“I’ve been begging this department to give the Mission what it deserves in terms of police presence all year long … In the Mission people are getting shot and killed! … In the Mission people are dying!”
— Supervisor Hillary Ronen at a March 15, 2023, Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting about increasing police presence
There’s a reason District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen was third runner up in our inaugural Hypocrite Hill Awards — in 2022, only District 5 supervisor Dean Preston and District 10 supervisor Shamann Walton did it better. So far in 2023, Ronen is once again tracking at the top of my list. At a March 16, 2023, Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting about increasing police presence, Ronen gave one of her most histrionic performances, worthy of Blanche’s soliloquy in a high school version of A Streetcar Named Desire.
“I’ve been begging this department to give the Mission what it deserves in terms of police presence all year long,” Ronen lamented. “And I have been told time and time and time and time again there are no officers that we can send to the Mission … In the Mission people are getting shot and killed! … In the Mission people are dying!”
The speech contradicts her stance on policing in 2020, when Ronen tweeted, “I want to make it clear that I believe strongly in defunding the police and reducing the number of officers on our force.” That blatant hypocrisy made the nightly news; however, it is far from the most disturbing thing Ronen has been involved in when it comes to crime and criminals.
On Feb. 27, 2023, Fernando “Nando” Madrigal, 24, pleaded guilty to a single federal count of racketeering, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He was indicted with two other men in December 2020 on charges that they were part of a subset of the Norteños that operate in San Francisco’s Mission District known as Locos North Side, or LNS.
If Madrigal’s name sounds familiar, it may be because I’ve written about him in this column in reference to the way Ronen, Walton, and other community leaders held him up as an antigun violence youth activist who had turned his life around, despite obvious signs and easily obtainable evidence to the contrary.
HUGGING HIS VICTIM’S MOTHER
On April 9, 2019, Ronen and Walton led a rally on the steps of City Hall to support legislation, sponsored by Walton and cosigned by Preston, to permanently shutter Juvenile Hall by December 2021 (as of 2023, it remains open). The supervisors hailed then 20-year-old “antigun violence” advocate Madrigal as he spoke about spending time at the facility for robbery when he was 13.
But, according to authorities, just two days before that rally, Madrigal offered two large-capacity magazines for sale on Instagram. One day before the rally, Madrigal posted a video of himself holding a gun with a large capacity drum magazine at a BART station as a train pulled up. And the following month, he bragged on camera about being in an enemy gang’s “section,” warning “it’s going to be a murder” if he saw a rival.
On June 10, 2019, Madrigal barely survived being shot in the head on Interstate 280. A month later, at a July 30, 2019, rally against gun violence, Madrigal once again spoke from the steps of City Hall, this time alongside Sha’ray Johnson, mother of 15-year-old Day’von Hann, who had been tragically gunned down at 24th and Capp Streets 11 days earlier.
Ronen nodded empathetically as Madrigal told attendees that he still couldn’t feel his left hand after the recent shooting. Walton watched as Madrigal hugged Hann’s grieving mother.
Hann’s killing remained unsolved until August 2020, when the FBI announced a diabolical twist straight out of a Dateline episode: It was Madrigal who had killed the teenager. In fact, at the time of the rally where Madrigal hugged Hann’s mom and garnered support from Walton, Ronen, and other leaders, the police were already investigating the case.
A little after midnight on July 8, 2019, witnesses reported that the shooter, wearing a black mask and a red hoodie, pointed a rifle in Hann’s direction near a McDonald’s on the 3200 block of 24th Street only moments after another suspect questioned a man about whether he was affiliated with the rival Army Street Gang (Army Street was renamed Cesar Chavez in 1995).
Authorities “collected ballistics evidence connecting Hann’s killing to another shooting” later that night. A car linked to Madrigal led police on a chase that reached speeds of 120 miles per hour before evading capture. “Video evidence and witnesses put Madrigal’s black Honda at both July 8 shooting scenes, and his cell phone’s location is consistent with the route of the high-speed chase,” prosecutors wrote. “Instagram videos from the days leading up to the murder show Madrigal with a black rifle that he calls his ‘mini chop’ and using a gloved hand to load it with ammunition consistent with the casings recovered from the shooting scenes.”
Madrigal also killed a man a year earlier, according to investigators, on July 12, 2018, near the area around Candlestick Park. The unidentified victim’s body was discovered in February 2020 by tree trimmers working in a wooded area of Oakland. A month later, the victim’s skull was discovered nearby. Authorities alleged Madrigal lured the victim to a meetup claiming he wanted to buy marijuana.
To anyone possessing an ounce of common sense, the stabbings and shootings leading up to the murder indictments would raise red flags about Madrigal’s continued involvement with the Norteños. Several police officers familiar with the Hann case echoed a former assistant district attorney who worked in the gang unit and told me that “[e]veryone knew Nando was still active in the Norteños, and that he was under investigation for killing Day’Von.”
Because Ronen’s husband, Francisco Ugarte, works in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, where gang members are regular clients, it also seems unlikely he was unaware. Yet, Ronen repeatedly tried to help Madrigal.
In an email I obtained via a public record request and dated Aug. 2, 2019, Ronen’s chief of staff, Carolyn Goossen, presented the extensive work done on Madrigal’s behalf after he was stabbed at his apartment building, all at the behest of Ronen. “Spoke directly to Sam Moss [Executive Director at Mission Housing Development Corporation] and the management company of that building. Sam Moss: Could only move them if there was a vacancy, but no vacancies. Even so, would be hard because of federal financing laws which don’t allow people to jump wait lists.”
Along with a lack of vacancies and not being allowed to jump the line, Goossen bluntly points out that Madrigal has even bigger issues: “Spoke to either chief or DA. The justice system sees him as being gang involved … He was arrested for another case after the stabbing. They were treating him as a perpetrator, not a victim . . .”
Goossen concludes, “Carolina thinks you talked to the Chief, can’t remember for sure … Doesn’t remember if we talked to DPH [Department of Public Health]—but did meet with SFSVIP [Street Violence Intervention Program]—which is under DPH … Spoke with Joaquin Torres—head of housing authority.”
DESPITE GANG INVOLVEMENT, RONEN ASKS JUDGE TO HELP
Ronen was now aware of Madrigal’s continued gang involvement and that he had been arrested for another case since the stabbing, but instead of reaching out to law enforcement for more details, Ronen asked a judge to give Madrigal preferential treatment. In a letter obtained in the same public record request, on Aug. 28, 2019, Ronen used her official city stationery to write to San Francisco Superior Court Judge Bruce Chan requesting that he “allow Fernando to be terminated early from probation so he can focus on his rehabilitation.” Ronen even tells Judge Chan that Madrigal worked with her office on “legislative efforts” and has “experienced repeated gun violence and physical and mental traumas and needs to relocate to a safe place as soon as possible.”
The timeline in the Madrigal case is also damning for Ronen:
July 8, 2019: Madrigal killed 15-year-old Day’von Hann and was involved in a second shooting, leading police on a high-speed pursuit while fleeing the scene. The first call for shots fired came in at 12:09 a.m. The investigation into the murder of Day’von Hann, with Madrigal as the suspect, begins.
July 30, 2019: Just three weeks after Madrigal murdered Hann, Ronen and Walton have Madrigal speak at a justice rally for Hann, where he rails against gun violence and hugs Hann’s grieving mother.
Aug. 2, 2019: Ronen’s chief of staff, Carolyn Goossen, presents extensive work done on Madrigal’s behalf to find alternative housing after he was stabbed at his apartment building, all at the directive of Ronen. Besides a lack of vacancies, Goossen tells Ronen all avenues to help Madrigal are exhausted due to his continued gang involvement, including “an arrest for another case” after the stabbing.
Aug. 28, 2019: Despite being aware that Madrigal is still an active Norteño and had been arrested as the suspect in another case after the stabbing, Ronen uses her position as supervisor to write a letter on official stationery requesting that a judge “allow Fernando to be terminated early from probation so he can focus on his rehabilitation” and “relocate to a safe place as soon as possible.”
According to federal prosecutors, Madrigal had been a known active gang member for many years. Citing the Instagram posts on Madrigal’s account, nando.needitall, as well as police reports and details from the Hann murder investigation, authorities said Madrigal led a dual life — but it was Walton and Ronen who helped make it possible, touting him as a “youth activist,” ignoring obvious red flags, and placing him on a pedestal right next to the mother of one of his victims.
“This murder was senseless and horrific,” FBI Special Agent Craig Fair said of Madrigal at an Aug. 14, 2020, news conference. “Hann, just 15 years old, was targeted because of the neighborhood he lived in.” And as the supervisor for that neighborhood, Ronen was apparently more interested in helping a cold-blooded killer relocate to a safe place than she was in keeping the streets safe for an innocent child.
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