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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Drug cartels exploiting gang connections within U.S. military

By BELO Border Bureau Chief Angela Kocherga Posted: Nov 26, 2009 12:20 PM

EL PASO -- Law enforcement authorities are concerned the influence of warring Mexican drug cartels may now be penetrating the U.S. military.

Retired Border Patrol agent David Jackson flips through pictures of last Christmas. "This is Mike," he said, referring to his grandchild, Michael Jackson Apodaca.

David tells ABC-7 he encouraged Michael to join the military. "We talked him into going in the military just to get him away from this environment," he said.

However, Michael's past caught up to him this summer. He's now facing capital murder charges for the alleged contract killing of a drug cartel informant in El Paso. "They picked him because of his background," said David. "Before of he joined the military he was a member of a gang, the East Side whatever."

Michael's case raises disturbing questions about drug cartels exploiting gang ties within the U.S. Military. The Department of Defense does not deny there are gang members within the ranks but stresses they're a small percentage of troops.

The U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division claims the cases only add up to a "few dozen" felony-level criminal cases worldwide during the last couple of years.

It may be a small number, but there is still a big concern when it comes to gangs. "The troubling trend is that if you do have former, active duty or reserve military that are engaging in this kind of activity," said Fred Burton, with Stratfor Global Intelligence. "It brings a level of discipline as well as military training and military bearing.

The Department of Justice highlights this very issue in it's National Gang Threat Assessment report for 2009. Local law enforcement authorities and gang experts echo the concern.

"What's even more dangerous in this situation is you have people who have been trained and actually seasoned by combat itself," said El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen. "With that potential in place, we have to definitely pay attention to it and stay on top of it."

Investigators said the suspected gunman at a recent shooting at a popular El Paso nightspot was a Fort Bliss soldier. His two alleged victims, also soldiers on post.

Similar cases may become more common along with the growth and expansion at Fort Bliss. The army will add 13,000 soldiers to the El Paso post in the next few years. The expansion comes as drug cartels fight a bloody turf war just across the border in Juarez.

"We have enough isolated cases of U.S. military personal being engaged with these gangs and cartels to indicate that it's a troubling trend that's developing," said Burton. "It's certainly something the U.S. military needs to keep an eye on."

The military has banned all personnel from traveling to Mexican border towns, but that did not stop a Holloman Airforce Base staff sergeant from visiting this strip club. David Booher was among six people gunned down there in early November.

Investigators in Mexico took the unusual step of providing a diagram of the crime scene. The hitmen killed 5 people in the main bar and shot the U.S. Airman in a VIP room upstairs.

"What was he doing there to begin with," asked Burton.

Mexican authorities who participated in the arrest of two hitmen linked to the bar shooting said the suspects are part of a hit squad that carried out the strip club killings.

Back in El Paso, David questions the evidence used to indict his 18-year-old grandchild. "They left his car open for 12 hours and said they found evidence there," he said.

Now, the young soldier who seemed to have made a fresh start waits for his day in court behind bars.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Presenting at the 2009 Gang Violence Summit

2009 Gang Violence Summit held October 5-6, 2009 in Washington, D.C..

Gangs and the Military
(armed forces, air force, army, navy, marines, coast guard)

* Gain an overview of the history and emerging trends associated with dual enlistment (gang and military)
* Identify the unique threat that gang members with military training pose to law enforcement as a result of their military training
* Employ tactics to keep your community safe from discharged gang members and their use of military warfare tactics on the streets

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Presenting at The Investigative Roundtable On Organized Crime 2009 Conference

9/21/09 Virginia Beach Resort Hotel and Conference Center, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Gangs in the Military
(armed forces, air force, army, navy, marines, coast guard)

Contemporary gangs have been strategically infiltrating military communities around the world since the late 1980's. When gang members are allowed to join the military, they are treated just like other service members – no debriefings, no watch list, and no warnings to local military law enforcement. Is “Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell” the right policy for gangs in the military? How can we ensure gang members are not able to use military urban warfare tactics on our city streets?

This session will provide an overview of the issues associated with the enlistment of past and present gang members in the U.S. Armed Forces and provide recommendations for local, state and federal law enforcement and communities. We will examine the myths and truths associated with dual (gang and military) service, and discuss recommendations for the communities where these individuals go after they are discharged.

Gangs and Hi-Tech Communication

The younger generation in our country cannot remember life without cell phones, CD’s or an email address, and many don’t even use CD’s and email anymore. Many gang members are a part of this generation. Do we know how they communicate? As gangs evolve, they take on more of a business model than they had when they started. How does this affect the way we should investigate them? Do we include the right information on our search warrants? Do we know what our crime labs are capable of finding? In this session, we will review the past, examine the present, and look into the future to see how gangs make contact with each other, what they can talk about without us knowing, and why we need to know how to intercept or at least discover what was said after the fact.

Target Atlanta’s gangs with lessons learned in Baghdad

By Kyle Mallinak

7:54 p.m. Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Street gangs in the Atlanta metro area have earned new attention from local government. Having accepted the existence of a gang problem, city officials are now working to formulate policy responses to restore public confidence and regain control over city neighborhoods.

While admitting the problem is an important first step to a successful gang control policy, the Atlanta Police Department now risks repeating the same policy mistakes that have led to failure throughout the country.

In statements to the AJC, police officials indicated that they would model their gang unit tactics on the methods used by the department’s Red Dog anti-drug unit. In addition, officials pointed to increased numbers of gang-related arrests as evidence of their commitment to solving the problem. Atlanta residents, however, should not confuse tough talk and quick arrests with real progress. A rush to embrace the methods of a controversial “war on drugs” is not the path to a successful gang control policy.

Except in rare cases, street gangs are not large mafia-style organizations. Instead, they are typically a small social network of mutual friends and acquaintances bound together by common aspirations or circumstances. Operating from within the protective cover of local neighborhoods, the gangs cannot be eradicated through large sweeps and blanket arrests. At best, these measures will keep low-level gang members off the streets for a few months; at worst, police harassment will turn casual friends of the gang into committed members and allow incarcerated local gang members to form connections with the thriving system of U.S. prison gangs.

Fortunately, Georgia has a large supply of professionals who know a better way to combat gangs. They are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, currently based at Fort Stewart, Fort Benning and other installations.

These security experts, too, once tried to control violence through hard-nosed tactics. They aggressively patrolled the streets, filled large prisons to capacity and pursued armed fugitives in every corner of the country. But the level of violence continued to increase, and in the process Georgia saw some of its best citizens killed.

Their deaths, however, paved the way for better policies. They now know that the best way to eliminate violent social networks is to build trust with residents and develop local communities, while gathering intelligence about violent offenders.

If Atlanta is serious about containing and defeating its gang problem, it will use its veterans as a source of effective tactics and overall strategic principles. City officials should visit combat commanders, read recent Army field manuals and hear the stories of those who have experienced direct combat. An Army major with two tours in Iraq should have no problem explaining to his police counterpart why large-scale raids can be counterproductive, but his knowledge is useless as long as law enforcement remains committed to simplistic notions of gang control.

Atlanta has the chance to become a national leader in successful gang policy, but the city needs a commitment to move beyond the failed policies of the past. Knee-jerk bravado could not clear insurgents from Baghdad, and it will not clear gangs from the streets of Atlanta — no matter what the APD says.

Kyle Mallinak is a McNair scholar at the University of South Carolina.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Weekend Shooting Is Military And Gang Related, Police Say

Derek Shore-KFOX News Reporter

Posted: 8:30 pm MDT September 1, 2009Updated: 9:23 pm MDT September 1, 2009
EL PASO, Texas -- After a Fort Bliss soldier was shot early Sunday morning near the popular Cincinnati area in West El Paso, police reveal the man accused of pulling the trigger is also a Fort Bliss soldier. Police are calling the shooting gang-related.

Spc. Frank Calderon was shot after an altercation at 32 Degrees bar on Mesa Street. Antonio Saunders, also a soldier, has been charged with shooting him. Sources tell KFOX that Saunders is also a member of the Bloods street gang.

With the future growth of Fort Bliss, there is fear police may have to deal with an increase in soldiers who are also gang members.

"Over the last couple of years, we've seen more of a problem than we have seen in past years," said Sgt. Reggie Moton, the head of the El Paso police gang task force.

But Moton claims soldiers in gangs are not any more or less dangerous.

"Over the last couple years, when we go out and we deal with the military people on the different cases that have come up, it's no different than what we deal with with other gang members," Moton said.

However, The National Gang Intelligence Center disagrees. In their 2009 gang assessment, the center said:

"Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of the distinctive military skills that they possess and their willingness to teach these skills to fellow gang members."

While the number of military members in gangs isn’t known, the assessment said the center has confirmed 19 gangs have military trained members in them. The gangs include the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings.

This isn’t the only organized crime that has been linked back to an El Paso soldier. Pfc. Michael Apodaca, a Fort Bliss soldier, is accused of drug cartel activity after he allegedly shot an ICE informant back in May.

Moton said he will work to stop any growing trends and do so with Fort Bliss’ help.

"As a matter, of fact they were involved in the case this past weekend. They came out and provided us help in this case," Moton said.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Alleged shooter also a Fort Bliss soldier

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Posted: 09/01/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO -- A Fort Bliss soldier was arrested Monday, accused of shooting another soldier during a gang fight last weekend in the Cincinnati Avenue Entertainment District.

Pvt. Antonio Saunders, 23, surrendered to Military Police and allegedly admitted to firing gunshots during a street fight at a traffic light as hundreds of patrons were leaving clubs and bars early Sunday in the popular nightlife area, El Paso police said.

Saunders was charged with two counts of attempted murder. He is accused of wounding Spc. Frank Calderon, 22, and also firing toward Kay Yem, 18, who was not hit. Police said Yem is also a soldier at Fort Bliss.

Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said Calderon, who was shot twice, remained in critical condition on Monday at University Medical Center of El Paso.

Offutt said Calderon is with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division rear detachment. Saunders is with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. Information on Yem was not immediately available.

Police and witnesses said a fight between gangs began inside the 32 Degrees nightclub. After the combatants were ejected from the club, a fight continued in the parking lot before they drove away.

Minutes later, two groups began fighting again when their vehicles pulled up next to each other at a stop light at the North Mesa and Baltimore intersection. Calderon and Yem were fighting with at least two men when Calderon was shot.

The police Drive-by Shooting Response Team

continues to investigate the incident and details about the soldiers' gang ties, if any, were not released.

Soldiers involved in gang activity is not new. The FBI and El Paso police have been tracking members of street gangs affiliated with the rapidly growing Army post since at least 2004, according to a National Gang Intelligence Center report released two years.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Presenting at 11the Annual Tennessee Gang Investigators Association conference

Hosted by the Middle Tennessee Region in Nashville, TN
iGangs -- High Tech Gang Communications

The younger generation in our country cannot remember life without cell phones, CD’s or an email address, and many don’t even use CD’s and email anymore. Many gang members are a part of this generation. Do we know how they communicate? As gangs evolve, they take on more of a business model than they had when they started. How does this affect the way we should investigate them? Do we include the right information on our search warrants? Do we know what our crime labs are capable of finding? In this session, we will review the past, examine the present, and look into the future to see how gangs make contact with each other, what they can talk about without us knowing, and why we need to know how to intercept or at least discover what was said after the fact.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

US soldier charged in Mexican cartel killing

August 11, 2009 12:13 PM EDT
EL PASO, Texas - A Fort Bliss soldier and two other men have been charged in the shooting death of a mid-level Mexican drug cartel member who was also a U.S. informant.

El Paso, Texas, police said Tuesday that the soldier, 18-year-old Michael Jackson Apodaca, 30-year-old Ruben Rodriguez Dorado and 17-year-old Christopher Duran have been charged with capital murder in the May 15 slaying of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana.

Gonzalez, a lieutenant in the Juarez cartel who multiple government officials told The Associated Press was a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement informant, was shot eight times outside his El Paso home.

Police say the military handed over Apodaca to them on Monday, when the other two men were also arrested.

A Fort Bliss spokeswoman did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment.

(This version CORRECTS the second reference to Gonzalez to use his preferred last name.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Upcoming presentations at the National Gang Crime Research Center

Gangs and the Military: What’s the Problem? Why is it a Problem? What’s the solution?

Contemporary gangs have been strategically infiltrating military communities around the world since the late 1980's. When gang members are allowed to join the military (armed forces, air force, army, navy, marines, coast guard), they are treated just like other service members – no debriefings, no watch list, and no warnings to local military law enforcement. Is “Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell” the right policy for gangs in the military? How can we ensure gang members are not able to use military urban warfare tactics on our city streets?

This session will provide an overview of the issues associated with the enlistment of past and present gang members in the U.S. Armed Forces and provide recommendations for local, state and federal law enforcement and communities. We will examine the myths and truths associated with dual (gang and military) service, and discuss recommendations for the communities where these individuals go after they are discharged.

A Threat Analysis of MSTA: Gang, STG, Hate Group, Organized Crime — And More

The MSTA has been identified on the top three list of Islamic gangs/STGs operating in the USA. Most police encounter them as a gang, but some of their operations have all the earmarks of organized rime. Most in corrections regard them as a local security threat group, but they have been evolving into a national organization. Most in academia regard them as a cult or deviant spiritual group, but their “MSTA university” sells college courses to their prison inmate members today. Come and learn about the MSTA and how it operates in your jurisdiction.

Gangs and Hi-Tech Communication: How Gang Members Can and Will Communicate Using Tomorrow’s Technology

The younger generation in our country cannot remember life without cell phones, CD’s or an email address, and many don’t even use CD’s and email anymore. Many gang members are a part of this generation. Do we know how they communicate? As gangs evolve, they take on more of a business model than they had when they started. How does this affect the way we should investigate them? Do we include the right information on our search warrants? Do we know what our crime labs are capable of finding? In this session, we will review the past, examine the present, and look into the future to see how gangs make contact with each other, what they can talk about without us knowing, and why we need to know how to intercept or at least discover what was said after the fact.

How to Qualify and Testify as an Expert Witness on Gangs

In this session, you will learn the mechanics of how to become an expert witness in gang crime investigation cases. You will learn how to provide an expert opinion on matters such as gang identification, the relevance of gang threats, gang motivation, gang rivalries, and gang trends. You will learn a number of important “do’s” and “don’ts” about expertise from the prosecution perspective, and will see some of the strategies of defense. Whether in court or not, there are many ways to strengthen your credibility and expertise – this session may be the first step in that direction.

Schedule here.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Neo-Nazis are in the Army now

(archive only - original at

Why the U.S. military is ignoring its own regulations and permitting white supremacists to join its ranks.

By Matt Kennard

Editor's note: Research support for this article was provided by the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.

Jun. 15, 2009 |

On a muggy Florida evening in 2008, I meet Iraq War veteran Forrest Fogarty in the Winghouse, a little bar-restaurant on the outskirts of Tampa, his favorite hangout. He told me on the phone I would recognize him by his skinhead. Sure enough, when I spot a white guy at a table by the door with a shaved head, white tank top and bulging muscles, I know it can only be him.

Over a plate of chicken wings, he tells me about his path into the white-power movement. "I was 14 when I decided I wanted to be a Nazi," he says. At his first high school, near Los Angeles, he was bullied by black and Latino kids. That's when he first heard Skrewdriver, a band he calls "the godfather of the white power movement." "I became obsessed," he says. He had an image from one of Skrewdriver's album covers — a Viking carrying a staff, an icon among white nationalists — tattooed on his left forearm. Soon after he had a Celtic cross, an Irish symbol appropriated by neo-Nazis, emblazoned on his stomach.

At 15, Fogarty moved with his dad to Tampa, where he started picking fights with groups of black kids at his new high school. "On the first day, this bunch of niggers, they thought I was a racist, so they asked, 'Are you in the KKK?'" he tells me. "I said, 'Yeah,' and it was on." Soon enough, he was expelled.

For the next six years, Fogarty flitted from landscaping job to construction job, neither of which he'd ever wanted to do. "I was just drinking and fighting," he says. He started his own Nazi rock group, Attack, and made friends in the National Alliance, at the time the biggest neo-Nazi group in the country. It has called for a "a long-term eugenics program involving at least the entire populations of Europe and America."

But the military ran in Fogarty's family. His grandfather had served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and his dad had been a Marine in Vietnam. At 22, Fogarty resolved to follow in their footsteps. "I wanted to serve my country," he says.

Army regulations prohibit soldiers from participating in racist groups, and recruiters are instructed to keep an eye out for suspicious tattoos. Before signing on the dotted line, enlistees are required to explain any tattoos. At a Tampa recruitment office, though, Fogarty sailed right through the signup process. "They just told me to write an explanation of each tattoo, and I made up some stuff, and that was that," he says. Soon he was posted to Fort Stewart in Georgia, where he became part of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Fogarty's ex-girlfriend, intent on destroying his new military career, sent a dossier of photographs to Fort Stewart. The photos showed Fogarty attending white supremacist rallies and performing with his band, Attack. "They hauled me before some sort of committee and showed me the pictures," Fogarty says. "I just denied them and said my girlfriend was a spiteful bitch." He adds: "They knew what I was about. But they let it go because I'm a great soldier."

In 2003, Fogarty was sent to Iraq. For two years he served in the military police, escorting officers, including generals, around the hostile country. He says he was granted top-secret clearance and access to battle plans. Fogarty speaks with regret that he "never had any kill counts." But he says his time in Iraq increased his racist resolve.

"I hate Arabs more than anybody, for the simple fact I've served over there and seen how they live," he tells me. "They're just a backward people. Them and the Jews are just disgusting people as far as I'm concerned. Their customs, everything to do with the Middle East, is just repugnant to me."

Because of his tattoos and his racist comments, most of his buddies and his commanding officers were aware of his Nazism. "They all knew in my unit," he says. "They would always kid around and say, 'Hey, you're that skinhead!'" But no one sounded an alarm to higher-ups. "I would volunteer for all the hardest missions, and they were like, 'Let Fogarty go.' They didn't want to get rid of me."

Fogarty left the Army in 2005 with an honorable discharge. He says he was asked to reenlist. He declined. He was sick of the system.

Since the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has struggled to recruit and reenlist troops. As the conflicts have dragged on, the military has loosened regulations, issuing "moral waivers" in many cases, allowing even those with criminal records to join up. Veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder have been ordered back to the Middle East for second and third tours of duty.

The lax regulations have also opened the military's doors to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and gang members — with drastic consequences. Some neo-Nazis have been charged with crimes inside the military, and others have been linked to recruitment efforts for the white right. A recent Department of Homeland Security report, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," stated: "The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today." Many white supremacists join the Army to secure training for, as they see it, a future domestic race war. Others claim to be shooting Iraqis not to pursue the military's strategic goals but because killing "hajjis" is their duty as white militants.

Soldiers' associations with extremist groups, and their racist actions, contravene a host of military statutes instituted in the past three decades. But during the "war on terror," U.S. armed forces have turned a blind eye on their own regulations. A 2005 Department of Defense report states, "Effectively, the military has a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt … they are likely to be able to complete their contracts."

Carter F. Smith is a former military investigator who worked with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command from 2004 to 2006, when he helped to root out gang violence in troops. "When you need more soldiers, you lower the standards, whether you say so or not," he says. "The increase in gangs and extremists is an indicator of this." Military investigators may be concerned about white supremacists, he says. "But they have a war to fight, and they don't have incentive to slow down."

Tom Metzger is the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and current leader of the White Aryan Resistance. He tells me the military has never been more tolerant of racial extremists. "Now they are letting everybody in," he says.

The presence of white supremacists in the military first triggered concern in 1976. At Camp Pendleton in California, a group of black Marines attacked white Marines they mistakenly believed to be in the KKK. The resulting investigation uncovered a KKK chapter at the base and led to the jailing or transfer of 16 Klansmen. Reports of Klan activity among soldiers and Marines surfaced again in the 1980s, spurring President Reagan's Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, to condemn military participation in white supremacist organizations.

Then, in 1995, a black couple was murdered by two neo-Nazi paratroopers around Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The murder investigation turned up evidence that 22 soldiers at Fort Bragg were known to be extremists. That year, language was added to a Department of Defense directive, explicitly prohibiting participation in "organizations that espouse supremacist causes" or "advocate the use of force or violence."

Today a complete ban on membership in racist organizations appears to have been lifted — though the proliferation of white supremacists in the military is difficult to gauge. The military does not track them as a discrete category, coupling them with gang members. But one indication of the scope comes from the FBI.

Following an investigation of white supremacist groups, a 2008 FBI report declared: "Military experience — ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces — is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement." In white supremacist incidents from 2001 to 2008, the FBI identified 203 veterans. Most of them were associated with the National Alliance and the National Socialist Movement, which promote anti-Semitism and the overthrow of the U.S. government, and assorted skinhead groups.

Because the FBI focused only on reported cases, its numbers don't include the many extremist soldiers who have managed to stay off the radar. But its report does pinpoint why the white supremacist movements seek to recruit veterans — they "may exploit their accesses to restricted areas and intelligence or apply specialized training in weapons, tactics, and organizational skills to benefit the extremist movement."

In fact, since the movement's inception, its leaders have encouraged members to enlist in the U.S. military as a way to receive state-of-the-art combat training, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, in preparation for a domestic race war. The concept of a race war is central to extremist groups, whose adherents imagine an eruption of violence that pits races against each other and the government.

That goal comes up often in the chatter on white supremacist Web sites. On the neo-Nazi Web site Blood and Honour, a user called 88Soldier88, wrote in 2008 that he is an active duty soldier working in a detainee holding area in Iraq. He complained about "how 'nice' we have to treat these fucking people … better than our own troops." Then he added, "Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come." Another poster, AMERICANARYAN.88Soldier88, wrote, "I have the training I need and will pass it on to others when I get out."

On, a social networking group for neo-Nazis, a group called White Military Men hosts numerous contributors. It was begun by "FightingforWhites," who identified himself at one point as Lance Cpl. Burton of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company, but then removed the information. The group calls for "All men with military experience, retired or active/reserve" to "join this group to see how many men have experience to build an army. We want to win a war, we need soldiers." FightingforWhites — whose tagline is "White Supremacy will prevail! US Military leading the way!" — goes on to write, "I am with an infantry battalion in the Marine Corps, I have had the pleasure of killing four enemies that tried to kill me. I have the best training to kill people." On his wall, a friend wrote: "THANKS BROTHER!!!! kill a couple towel heads for me ok!"

Such attitudes come straight from the movement's leaders. "We do encourage them to sign up for the military," says Charles Wilson, spokesman for the National Socialist Movement. "We can use the training to secure the resistance to our government." Billy Roper, of White Revolution, says skinheads join the military for the usual reasons, such as access to higher education, but also "to secure the future for white children." "America began in bloody revolution," he reminds me, "and it might end that way."

When it comes to screening out racists at recruitment centers, military regulations appear to have collapsed. "We don't exclude people from the army based on their thoughts," says S. Douglas Smith, an Army public affairs officer. "We exclude based on behavior." He says an "offensive" or "extremist" tattoo "might be a reason for them not to be in the military." Or it might not. "We try to educate recruiters on extremist tattoos," he says, but "the tattoo is a relatively subjective decision" and shouldn't in itself bar enlistment.

What about something as obvious as a swastika? "A swastika would trigger questions," Smith says. "But again, if the gentlemen said, 'I like the way the swastika looked,' and had clean criminal record, it's possible we would allow that person in." "There are First Amendment rights," he adds.

In the spring, I telephoned at random five Army recruitment centers across the country. I said I was interested in joining up and mentioned that I had a pair of "SS bolts" tattooed on my arm. A 2000 military brochure stated that SS bolts were a tattoo image that should raise suspicions. But none of the recruiters reacted negatively, and when pressed directly about the tattoo, not one said it would be an outright problem. A recruiter in Houston was typical; he said he'd never heard of SS bolts and just encouraged me to come on in.

It's in the interest of recruiters to interpret recruiting standards loosely. If they fail to meet targets, based on the number of soldiers they enlist, they may have to attend a punitive counseling session, and it could hurt any chance for promotion. When, in 2005, the Army relaxed regulations on non-extremist tattoos, such as body art covering the hands, neck and face, this cut recruiters even more slack.

Even the education of recruiters about how to identify extremists seems to have fallen by the wayside. The 2005 Department of Defense report concluded that recruiting personnel "were not aware of having received systematic training on recognizing and responding to possible terrorists" — a designation that includes white supremacists — "who try to enlist." Participation on white supremacist Web sites would be an easy way to screen out extremist recruits, but the report found that the military had not clarified which Web forums were gathering places for extremists.

Once white supremacists are in the military, it is easy to stay there. An Army Command Policy manual devotes more than 100 pages to rooting them out. But no officer appears to be reading it.

Hunter Glass was a paratrooper in the 1980s and became a gang cop in 1999 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg. "In the early 1990s, the military was hard on them. They could pick and choose," he recalls. "They were looking for swastikas. They were looking for anything." But the regulations on racist extremists got jettisoned with the war on terror.

Glass says white supremacists now enjoy an open culture of impunity in the armed forces. "We're seeing guys with tattoos all the time," he says. "As far as hunting them down, I don't see it. I'm seeing the opposite, where if a white supremacist has committed a crime, the military stance will be, 'He didn't commit a race-related crime.'"

In fact, a 2006 report by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command shows that military brass consistently ignored evidence of extremism. One case, at Fort Hood, reveals that a soldier was making Internet postings on the white supremacist site But the investigator was unable to locate the soldier in question. In a brief summary of the case, an investigator writes that due to "poor documentation," "attempts to locate with minimal information met with negative results." "I'm not doing my job here," the investigator notes. "Needs to get fixed."

In another case, investigators found that a Fort Hood soldier belonged to the neo-Nazi group Hammerskins and was "closely associated with" the Celtic Knights of Austin, Texas, another extremist organization, a situation bad enough to merit a joint investigation by the FBI and the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. The Army summary states that there was "probable cause" to believe the soldier had participated in at least one white extremist meeting and had "provided a military technical manual … to the leader of a white extremist group in order to assist in the planning and execution of future attacks on various targets."

Our of four preliminary probes into white supremacists, the Criminal Investigation Command carried through on only this one. The probe revealed that "a larger single attack was planned for the San Antonio, TX after a considerable amount of media attention was given to illegal immigrants. The attack was not completed due to the inability of the organization to obtain explosives." Despite these threats, the subject was interviewed only once, in 2006, and the investigation was terminated the following year.

White supremacists may be doing more than avoiding expulsion. They may be using their military status to help build the white right. The FBI found that two Army privates in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg had attempted in 2007 to sell stolen property from the military — including ballistic vests, a combat helmet and pain medications such as morphine — to an undercover FBI agent they believed was involved with the white supremacist movement. (They were convicted and sentenced to six years.) It found multiple examples of white supremacist recruitment among active military, including a period in 2003 when six active duty soldiers at Fort Riley, members of the Aryan Nation, were recruiting their Army colleagues and even serving as the Aryan Nation's point of contact for the state of Kansas.

One white supremacist soldier, James Douglas Ross, a military intelligence officer stationed at Fort Bragg, was given a bad conduct discharge from the Army when he was caught trying to mail a submachine gun from Iraq to his father's home in Spokane, Wash. Military police found a cache of white supremacist paraphernalia and several weapons hidden behind ceiling tiles in Ross' military quarters. After his discharge, a Spokane County deputy sheriff saw Ross passing out fliers for the neo-Nazi National Alliance.

Rooting out extremists is difficult because racism pervades the military, according to soldiers. They say troops throughout the Middle East use derogatory terms like "hajji" or "sand nigger" to define Arab insurgents and often the Arab population itself.

"Racism was rampant," recalls vet Michael Prysner, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "All of command, everywhere, it was completely ingrained in the consciousness of every soldier. I've heard top generals refer to the Iraq people as 'hajjis.' The anti-Arab racism came from the brass. It came from the top. And everything was justified because they weren't considered people."

Another vet, Michael Totten, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne in 2003 and 2004, says, "It wouldn't stand out if you said 'sand niggers,' even if you aren't a neo-Nazi." Totten says his perspective has changed in the intervening years, but "at the time, I used the words 'sand nigger.' I didn't consider 'hajji' to be derogatory."

Geoffrey Millard, an organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in Iraq for 13 months, beginning in 2004, as part of the 42nd Infantry Division. He recalls Gen. George Casey, who served as the commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, addressing a briefing he attended in the summer of 2005 at Forward Operating Base, outside Tikrit. "As he walked past, he was talking about some incident that had just happened, and he was talking about how 'these stupid fucking hajjis couldn't figure shit out.' And I'm just like, Are you kidding me? This is Gen. Casey, the highest-ranking guy in Iraq, referring to the Iraqi people as 'fucking hajjis.'" (A spokesperson for Casey, now the Army Chief of Staff, said the general "did not make this statement.")

"The military is attractive to white supremacists," Millard says, "because the war itself is racist."

The U.S. Senate Committee on the Armed Forces has long been considered one of Congress' most powerful groups. It governs legislation affecting the Pentagon, defense budget, military strategies and operations. Today it is led by the influential Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain. An investigation by the committee into how white supremacists permeate the military in plain violation of U.S. law could result in substantive changes. I contacted the committee but staffers would not agree to be interviewed. Instead, a spokesperson responded that white supremacy in the military has never arisen as a concern. In an e-mail, the spokesperson said, "The Committee doesn't have any information that would indicate this is a particular problem."

-- By Matt Kennard

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gangs in the Military (armed forces, air force, army, navy, marines, coast guard) presentation

Gangs and the Military presentation at the Northwest Gang Investigators Association , Missoula, Montana. October 2007 - Al Valdez, Ph.D. University of California - Irvine & Carter F. Smith, J. D., Austin Peay State University

Slideshare presentations with YouTube video embedded (high-quality, may take time to load).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Conspiracy involving gang yields 40 arrests

Credit union lost $500,000 in scheme

Originally published 2:00 a.m. May 14, 2009, updated 10:32 a.m., May 14, 2009

Depositing counterfeit checks and withdrawing the cash before banks discover they are fake is a common crime that happens several times a day in San Diego County.

But having a street gang behind a conspiracy that caused a credit union to lose $500,000 could be a first in state history.

State and federal law enforcement officials made that announcement yesterday morning with the arrests of 40 people in the check-cashing scheme, including some active members of the military. Twenty more people are being sought.

“This is the first time a violent street gang has been targeted for its involvement in complex bank fraud in California,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. “It clearly shows gangs are moving from street corner drug dealing and pimping to complex fraud.”

Of the 60 suspects who have been identified, 16 are documented members of a gang that claims San Diego's Lincoln Park neighborhood as its territory, authorities said.

Many of the defendants are not in the military but are somehow affiliated, either by working on a base or through a relative. That gave them membership to Navy Federal Credit Union, which absorbed the losses.

Three members of the Marines, one member of the Army and one member of the Navy have been identified as suspects. Two have been arrested.

During a news conference, Dumanis explained that gang members would create a fraudulent check and then have a credit union member deposit it into his or her account. The member would then travel to Barona Casino and withdraw the money before the credit union could determine that the check was counterfeit.

The checks ranged from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, and the account holder would receive a commission of several hundred dollars.

When Navy Federal contacted the credit union member about the fraud, the account holder would say that his or her identity had been stolen and would sign an affidavit swearing to that. The credit union would then absorb the loss.

Gang members also were indicted in a mortgage-fraud scheme last month. Dumanis noted the trend of gangs getting into more sophisticated crime and vowed to prosecute them.

The credit union fraud started in 2005 and was used to pay for luxuries such as new cars, clothing and jewelry, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said. Authorities do not believe the money was used to finance more crime.

“This one was surprising to us,” Lansdowne said. “There was no financial plan in this. It was take it and use it.”

In 2008, an investigator at the credit union noticed a pattern among the transactions: Most of the people were similar ages, all of the withdrawals were made at Barona Casino and the checks looked alike, Deputy District Attorney Joan Stein said.

The credit union contacted the U.S. Secret Service, which started a 10-month investigation.

Authorities said Barona was used because the ATMs there, which are not owned by the credit union or the casino, allow much larger withdrawals.

The casino's surveillance system played an important role in the investigation, Edwin “Thorpe” Romero, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians, said in a news release.

Some account holders admitted their role in the fraud, but gave agents incomplete names or nicknames to identify the ringleaders. The agents turned to San Diego police for help, and gang-unit detectives identified the leaders, Lansdowne said.

As law enforcement officers began interviewing people in December, the fraud stopped. Authorities also believe the equipment used to make the counterfeit checks was disposed of at that time.

On Tuesday, law enforcement officials spread out around the county to make arrests. Suspects were brought to the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot for processing.

Superior Court arraignments are scheduled to begin today. Account holders will probably be charged with fraud, a felony, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Because many of them have no criminal record, they will probably be sentenced, if convicted, to probation and ordered to pay back the credit union, said Stein, the prosecutor.

The implicated sailors are believed to be account holders.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service was involved in the investigation.

The ringleaders face maximum sentences of about 17 years in prison, Stein said.

Staff writer Dana Littlefield contributed to this report.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gang members attack former gang member
10:17 AM
By Chris Bone

Police arrested two suspected gang members Friday evening after they attacked a 23-year-old security guard at the Gilroy Premium Outlets in what sources said appeared to be revenge for his leaving the gang life.

Sgt. Jim Gillio would not confirm or deny if the victim from Morgan Hill, ever belonged to a criminal street gang, but sources suggested the young man was trying to turn his life around. Jerry Sarmientoluna, 21, and Nathaniel Gonzalez, 19, apparently weren't having it, though, when they approached the victim at his job just before 6 p.m. Friday and yelled gang slogans before attacking him with their hands and feet.

Witnesses called police while the incident occurred, and officers caught up with and arrested the suspects who fled on foot shortly thereafter. No weapons were used during the attack, which did not cause any serious injuries even though the victim his head against the cement, police said.

Sarmientoluna, who has been denied bail, was arrested for violating the terms of his parole, and police charged both the suspects from Gilroy with assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit a crime. Gonzalez also remains in jail with a $30,000 bail, and investigators are trying to add gang enhancement charges to both cases, which would stiffen the penalties the men face. The pair are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday, according to the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections.

A police report also indicated Gonzalez's occupation was "U.S. Military," but a soldier at the U.S. Army recruiting center on Westwood Drive said he could not look up service records, and spokespeople in a national military office could not be reached late Tuesday afternoon.

SouthLAnd does Gangs and the Military -- Two Gangs episode

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fort Sill responds to 7NEWS questions about gang activity on post

Lawton_Does Fort Sill have a gang problem? That's a question 7NEWS has been asking post officials for the last 6 months. It all began back in November of last year when The Oklahoman newspaper quoted the Lawton Police Gang Task Force and a former City Council member, who all said there are gang members in the military assigned to Fort Sill.

Immediately after the stories were published, we started asking Fort Sill for a response.

This is what they had to say:

Questions from Channel 7 Reporter/Weekend Anchor Monte Brown and PAO responses.

1.) Can Fort Sill definitively say there are no active duty military members stationed on the post who claim gang affiliations or participate in criminal gang activity? How was the answer to this question determined?

A1. No, and we have never made such a claim. We said last November that no evidence of a Fort Sill soldier participating in gang activity has been presented to Fort Sill by civilian law enforcement. No Soldier has been arrested for gang activity or identified by police as a suspect in gang activity. This is still the case as far as we know. It doesn't mean the possibility doesn't exist.

2.) Why did Fort Sill authorize members of the post's criminal investigation division (or military police) to ride along with members of the Lawton Police Department's Gang Task Force following a story regarding Fort Sill gang members which was published in The Oklahoman in November?

A2. Fort Sill law enforcement personnel and commanders of units at Fort Sill are offered the opportunity to ride along with civilian police as a matter of community involvement and information. It helps them understand what the police are dealing with off post, and gives them a better idea of what information needs to be passed on to their Soldiers to keep them safe. ROTC and West Point cadets who visit this summer as part of their leadership training will also take part. This program has been in place between Fort Sill and the Lawton Police Department for years.

3.) Does Fort Sill consider pictures of soldiers "throwing gang signs" gang activity?

A3. If you are referring to pictures of anonymous individuals displaying such signs on social networking sites, the answer is no. Displaying such pictures is not a crime, and a screen name does not allow us to identify the individual, even if the person is wearing military-style clothing. You will see similar pictures displayed on social networking sites around many military installations. If a Soldier is positively identified in such a picture, then his chain of command can take action to investigate and, if needed, counsel the Soldier about his behavior. Individual cases of specifically identified Soldiers known to participate in gang activity may result in criminal or administrative action against the Soldier.

4.) If a soldier is arrested by Lawton Police for any crime considered "gang related" does Fort Sill consider that soldier to be affiliated with a gang and participating in gang activity?

A4. Not necessarily, but it does allow military authorities to investigate further and his chain of command to counsel the Soldier about his activities. If the Soldier is convicted of the crime, then his commander can take action to discharge him from the Army.

5.) Are soldiers who claim gang affiliations allowed to do so in the U.S. Army?

A5. Commanders have the inherent authority to prohibit any activity that detracts from a unit's good order and discipline or morale. Participation in an extremist organization, such as a gang, can result in criminal and administrative sanctions against the Soldier.

6.) How does Fort Sill and the U.S. Army deal with soldiers who are found to claim gang affiliations and participate in gang activity?

A6. Soldiers who participate in extremist activities detract from a unit's good order and discipline and morale. While commanders evaluate each case on an individual basis, Soldiers who do participate in extremist organizations are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and administrative sanctions, to include involuntary separation.

7.) Why has Fort Sill refused repeated requests from this station to talk on camera about this issue?

A7. We have declined all media requests for (on-camera) interviews because we didn't feel it was appropriate to engage on the topic, especially since it is not true to the best of our knowledge. It was a joint decision by the Fort Sill command and the City of Lawton mayor to not grant interviews and allow the police agencies concerned to develop their procedures and working relationships for the new gang task force. Since then we have gone through an exhaustive process to investigate the relationship between our police agencies and their information sharing procedures. After two months we re-evaluated the situation and were very pleased with the results. The indication from both sides is that the information sharing and relationship is greatly improved. Dealing with the gangs issue is a team effort between Lawton and Fort Sill, and from our standpoint both Fort Sill and the City of Lawton are pleased with the cooperation and information-sharing now taking place between our police agencies.

Posted: May 7, 2009 05:04 PM

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Even the lawyers get it! Why can't the Pentagon act NOW?

With more than 1,000,000 criminal street gang members in the United States, communities everywhere are experiencing the negative effects of street gangs (National Gang Intelligence Center [NGIC], 2009). As a result, government officials are searching for innovative and effective ways to restrict the negative impact of gang-related activity on the community. One way of reducing gang-related activity is through gang prevention legislation.

In 1992, Knox (2006) surveyed members of a National Guard unit and found they estimated gang membership in the military from zero to 75%. To date, no follow up research of this nature has been conducted.

On December 12, 1995, following racially-motivated homicides at Fort Bragg, NC, the Secretary of the Army established an investigative task force to “assess the influence of extremist groups in the Army and examine the effect of those groups on the Army's human relations environment." The task force reported: "Gang-related activities appear to be more pervasive than extremist activities as defined in Army Regulation 600-20" (U.S. Department of Defense, 1996, ¶ 16).

Following the homicides at Fort Bragg, members of the Department of Defense concluded that gang members adversely affected the military in a variety of distinct ways. The authors noted there was no official accounting of the scope and nature of the problem; however, the individual branches of the military thought the problem was significant enough to publish gang identification manuals (Flacks & Wiskoff, 1998). To date, no follow up research of this nature has been conducted .

A 2006 Gang Activity Threat Assessment (GATA) by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command (CID) reported an increase in both gang-related investigations and incidents in 2006 over previous years. The most common gang-related crimes involved drug-trafficking (CID, 2006), though assaults, homicides, and robberies were also reported.

In 2007, the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), a multi-agency effort of the U.S. Department of Justice, distributed an unclassified report that identified incidents of gang activity by military and military-affiliated personnel, similar to the findings of Flacks and Wiskoff (1998) and Knox (2006), and identified gang-related crimes such as murder, racketeering, and drug distribution.

As noted in Can you prevent membership in organized criminal groups if you are the SecDef?, H.R. 4986: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 Section 544 - became law (Public Law 110-181), and requires the Secretary of Defense to prescribe regulations to prohibit the active participation of military personnel in street gangs (National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA], 2008, Sec. 544). The bill was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President back in January 2008, yet here we are, more than 14 months later, with no changes to military policy on gang membership.

Gustav Eyler, Gangs in the Military, 118 Yale L. J. 696 (2009) recently concluded
While the threat and presence of military gang members has intensified over the past decade, the military has done little to improve its existing policies. It is time for this to change. The military needs to overhaul its recruitment process, draft new regulations to detect and prevent gang influences, and improve its removal procedures. The various military services should
accomplish this by coordinating with other agencies and adopting the best practices of civilian law enforcement groups. By seizing the opportunity provided by Congress, the military may realize its goal of sustaining a robust fighting force that is free from the influence of criminal street gangs.
So what's it going to take?

Eyler, G. (2009). Gangs in the Military, 118 Yale L. J. 696. (thanks to Court-Martial Trial Practice for the link)

Flacks, M., & Wiskoff, M. F. (1999). Gangs, Extremists Groups, and the Military: Screening for Service . Retrieved November 19, 2008, from

Knox, G. W. (2006). An introduction to gangs (6th ed.). Peotone, IL: New Chicago School Press.

National Defense Authorization Act. (2008). (Pub. L. No. 110-181. 122 Stat. 117). Retrieved September 30, 2008, from

National Gang Intelligence Center. (2007). Intelligence assessment: Gang-related activity in the US armed forces increasing. Crystal City, VA: National Gang Intelligence Center.

National Gang Intelligence Center. (2009). National gang threat assessment - 2009. Washington D.C.: National Gang Intelligence Center.

U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command [CID]. (2006). Summary Report Gang Activity Threat Assessment: A review of gang activity affecting the Army. Retrieved January 26, 2009, from

U.S. Department of Defense. (1996, March 21). Army task force report on extremist activity. Retrieved January 19, 2009, from

Thursday, March 5, 2009

G.I. Crip - The Oregon National Guard wants to send this convicted gangbanger to Iraq.


[March 4th, 2009]

More than two years ago, a well-publicized FBI report warned of gang members infiltrating the U.S. military. And while gang violence was spreading on bases, cops say returning gangsters are putting their new combat skills to deadly use in their old neighborhoods.

Now, as the military continues to suffer low recruitment approaching the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, a first lieutenant in the Oregon National Guard says he wants to take a convicted gangbanger off Portland’s streets and send him into a new combat zone—Iraq.

Police describe Levell Peters—who grew up in Northeast Portland but now lives in Vancouver, Wash.—as a longtime gang associate who’s affiliated with both the Rolling 60s and the Kerby Blocc Crips.

He’s also a private first class in the Oregon National Guard set to deploy this year with the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to a letter by Lt. Michael Davis, a lawyer with the Oregon Military Department.

But the Guard faces a hurdle in deploying Peters, 22: He was convicted this year of a felony in connection with a drive-by shooting last year in North Portland. And his probation forbids him to carry a weapon—even if he’s armed by the U.S. military.

In a Feb. 10 letter to Peters’ probation officer, Davis asked that Peters’ probation be modified so he can begin training in April and deploy with his unit this summer. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Marshall Amiton is expected to rule on that request later this month.

Davis’ letter says that in Iraq, Peters will be “under the supervision of the U.S. Army and subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” and that he’ll be “completely removed from negative community influences, to wit, gang members.”

But three nationally recognized experts on gangs and the military tell WW it’s a lousy idea to send people with Peters’ history into combat.

“People are under some terrible misunderstanding that the military will change gangbangers,” says Hunter Glass, a retired police detective and private consultant. “You can’t beat blueprinted behavior out.”

Davis did not reply to repeated emails and phone calls, and Peters declined to comment.

“This is a young man who is trying to improve his life,” says Peters’ attorney, Gary Bertoni. “Certainly I would disabuse anyone of the notion that he entered the Army so he could receive training and go back to the neighborhoods.”

Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson, who investigated last year’s shooting, says Peters is known to police as a Crips associate previously involved in a drive-by outside Benson High School. Court records show convictions arrests for assault, harassment, disorderly conduct, reckless driving and other misdemeanors.

“This is not a guy you want serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere,” Simpson says. “He can’t be trusted.”

On Feb. 24, 2008, Simpson says, a house on North Commercial Avenue where Peters’ infant son was staying got shot up. The next day, Simpson says, Peters and three friends went out seeking revenge.

According to Simpson, they climbed into a 2008 Chrysler Sebring with Peters behind the wheel and drove through North Portland. They began chasing a Ford Taurus, and Peters gave his gun to a friend who opened fire, Simpson says. The Taurus returned fire and was joined by a Ford Explorer also taking shots at Peters’ Chrysler, Simpson says. The three cars drove several blocks firing on each other until police arrived.

No one was injured. But Simpson says that could change if the shooters had combat training.

“The spray-and-pray stuff they’re doing as gangbangers—that’s not what they’re doing in the military,” he says. “They’re doing precision shooting and explosives.”

When the shooting occurred, Peters had already joined the Guard. A grand jury indicted him for attempted murder and other charges on July 28, 2008, and he was arrested by U.S. marshals while training at a camp near Boise, Idaho.

On Jan. 28, a judge acquitted Peters of attempted murder but found him guilty of unlawful use of a weapon. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail with credit for time served and three years of probation.

After Davis asked for changes to Peters’ probation, Peters appeared in court Feb. 26 accompanied by his mother. Bertoni asked the judge for more time to review the Guard’s request, and a hearing was set for March 11.

Along with gang members, increasing numbers of convicted felons have found their way into the military in recent years under so-called “moral waivers” when they’re recruited.

“Obviously, it’s a huge problem,” says John Hutson, president of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce Law Center and a former Navy judge advocate general.

“The military is responsible to kill people,” he says. “It is responsible for the potential of great destruction of property. So you have to ensure that those people who are involved with that kind of activity are of the highest caliber.”

FACT: The military granted 1,605 waivers for convicted felons recruited in 2006. That same year, it kicked out 612 gays and lesbians under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Verdict in gang-initiation death trial angers victim’s mother

Seth Robson / Stripes
Pvt. Bobby Morrissette, right, waits for the verdict during his court-martial Thursday at Vilseck, Germany.

VILSECK, Germany — Pvt. Bobby Morrissette’s acquittal on a voluntary manslaughter charge for his role in the 2005 gang initiation beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson makes a mockery of claims the Army is tough on gangs, the dead soldier’s mother said Thursday.

Johnson was badly beaten in a Gangster Disciples initiation, known as a jumping-in ceremony, near Kaiserslautern on July 3, 2005. He was found dead in his barracks room the next day.

Stephanie Cockrell reacted angrily Thursday after the military judge, Col. Timothy Grammel, announced his ruling in her son’s death.

"I’m angry, and I’m outraged that we have gangs in the military," she said. "The court system is sending a message that it’s OK."

In additional to the voluntary manslaughter charge, Morrissette was also acquitted on a charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.

Grammel did find Morrissette guilty of a number of other charges, including participating in gang initiation rituals, impeding an investigation, impeding a trial by court-martial and willfully disobeying a commissioned officer. He also was convicted of committing an indecent act on a female in the presence of another person and wrongful use of a controlled substance, both stemming from a separate incident.

Morrissette was sentenced to 42 months’ confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.

During the three-day trial, Cockrell and others listened to witnesses describe how up to nine gang members hit and kicked Johnson for six minutes during the initiation. She left the court in tears during testimony on his injuries, which were listed in an autopsy report.

Cockrell has attended six trials of alleged gang members involved in her son’s death.

"In my opinion, everybody who was there is equally culpable," she said.

Those involved have shown no remorse and are still gang members, she said. During Morrissette’s court-martial, for example, one of the witnesses, Airman Nicholas Sims, flashed a gang sign and referred to Morrissette as "my brother," she said.

"[The Gangster Disciples] talk about family. That’s not how they treated my son," she said.

During the court-martial, prosecutors argued that the court needed to send a message that gangs in the military would not be tolerated.

"The military rank structure meant nothing to this gang. These gang members would unquestioningly follow the orders of their governor," prosecution lawyer Greg O’Malley told the court.

Gang members sported Gangster Disciples tattoos, wore gang clothing and started fights with local nationals and members of other gangs in Kaiserslautern, he said.

However, Morrissette’s lawyers argued that the group he associated with was not a criminal enterprise and could not be characterized as a gang. They cast doubt on the integrity of prosecution witnesses, some of whom were also gang members who had lied in past statements about the case.

Morrissette, who smiled broadly after the verdict, apologized in an unsworn statement for "whatever happened to Sergeant Johnson" but made no effort to disassociate himself from the Gangster Disciples.

Cockrell said she plans to attend the trial of former Airman Rico Williams, the alleged leader of the Kaiserslautern branch of the Gangster Disciples, who is charged with second-degree murder in relation to his involvement in Johnson’s death.

Young men should get a briefing on gang activity when they join the military, she said.

"I can’t believe what was in the mind of my son when he thought about joining this gang. This was not the guy I sent to the military," she said.

"I’d warn mothers to tell their kids. They not only have to worry about the enemy at large. They have to worry about the enemy within," she said.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Prosecutor: GI returned from Iraq in gang

VILSECK, Germany — A soldier charged in the 2005 gang initiation beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson returned from an Iraq deployment as a member of the Gangster Disciples, Army prosecutors said during Pvt. Bobby Morrissette’s court-martial Tuesday.

Morrissette — one of seven servicemembers accused in Johnson’s death — is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter; conspiracy to commit aggravated assault; conduct contrary to good order and discipline; obstruction of justice, disobeying an order, indecent acts and use of a controlled substance.

Johnson died of multiple blunt force injuries on July 4, 2005, after an alleged initiation ceremony, which took place at a gazebo in a small town near Kaiserslautern.

Similar charges against Morrissette relating to Johnson’s death were withdrawn and dismissed in June 2007 because of legal concerns. The Army refiled charges against Morrissette in June 2008.

At Tuesday’s trial, government prosecutor Capt. Derrick Grace told the court that the evidence would show that Morrissette returned from Iraq as a member of the Gangster Disciples street gang.

Grace presented the court with photographs that, he said, show Gangster Disciples’ graffiti in the barracks building that Morrissette occupied at Camp Speicher, in Tikrit, when his unit — the 66th Transportation Company — was deployed there from 2004 to 2005.

Sgt. Ronald Barnhart, a former member of the 66th who lived in the same barracks as Morrissette in Iraq, told the court he saw several soldiers beating Sgt. Rodney Howell in a latrine at Camp Speicher in April 2004. Howell, who is serving six years’ confinement for his role in Johnson’s death, was jogging on the spot and grunting each time he was hit, Barnhart said.

"I took it as horseplay and walked out of the room," he said.

Another soldier stationed at Camp Speicher at that time, Sgt. John Koerner, described walking in on the same beating.

"There were six people in a circle. I saw a punch thrown," he said.

Another member of the gang, Air Force Staff Sgt. Themitrios Saroglou, told the court that he was treasurer of the Kaiserslautern branch of the Gangster Disciples at the time of Johnson’s death.

Saroglou said he joined the gang in 2004, after surviving his own jumping-in ceremony.

At the time members did not refer to themselves as the Gangster Disciples, although they participated in the gang’s rituals, such as the jumping-in ceremony, which involved members beating an initiate for six minutes inside a six pointed star marked with candles, he said.

The temperament of the gang changed after Morrissette’s unit returned to Germany from Iraq in 2005, Saroglou said.

"After the guys came back from deployment ... that’s when they started calling it the ‘Gangster Disciples,’ " he said.

The gang became more violent, he said.

"We called the gang members who came back from Iraq the ‘Young ‘Uns’. Their behavior was rowdy. They would act without thinking. The entire organization just went more negative. Drugs were used frequently. Fights would start from people looking at each other wrong or flashing gang signs," he said.

"They would say things like: ‘Aw hell no. Get up, Get the [expletive] up,’ " Saroglou said, adding that Morrissette hit and kicked Johnson many times during the ceremony.

If convicted, Morrissette faces up to 55 years’ confinement, a dishonorable discharge, reduction to private and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. The trial was scheduled to continue Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In New Mexico, an Airman is Arrested in the Killing of a Man on Lower Greenville

KXAS-Channel 5
Marlon Alfaro
The Associated Press reports this morning that a man has been arrested in the death of Marlon Alfaro, the 23-year-old from Irving who was beaten and run over in a Lower Greenville Avenue club's parking lot on January 25. Dallas police and a certain Barking Dog had speculated in a KXAS-Channel 5 story that Alfaro's murder, which took place after an argument turned into an altercation, was gang-related. Which makes 23-year-old Frank Farias an unlikely suspect: Since August 2006, he's been a member of the 377th Medical Support Squadron out of Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he's being held till he's extradited to Dallas to face first-degree murder charges following his arrest on Friday.

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