The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Prosecutors removed in gang-related case

Judge: Lawyers, commanders did not follow protocol
By Geoff Ziezulewicz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Thursday, May 31, 2007

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A military judge Wednesday removed the lawyers prosecuting Army Spc. Bobby Morrissette for his alleged role in the 2005 beating death of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

No military lawyer from the 21st Theater Support Command’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, or the commanders who had convening authority in the case, may be involved after Judge James Pohl disqualified the entire group for not following protocol during the investigation into Johnson’s death.

“The charges are not dismissed but cannot proceed” with the convening authority and staff judge advocate office that were presiding over the case, said Pohl, an Army colonel.

Morrissette was facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, gang affiliation, hazing and making a false official statement for his alleged role in Johnson’s July 2005 death, which various reports state was caused by a gang beat-in near Kaiserslautern.

Morrissette’s defense team had asked Pohl to dismiss the charges in April, and he did, but prosecutors requested a new hearing to reconsider the ruling.

Citing case law, Pohl’s disqualification of the whole SJA office was based on the fact that prosecutors and investigators with the Criminal Investigation Command (CID) did not follow proper procedure when interviewing Morrissette in December 2005.

Pohl and attorneys for both sides argued the consequences of that Dec. 21, 2005, interview of Morrissette, when he gave what is known as an “immunized statement.”

An immunized statement is requested by the prosecution and approved by the convening authority, which in this case includes unit commanders all the way up to Brig. Gen. Scott G. West, who leads the 21st TSC.

Such statements can force soldiers to speak but their responses cannot be used to prosecute them, Maj. Jeremy Robinson, one of Morrissette’s defense attorneys, said after the hearing.

The Morrissette interview was supposed to be conducted by “cells” of CID agents and prosecutors who wouldn’t play a part in any future prosecution of the soldier, Robinson said, and that was not the case.

Pohl said during the hearing that this “taint” didn’t affect the prosecution’s case or offer new leads in the investigation, and Morrissette did not add anything new at that point.

But the disqualification of the 21st TSC’s SJA office was justified because of exposure to Morrissette’s immunized statement, not its use, he said.

Due to the way things developed, Pohl said he wasn’t sure where to draw the line and dismissed the entire SJA office in an abundance of caution.

The convening authority will have to figure out how to proceed, and Pohl instructed prosecutors to get back to him by June 6 regarding the next step. No future hearing had been scheduled as of Wednesday afternoon.

When prosecutors asked whether all the evidence thus far collected in the case would be affected, Pohl suggested both sides proceed and not throw out all evidence gathered by “tainted” parties.

“I’m not going to tell you how to break your eggs,” he said.

Morrissette faces another court-martial on separate charges, and Pohl said those charges don’t appear “on the face” to be affected by the Johnson case. Those charges, unrelated to Johnson’s death, are indecent acts, indecent language and two violations of a no-contact order.

After the hearing, Robinson said Morrissette’s fate remains unclear.

“We don’t now what the answer to that question is,” he said. “In the current condition, it’s not going to go to court-martial.”

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shooting about girl, not gang

Sheriff says boy was killed after fight escalated



MANATEE COUNTY -- The shooting that took the life of 9-year-old Stacy Williams III on Monday may have involved gang members, but authorities say it was not a gang shootout.

Instead, sheriff's officials now say, the tragedy began as a common fistfight, with two youths arguing over a girl.

But when one of the boys started losing the fight near the Manatee Woods apartment complex, the situation escalated.

He called in a buddy for back-up and minutes later a car pulled up to the scene and several shots were fired from inside it.

Stacy, who was known for riding his bicycle throughout the central Manatee neighborhood, was walking nearby with his bike.

It is unclear if Stacy was watching the fight, or just passing by, but either way the boy was hit in the head by one of the bullets. He ran for help and was taken by family and friends to Manatee Memorial Hospital, but was pronounced dead after arriving.

Three teenagers with suspected links to the Latino gang SUR 13 have been charged in connection with Stacy's death.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office is continuing to investigate the shooting that happened about 8:30 p.m. Monday in the 3200 block of Fifth Street East.

Orlando Valenzuela, 15, of Bradenton, is accused of being the shooter and was identified by witnesses in a photo lineup. He has been arrested on charges of murder and discharging a weapon in public.

Ashley Rios, 16, and her boyfriend, 16-year-old Johnny Vasquez, are each accused of being principals to a murder.

No other arrests are expected, said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.

That means no charges are expected against the two men in a black Cadillac who were at the fight but drove off as two bullets were fired at their car.

Steube on Wednesday sought to downplay the possible role that gang rivalries might have played in the incident.

"We're not going to step out and say this was a gang shooting," Steube said. "We do not know of any (gang) affiliation of those involved with either the fight or the (Cadillac)."

Authorities believe the three suspects were called on the phone by a male involved in the fight at 36th Avenue and Ninth Street East.

By the time the three showed up, a second fight had broken out in the 3300 block of Fifth Street East, near where Stacy was standing.

Valenzuela is accused of firing several bullets into the group watching the fight, one of which hit Stacy.

He also fired two bullets at the Cadillac, investigators said, though the motive for the shooting remains unclear. Neither man in the Cadillac fired back or displayed guns, Steube said.

Authorities initially said 15 rounds may have been fired that evening. They now say it was probably five or six.

Both Valenzuela and Vasquez have had prior run-ins with the law, records show. Valenzuela was charged with possession of a firearm last year. Vasquez was charged with having a concealed firearm, also last year.

A circuit judge on Wednesday ordered the teenagers held at a secure detention center for juvenile offenders for at least 21 days. None made any statements in court.

State prosecutors will determine in the coming days whether to charge any of the three as adults. Defense attorneys are expected to challenge the evidence in the case.

Two witnesses said they saw Valenzuela shooting from the car, according to sheriff's reports. Rios, who authorities say was the front-seat passenger, reportedly said "keep shooting" during the attack, authorities said. Her mother, watching in court, shook her head when she heard that detail.

Valenzuela's mother, Blanca Ariano Belancourt, said she feels sick about everything that has happened.

Speaking from the window of her home on 16th Street West on Wednesday, Belancourt said her son was not involved in the shooting.

She swears that Valenzuela was home Monday night when police say the shooting occurred. Her eyes were still puffy from crying since he was arrested at their home.

"I hurt so much for the family of that little boy. My family is hurting also," she said, speaking in Spanish. "But I don't agree with any of this. He is innocent."

Valenzuela is a student at Gulf Coast Marine Institute in Palmetto, an alternative school for at-risk youth. He lives with his two brothers and a sister, and his mother and her boyfriend.

Belancourt said she does not know anything about her son's suspected involvement with the gang SUR 13.

Rios, of Palmetto, attended Palmetto High School.

Vasquez was a student at Horizon Middle School. The 15-year-old had aspirations to go into the military, said Andy Avalos, who has a mentoring program for at-risk youth called Juventud Latina, which means "Latino youth."

"When he told me he wanted to join the military, I said, 'That's good but if you get into trouble, you can forget about that plan,'" Avalos said.

Avalos, whose 26-year-old son is a former gang member, met Vasquez for the first time about two weeks ago.

A concerned family member called Avalos to ask him to reach out to Vasquez, who lives with his older sister. His parents are not around.

"I told him he needed to be careful when picking his friends," Avalos said. "And I said, 'If you're hanging with the wrong guys you're going to get into trouble.'"

Grief counseling continued Wednesday for students and faculty at Stacy's school, Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary. "Stacy We'll Miss You!" was the message on the school's marquee. The flag hung as half-staff. A memorial of teddy bears and flowers lay at the foot of the flagpole.

Wendy Herrera, principal at Orange Ridge, said some of the children were afraid after hearing of Stacy's death, while others wanted to know when they would see Stacy again.

"This is a very delicate time for them," Herrera said. "We want to assure them school is a safe place for them."

Stacy's funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Bradenton.

Staff writer Michael A. Scarcella contributed to this report.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Military gangways

Past gang activity in Texas has police watching as troops move to Fort Carson
by Michael de Yoanna

A “confirmed” gang member is linked to a gang through a process of verification; an “associate” is suspected but has not been confirmed as a gang member.
Investigators in Colorado Springs, wary of rising gang membership in the military, say they will watch as thousands of soldiers leave Fort Hood, Texas, for duty at Fort Carson.
The FBI, in a recent intelligence assessment, sounded an alarm on the trend.

"Such military training could ultimately result in more organized, sophisticated and deadly gangs, as well as an increase in deadly assaults on law enforcement officers," said the assessment, prepared by the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center in January.

In recent years, the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples have been active at Fort Hood, and alleged members have been linked to slayings, robberies and drug and gun trafficking.

Police in Colorado Springs and Killeen, Texas, which is home to Fort Hood, confirm they are sharing gang information to prepare for the relocation of some 23,000 people — troops, family members and civilians headed from Texas to the Pikes Peak region.

"There's a whole broad spectrum of issues that we're trying to be proactive with and take a look at," says Cmdr. Rod Walker of the Colorado Springs Police Department's gang unit. "Certainly, gang activity and gangs in the military is one of those issues."

Fort Carson officials say the post doesn't presently have a gang problem and isn't anticipating one.

"We do not see any indicators to suggest that the criminal activity at Fort Hood will make its way to Fort Carson," the post's provost marshal, Maj. Shannon-Mikal Lucas, says via e-mail.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon praised soldiers last week in Pueblo during a town hall meeting on Fort Carson growth. Mixon, citing an unnamed area police chief, said the region would be safer as more troops are stationed here.

Trevor Velinor, local agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is more cautious.

"We know there's a gang element within the military," Velinor says. "How significant that's going to be [with the troop influx], we don't know."

The FBI assessment stated that gang activity is rising across the military and appears to have spread to Iraq, most evident in the form of gang-specific graffiti.

"Members of nearly every major street gang ... have been documented on military installations both domestically and internationally," the assessment stated.

Yet the assessment lacked specific numbers, stating such information was not available because the military does not report criminal statistics to the FBI.

The assessment named gangs including the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips and Vice Lords.

Those gangs and others, including some with ties to white supremacists, already are active in Colorado Springs, according to Walker.

Two years ago, Jerome Anthony Smith, Fort Hood sergeant and reputed leader of Killeen's Gangster Disciples, was convicted of aggravated robbery. Smith allegedly directed dozens of Gangster Disciples in the Army to commit activities including drug dealing, identity theft and armed robbery.

It wasn't the first gang activity uncovered at Fort Hood, says Detective John Bowman, Killeen police's one-man unit devoted to gangs and narcotics. In 1999, Spc. Jacqueline Billings was court-martialed for murder charges stemming from her alleged leadership of the gang.

"Multiple soldiers were also arrested and charged," Bowman says. "It's not just your leaders. They're recruiting from within the ranks."

One of the nation's first major military gang cases emanated from Fort Carson, Bowman adds. Ten years ago, Gerald Ivey, an alleged Gangster Disciple, was court-martialed in an investigation where locations in Colorado Springs were part of a multi-state drug and gun network.

Part of the concern is additional training and access to equipment the military provides to gang members, Velinor says.

The FBI found a gang-linked Marine in a Colorado prison who said it was easy to steal military weapons and equipment for use on the streets. It also found that a military police officer at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., who was affiliated with a gang, stole body armor later used in robberies.

Concerns about gangs come as the military faces scrutiny for relaxing its recruiting standards. A government report found a 50 percent increase in violations by recruiters from 2004 to 2005. Also, the New York Times reported in February that waivers for Army recruits with criminal backgrounds such as assault, robbery and vehicular homicide have risen 65 percent in three years.

"We're giving more felony waivers today than we were in the past," Bowman says. "Any time you do that, you're going to get that less attractive soldier."

The FBI assessment cautioned against recruiting soldiers with criminal or potential gang ties, saying, "While allowing gang members to serve in the military may temporarily increase recruiting numbers, U.S. communities may ultimately have to contend with disruption and violence resulting from military-trained gang members on the streets of U.S. cities."

"Furthermore, most gang members have been pre-indoctrinated into the gang lifestyle and maintain an allegiance to their gang. This could ultimately jeopardize the safety of other military members and impede gang-affiliated soldiers' ability to act in the best interest of their country."