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.

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.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

B.C. man sentenced in Army Rangers bank heist

By Sara Jean Green Seattle Times staff reporter

A 23-year-old British Columbia man — who aspired to a leadership role in a planned Canadian crime family — was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison today for his role in the 2006 armed robbery of a Tacoma bank that was masterminded by members of an elite Army Ranger unit based at Fort Lewis.

Tigra Robertson of Peachland, B.C., is one of five men convicted of stealing $50,000 from a Bank of America branch on South Tacoma Way on Aug. 7, 2006. The robbers — three Army Rangers stationed at Fort Lewis and two Canadian nationals — wore body armor and threatened bank employees with guns, including an AK-47 machine gun, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

Dressed in military garb with black masks covering their faces, the men entered the bank after 5 p.m., demanded cash and fled within 90 seconds. Robertson attempted to grab money from the bank's vault but the team decided too much time had elapsed and so they left with only money stolen from tellers' drawers, federal attorneys said.

A bystander saw the men leave the bank and gave the license plate number of their getaway car to police. The car was traced to Fort Lewis, "where evidence of the crime was uncovered at the men's' barracks," wrote office spokeswoman Emily Langlie in a news release.

Robertson — who was convicted of armed bank robbery, conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery and brandishing a machine gun — was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison and five years of supervised release.

He was a trusted sidekick of Army Ranger Luke Sommer, who planned the robbery and was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison in December. Fellow Ranger Chad Palmer was sentenced to 11 years in prison, also in December.

Ranger Alex Blum and Canadian national Nathan Dunmall are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Holding up the bank was supposed to be a first step toward starting a Canadian crime family to take on the Hell's Angels biker gang for control of the drug and firearm trade in Kelowna, about 200 miles east of Vancouver. Sommer had assigned Robertson the rank of captain in the planned criminal organization, federal attorneys said.

Robertson, who turned himself in to police six days after the robbery and later posted a $25,000 bond, was taken into custody after this morning's hearing, Langlie said. He will remain at the federal detention center in SeaTac until Bureau of Prison officials decide where to send him to serve his time, she said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or

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