Tran says the first two shots "whizzed" past his head. He ran, pausing only to take off his sneakers for additional speed. It didn't help. A bullet hit his left shoulder, exiting through his armpit. He cried out in pain. With the shooter still in pursuit firing a half dozen more rounds, he ran directly at a couple lying on a blanket and jumped over them.

The surprise attack had originally thrown the Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs into chaos. But as Nguyen chased people around the park, his rivals regrouped. They went to their vehicles and retrieved baseball bats, hammers and, according to at least one witness, guns. This did not escape Nguyen's notice. Adding to the drama, his gun was misfiring. Nguyen turned and ran back to Pham, his getaway driver. He made a chilling discovery.

After hearing gunshots, Pham had sped off.

Normally tranquil Mile Square Park, the site of a wild gang battle in August 2002. Photo by Tenaya Hills
Normally tranquil Mile Square Park, the site of a wild gang battle in August 2002. Photo by Tenaya Hills

Silvia and David, the couple on the blanket, remember seeing a panicked Nguyen sprinting down the street after the Acura. At some point, he stopped in the grassy center divide on Euclid, believing—praying?—that Pham would make a U-turn to pick him up. Instead, the Acura drove out of sight.

*   *   *

Little Hitler had a problem.

Armed, angry Young Locs advanced in his direction, and it's likely he heard the dopplering scream of police sirens. He hid his gun in the bushes of a house facing the park, ran through several yards and eventually crawled behind some bushes in a back yard. Fate was against him. The female homeowner spotted Nguyen and screamed until he fled. By this time, he could hear a police helicopter searching above. Minutes later, a Fountain Valley patrolman stopped him on the street. The gangster acted nonchalant, claiming he'd been shopping at a gaming store. The officer doubted the story. Nguyen was out of breath, his shirt and face were dirty, and dried leaves and twigs poked out of his hair.

Even in lockup, Nguyen stuck to his story.

But five days later, deputies put him in a bugged cell with Tony Van Nguyen, a DFJ member jailed on unrelated charges. They hoped Nguyen would confess and reveal the whereabouts of the hidden gun. He did. Nguyen bragged to his cellmate that the cops "don't have shit" and then gave a detailed account of events, including the precise location of the gun.

"We were set up," Nguyen explained in a mix of Vietnamese and English during the taped conversation. "I told my sister Han to take me to Sleazy's house, coming to pick up a piece. Let's do this! They got my homeboys trapped! I got out [of the Acura], shot [a guy]. Boom! Boom! Boom! I ran. I chased him!"

By the time he was done talking, prosecutors had a 40-page, self-incriminating transcript.

*   *   *

If the events in Mile Square Park or SantaAna courthouse have changed Nguyen, it isn't showing. Before he was transported to prison, he sent a letter to Nigger Nam, his DFJ pal. It read:

"None of ya'll nikkas better let your guard down. I'm happy the war stopped, but I'd rather see them fuckers deceased or on their knees beggin' for mercy. I want them to pay for all the times my momma cried when she came to visit my ass. I want bloods [sic] running out their mouth [sic] and skin. I want them handicapped, crippled, missin' all fours. Fuck them, dog. I want to see them deceased, but that shit still won't make up or ease the pain I go through."

He signed the letter "Hitler." Next to his signature, he drew a swastika. The Dirty White Boys, Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders at Nguyen's new home might be both thrilled and puzzled by the sentiment.

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