Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Richmond Beating Connected to Gang Violence from Past

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by Brad Kutner

Eric Quigley, a man at 6 feet 3 inches, 245-pounds, enters a Halloween party with his group of friends, wet from wondering the streets, drunk off of cheap beer and rum. Less than an hour later, Quigley was bloodied and bruised, head throbbing, and speaking to the police. He’s not sure how it happened.

“I was at a party on 116 W. Leigh,” Quigley recalled. “I had a verbal confrontation with someone who I thought was harassing one of my friends. After I walked outside, I was confronted by the individual and was hit in the back of the head. At that time, I realized I was being attacked by a group of people. The attack lasted about 15 seconds.”

Matt Brett, a sculptor from Richmond, said rumors have been passed through the streets of Richmond; rumors of gangs of tattooed laden teens living a drug free life style, wondering from party to party assaulting drunk individuals and vanishing as quickly as they arrived.

According to an August 2007 Richmond Times Dispatch article, five teens pleaded guilty to felony gang participation. They called themselves the “World War Crew.” The youths met at a church group in the city, and bonded together through their ‘straight edge’, or sober, lifestyle and their music. They decorated sections of Carytown with their graffiti, claiming the sections as their own. On several occasions, they outnumbered their enemies, beating one to a concussion and memory loss, and others to stitches and surgical staples.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell-Baskervill explains how six cases over the last 18 months are related to the World War Crew, because of the similarity of the group attacks, and the descriptions of the attackers.

“One things with gangs is it’s a continues pattern, and the law recognizes that, so that gang evidence recovered in the past can be used in perpetuity as long as it’s relevant,” said Baskerville. “So long as there is sufficient continuity between the acts now and the ones 3 years ago, then that would definitely be relevant.”

Many issues plagued the Richmond police department when they first went after the World War Crew. The group members were arrested 3 years ago after a website with details about the crimes created by members of the group. The police confiscated computers and clothing as evidence from 14 homes.

Street gangs aren’t usually busted for violent acts themselves, but rather the other crimes they commit. Baskerville says what makes busting this group then and now so hard.

“These guys are not into drugs, they are not into doing the usual types of crimes that we usually can prosecute to get people off the street to address the neighbor hoods concerns, so these cases really depend on the rise and fall of the victims willingness to testify and their ability to.”

But getting a victim or witness to testify in cases of violence is no easy task. Also, isolated assault charges must be filed by the victim themselves. Once a gang pattern emerges, it becomes the city’s right to charge the individuals with felony mob assault. It can be hard to get a witness to testify, Baskerville said:

“A victim knows testifying in court could bring the wrath of the group. And more often than not they’re (the gang members) actually peers; the victims and the assailants. And it’s a very real threat to have to face that in court, and most of the victims would prefer not to deal with that. When we get into the pattern of activity where it could be gang related, then that becomes a felony and at that point it’s in the hands of the commonwealth attorney and the police department.”

While eager to bring these youths to justice and concerned for public safety, Baskerville understands where these groups come from. Most gangs start the same way, and she sympathizes with the members, but doesn’t excuse their actions.

“These guys were being picked on, years before they were WWC, they were picked on and they came together and realized there is strength in numbers and they could avoid being bullied and have a sense of control if they put themselves together.” Baskerville Said, “And from there, as is frequently the case, it morphs from being a self defense mechanism to proactively warding off bullying, and then they end up being the bully.”

The crime committed November 1 is for now being charged as an aggravated assault, because Baskerville says it takes the pattern to be brought before the court before it could move to a felony mob assault. Baskerville says the violence committed against Quigley could be connected to the world war crew.

“When the pattern of activity referred to in the November 1st assault was conducted by people who look strikingly similar to each other, that sort of thing keeps popping up, and it can happen once or twice and you don’t think anything of it because ‘kids are kids.’ But when it happens several times and there was a pattern and the same names kept popping up, we realized they were linked as a group, and not just a random clique of kids. They had actually labeled themselves the World War Crew, and they were committing these acts in that name.”

Brett remembers a birthday party which ended in a similar vicious beating. He contacted the police, and was given a detectives name and contact information. He chose not to follow up because he said he was drunk and didn’t think his testimony would mean anything because of it.

James Mercante, a Richmond police department public affairs official, said, “Some people will often discredit their issues because they were intoxicated, however we here at the Richmond PD want to know if something has happened. Every incident is recorded, and those with similar circumstances, such as gang violence, can set off flags for our investigators.”

This news of gang violence comes after Richmond’s recent crime reduction rates, with a drop from fifth most dangerous city in the United States to 49th according to a 2008 CQ press study. In addition, Virginia’s Gang Reduction and Intervention Program, or GRIP, has been credited with dropping violence city wide, even in Richmond’s notorious South Side Broad Rock Corridor.

Richmond police department has issued warrants for the arrest of 2 individuals wanted as suspects in the aggravated assault of Eric Quigley. Their names are Andrew Massengill, 19, and Sawyer Bell, 26. Both have prior charges for disorderly conduct, however Bell’s charge was dropped. Bell was in the extradition process from Utah, and Massengill’s whereabouts are still unaccounted for. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of these individuals is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 804-780-1000.

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