Statesboro’s latest homicide, the Oct. 31 shooting death of Malcolm Jerome Steele at Morris Heights Apartments, appears to have been a gang-related “targeted assassination,” Police Chief Mike Broadhead said this week.
Statesboro Police Department officers dispatched to the apartment complex on Morris Street at 11:23 p.m. that Saturday found Steele, 37, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to East Georgia Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, SPD Capt. Jared Akins said in his initial news release last weekend.
Broadhead, while delivering a previously scheduled, general report on crime Tuesday morning to Statesboro City Council, noted that Steele’s death was the seventh in the city limits this year. This is, by three deaths, is the most homicides in any 12-month period in Statesboro in at least 10 years, which was as far back as Broadhead looked for his statistical report. He had not yet added this latest killing to his slides, which included a chart of the dates, times, victims and arrested suspects in 2020’s previous six killings.
“I can tell you that Saturday night’s killing was a targeted assassination,” Broadhead said to the mayor and council members.
His chart stated an incident type for five of the six earlier homicides, with the exception being the June 14 shooting death of Haley Hutcheson, 17. Broadhead gave no description of that homicide because of a judge’s gag order in the case.
The other homicides were those of Kenneth E. Smith, age 48, March 27 at The George Apartments, allegedly in connection with a drug transaction; of Brandon McCray, 30, June 5 on Bea Dot Way, and of James Edwin Henry, 23, June 17 on East Main Street, both in reported domestic disputes; of Lephillip Wright,34, August 22 in a dispute at a bar on Lanier Drive; and of A’Nyah Davis, 21, Oct. 2 at The Hudson Apartments in a dispute between two groups involving a personal relationship.
All were shootings.
“The number of seven is an alarming number to see and the year’s not over. …,” Broadhead said Tuesday. “My personal opinion is, this is not our new average. If you’ll just go back two years, from April of 2018 until June of 2019 we didn’t have a homicide in 14 months. … I think 2020, we can agree, has been a strange year, as manifests itself in a number of ways.”
Statesboro’s previous peak years for homicides during the decade were 2014, with four killings, and 2017 and 2018, each with three homicides inside the city limits. In 2020, four killings in unincorporated areas of Bulloch County bring the combined count to 11 homicides in the city and county.
During this pandemic year, the numbers of homicides and “shots fired” incidents investigated by the SPD have surged, but robberies and aggravated assaults have decreased significantly, pulling down Statesboro’s overall violent crime rate. A story detailing that aspect of Broadhead’s report will appear in the Tuesday, Nov. 10, edition.
But portions of his discussion with the mayor and council focused on homicides and gang activity, with references to the most recent event.
“Where we’re talking about gang investigations – this is even more at the front of our minds because of Saturday night’s shooting – the state of Georgia has really effective tools to prosecute gang members, and particularly gang leaders,” Broadhead told the elected officials. “There are specific statutes that can send them away for life in prison for being the leader of a criminal street gang.”
In an interview Wednesday, he confirmed that Statesboro police are investigating Steele’s death as “a gang-related killing.” Police found evidence of two guns being used, and detectives believe that two gunmen walked up and shot him.
“It truly was an assassination…,” Broadhead said. “It was clearly targeted, and they approached him outside his residence, where he was outside on the phone, and they just walked right up to him, shot him and then took off.”
Arrests have been made in all six of the year’s earlier homicides, but as of midday Friday, no one had been arrested and no arrest warrants had been issued in Steele’s killing. Anyone with information on this active case should contact Capt. Jared Akins at (912) 764-9911 or submit an anonymous tip to email@example.com.
Two named gangs
Answering questions from council members, Broadhead noted that police are aware of members of two named gangs active in Statesboro, the Gangster Disciples and the Piru Bloods.
The “Gangster Disciples” name stems from a criminal street gang active in Chicago since the 1960s. Similarly, the “Piru” name has been associated with several gangs going back half a century in Los Angeles County, where there’s a Piru Street in Compton, California.
But the gangs in Statesboro using those names do not necessarily receive any direction from the original, nationally known gangs, Broadhead told the council.
However, he said that local gangs are functioning “more like organized crime” than in past years in one aspect: they are now focused foremost on making money from illegal activities.
“It’s not the Crips and Bloods on opposite street corners staking out their territory,” Broadhead said. “It’s become much more like organized crime. These gangs are underground and it really has become less about race-based gangs and much more about money.”
Putting pressure on
Statesboro police have worked with the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute a few gang members under Georgia’s criminal gang activity law, he noted. Gang members can’t be prosecuted for membership alone, but the law provides lengthy felony sentences for crimes that further a gang’s purposes.
“We are trying to put pressure on them,” Broadhead said. “We’ve identified a number of them. We know them by name. We actually have a number of people sitting in the county jail right now who are members of these gangs.”
Taking gang members off the streets can be “a double-edged sword” in terms of reducing violence in the short term, he suggested.
“As you take off gang leaders and gang leadership, that creates a leadership vacuum and people are going to fight to take that place, and we might have seen some of that happen on Saturday night,” Broadhead said.
Gangs have long been present in Statesboro, as Mayor Jonathan McCollar acknowledged by mentioning a study and conference he took part in about 15 years ago on local and area gang activity.
He mentioned a high poverty rate and a relatively young population among factors that make Statesboro “enticing” for gangs and said the community needs to seek creative solutions to address poverty and provide positive activities and guidance for young people.