that Javier’s case is still special to him in that Javier was able to escape the Trinitarios and move away from New York.
“It was a rewarding feeling that I can’t put into words,” Gomez said. “I got to give a mother back her son and to prove his innocence. Then, I saw a family go from being poor and struggling to now. Javier owns a big house, has his own business, and he’s living the American dream.”
Muniz, who allegedly went on to kill Lesandro, posted a video on Facebook in Spanish featuring him bragging about Arias’s death.
“They make music videos showing the death of Junior, dealing drugs, money, girls and automatic weapons. This is insanity. They use social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp to brag about their image and hype themselves up,” Gomez said.
Though Muniz wasn’t arrested for the Arias killing, he never left Gomez’s radar. Gomez repeatedly wrote letters to the Bronx District Attorney to inform them of the danger Muniz poses.
Gomez said that if the Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark investigated Muniz over Arias’ death, Lesandro would probably still be alive. “Junior died in vain. It was completely needless. I’ve been giving the Bronx DA the names of these serial killers for two years. I don’t know what else I can do.”
Patrice O’Shaughnessy, spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, said that they cannot comment on any of Gomez’s letters or pending cases involving the Trinitarios.