When Statesboro police talk about “The Mob,” they aren’t referring to the Mafia. Most likely, they are referring to one of Statesboro’s gangs.
Sometimes spelled “The Mobb,” the gang isn’t just some kids playing. It is a criminal gang, along with other Statesboro gangs such as the Inman Lane Gang, Zone 3 Gang, and others, said Statesboro Police Det. Dustin Cross.
(The Inman Lane Gang is not affiliated with Inman Lane, he said.)
While some might not take small-town gangs seriously, Statesboro and Bulloch County law enforcement do. The above-named gangs are linked to larger nationally-recognized gangs, and those groups, such as the Crips, the Bloods, Gangster Disciples and Ghostface Gangsters, also have members here, Cross said.
Ten years ago, the Statesboro Herald reported the existence of at least 15 gangs in the area. In 2007, the local gangs included the Bottom Boys, Bottom Girls, Knockout Kings, Crosstown Squad, the Whitesville Boys, and the Headbusters. There was even a gang in Portal – called the 3rd Mob.
Members of those gangs are now adults, and likely still involved in gang activity. However, today’s gangs are not the gangs of yesterday, Cross said.
“We still see gangs, no more or no less than before,” said Statesboro Police Det. Ben Purvis. “They still use hand signals, wear the same colors.”
But social media has become a major component of gang activity, he said.
Facebook and Twitter
Like most of us, today’s gang members use social media as a way of communication. While tagging (spray painting graffiti) and use of hand signals are still part of gang culture, much of the gang communication seen today is online, Cross said. “They are getting better at not showing signs. They (gang members) still tag sometimes but (messages to other gang members) are now mostly on social media. Gangs have become more modernized.”
And gang “fashions” have changed too, he said. Once, gang members were easily recognized by the colors they wore. In the past, some gang members have “been successfully prosecuted due to colors worn.”
But today, “It’s not so much about colors worn anymore,” he said.
Gangs aren’t as readily defined by the same rules as before. “They are becoming more hybrid, crossing a lot of different gang cultures,” he said.
Gangs in the county
Gang activity is not limited to inside city limits, said Statesboro Police Det. Jared Akins, former Bulloch County Sheriff’s chief deputy.
“We definitely have (gangs) here, no doubt about it. It is a lot more of an issue than a lot of people know,” he said.
People living in rural areas usually don’t live as close to each other as they do in the city, but gang activity is still there.
“It is not on the same scale, but it is there,” he said. “It is going to spread. There are crimes committed on each side pf the map.”
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown also acknowledged the presence of gangs in the county.
“Yes, we do have gangs in Bulloch County,” he said. “We know they are present and the majority originate from outside of the county.”
The lines between gang affiliations have become blurred with the influx of major gang members from larger cities, Akins said. “We have the Bloods, the Crips, hybridizations and combinations. A lot of the gang members here grew up here, and a lot are from Atlanta, Savannah, and Augusta.”
However, many people found to be involved in gang activity also come from nearby smaller towns such as Millen and Metter, he said.
Gangs continue to recruit, and the new members are getting younger and younger. “The youngest gang member we have confirmed (locally) was 11,” he said. “But it’s not just a youth gang problem.”
Longtime members who joined gangs years ago are now “grown adults.”
Crime and gangs
Criminal activity and gangs go hand in hand, Cross said. Drug trafficking is the major reason for gangs, but members also are known to commit other crimes.
“Gangs help organize drug activity and in bringing drugs into an area in a more controlled manner,” Akins said. “Burglary is also a big part of gang culture, but also, loners (those unaffiliated with gangs) commit the crimes.”
A majority of crimes such as shots fired, robberies, burglaries and drug sales are gang-related, Akins said.
“Dope and gangs go together. (Gang activity) is a large part of our town’s arrests,” he said. “In the county, you don’t see the networks you see in the city, but it is there.”
Statesboro police have seen a number of gang-related crimes, and arrested several suspected gang members this year in connection to robberies, burglaries and shootings. And just three years ago, a murder committed in Statesboro was orchestrated by a notorious gang member from the comforts of his prison cell.
In June 2014, Michael Anthony Riley, 51, was gunned down in his own bed in his Greenbriar Trail home, by alleged gang members under direction of alleged gang leader Tarrell Momon, 35, an inmate in Dooly State Prison in Unadilla.
Momon, who entered a Bulloch County courtroom shackled, handcuffed and flanked by two guards from the Correctional Emergency Response Team, as well as Bulloch County sheriff's deputies, was identified by a local attorney as being a member of the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples.
Momon had befriended Riley's wife, Antoinette Braddy Riley, 49, of Greenbriar Trail, and her daughter Katrina Denise Ledford, 30, when Ledford was a former prison guard. Ledford was fired for her romantic involvement with Momon and was banned from visiting inmates, but used another person's pass code to visit him in Dooly State prison after he was transferred from Washington State Prison, where she originally met him.
Through communications via cell phone, which are considered contraband in prison, Momon planned and then directed the murder. Other men who actually committed the home invasion, hit-style murder were also charged in the case, as well as Ledford and Ms. Riley.
Also in 2014, Lester Parrish Jr., 19, of Harvey Drive, pled guilty to the shooting murder of 46-year-old Eric Reese. He pled guilty to felony murder, aggravated assault, and violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Just this year, at least four incidents in Statesboro were linked to gang activity. In September, six alleged members of “The Mobb” were charged in two armed robberies and a burglary.
A Sept. 12 burglary at TC Outdoors, where 17 firearms were stolen and later recovered; a Sept. 18 armed robbery where a pizza delivery driver was robbed at Maverick Trail Apartments on Packinghouse Road; and an armed robbery Sept. 20 at a Fleming Drive residence where a victim was slightly injured as his car was stolen, were all linked to the gang.
Two of the six suspects were 16-year-old male juveniles. One was charged with armed robbery and participation in a criminal street gang, while the other was charged with burglary (2nd degree) and participation in a criminal street gang.
Four other suspects also arrested are Joseph David Anderson, 20, of Packinghouse Road, charged with two counts of armed robbery, theft by taking motor vehicle, 2nd degree burglary and participation in a criminal street gang; Steven Curtis Wilson, 17, street address unavailable (Statesboro), charged with armed robbery and participation in a criminal street gang; Joshua Lenard McCullough, 17, and Anthony Jerome Fulse, 17, both of Statesboro (street addresses unavailable), each charged with second degree burglary and participation in a criminal street gang.
Weeks later, police arrested three men linked to a gang-related shooting Oct. 6 where a person suffered “non-life-threatening” injuries in a shooting at Parker’s Enzone, a convenience store on Lanier Drive.
The Statesboro Police Department’s Emergency Response Team (SWAT) and Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office’s Tactical Team served warrants and arrested Willie Lamar Locue, 29, Twin City; Josia Joseph Jones, 23, Riceboro; Christopher Allen Nance, 24, Statesboro, all charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and participation in criminal gang activity, she said.
Cross said the incident involved rivalry between members of The Bloods and The Crips.
Fighting gang activity
Combatting gang activity is difficult, but local law enforcement and city leaders continue to fight the battle.
The brotherhood, loyalty and commitment between gang members is hard to break, however, Cross said.
“It is hard to break the ties and bonds.” An example of the power gangs can have is the fact that Momon was able to orchestrate and direct Riley’s murder by giving commands to other gang members from his prison cell.
“That is some kind of pull,” he said.
Statesboro police and other county school resource officers spend time with school students, talking about the dangers of gang activity and promoting ways to avoid it, he said.
Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead launched an idea earlier this year that is intended to help combat gang activity and offer youth an alternative way to spend time. Plans are in the works for the Straight Arrow baseball team to form. The program is geared towards teens who are too old for county recreation sports teams and will operate out of the Luetta Moore Park on Martin Luther Kg Jr. Drive.
Police continue to patrol and investigate gang-related crime, which is a major focus for Cross.
The county also does its part, Brown said.
“We address the problem by increased patrol by the Crime Suppression Team and the sheriff’s office as a whole,” he said. “Everybody (his office and other sheriff’s office in the area) compiles data on known gang members and we share (information) with other counties who also share with us.”
During a recent forum preceding the November mayoral election, all three candidates addressed the city’s gang presence.
Jonathan McCollar, now mayor-elect, said he and Dr. Sharon Tracy, a former criminal justice professor at Georgia Southern, as well as the late school superintendent Dr. Jessie Strickland “addressed this issue over a decade ago. So here we are in 2017, now we’re going to address this as a city.”
Mayor Jan Moore, defeated by McCollar and whose term ends Dec. 31, said during the forum said the battle against gangs must be fought in elementary school.
“Gang activity is going to be here as long as we allow gang activity to be here, and until we can engage our youth in second grade, third grade,” Moore said. “We lose them, I’m telling you, we lose them by those grades; they’re gone, and all we’re doing at that point is begging and pulling and pleading. … We have got to get them from elementary school, to be there for them first, second, third grade and on.”
Statesboro is right in the middle of routes gang members use to transport drugs between larger cities. According to Internet website www.justice.gov, “Members of Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian gangs distribute drugs at the retail level in most large cities in Georgia and, to a lesser extent, in suburban areas, smaller cities, and rural communities.”
According to law enforcement estimates, there are 58 gangs with over 1,950 members in the Atlanta metropolitan area that “almost always distribute multiple drugs.”
However, “gangs in cities such as Albany, Athens, Columbus, Decatur, Gainesville, Hinesville, Macon, Statesboro, and Valdosta are heavily involved in cocaine distribution but also distribute other drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine,” the site said.
In addition to drugs, gangs traffic in guns as well. “Some gangs in Georgia have ‘robbing crews’ that conduct home invasions that typically target rival drug dealers,” according to the site. “Gun-related crimes are closely linked to the drug trade in Georgia. Law enforcement authorities report that there have been instances where weapons have been traded for drugs.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.