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Hagerstown Police chief: Gang shootings in April were isolated incidents

June 30, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

The indictments earlier this month of more than a dozen alleged gang members who are accused of waging a gun battle on the streets of Hagerstown in April doesn’t mean that gang activity in the city has spun out of control, Police Chief Mark Holtzman said Friday.

Holtzman said the shootings, which occurred in the Jonathan Street neighborhood and involved 14 alleged members of the notorious Bloods and Crips street gangs, were isolated incidents between the two factions that haven’t happened again since the shots were fired April 15.

“This is the first time we’ve ever seen any gang-on-gang type of shooting, or real gang-on-gang type of retaliation,” Holtzman said. “Since April, we’ve been very fortunate not to have any more incidents like this in the city. For us, it’s still an isolated incident, but it’s something we’re going to keep a very close eye on.”

He acknowledged there is a good bit of gang activity in the city, but nothing as coordinated as April’s gunfight.

Washington County Deputy State’s Attorney Steve Kessell said last week during bond review hearings for 12 of the alleged gang members at Washington County Circuit Court that the gun battle started in the early evening hours of April 15 to the rear of 225 Jonathan St.

Kessell alleged that Nathaniel Evan Knox, 35, of 803 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown was the ringleader of the Crips.

Kessell said a witness told authorities that when a lower-ranking Crip asked who to shoot, Knox responded by saying, “Shoot them all.”

“Each of these individuals present a clear and present danger to the community,” Kessell said at one of the hearings.

During the shootings, a house was struck by several bullets on the first floor while the occupants were upstairs, Kessell said.

The violence then progressed up the street, he said, where alleged gang members fired at a house at 133 W. Bethel St. Police estimated that 12 to 20 bullets struck the house.

When the violence subsided, one juvenile and an adult male suffered nonlife-threatening gunshot wounds, according to police.

Kessell said 14 people — eight Crips and six Bloods — were believed to be involved in the shootings.

Holtzman said the violence could have been worse had uniformed police officers not stopped a vehicle on Guilford Avenue shortly after the shootings.

Police stopped the car because it was occupied by people who were leaving a house that was known to be frequented by Crips gang members, Holtzman said.

An investigation showed that some of the people in the car had been at the scene of the shooting earlier, and were returning to the Jonathan Street area with firearms.

“I credit (the officers) with preventing another drive-by shooting,” Holtzman said. “That traffic stop ended up being a major break in the case. It led to a lot of investigative leads.”

Holtzman said there doesn’t appear to be a turf war going on among gangs in the city. The incident in April, he said, escalated when a small group of rival gang members got into an argument.

“It’s not geographically based for us here in Hagerstown,” Holtzman said. “It doesn’t seem like a turf war. They’re not claiming any real turf or distinct area — as this is for Bloods, or this is Crips. It can show up in any neighborhood.”

He said people shouldn’t be concerned about their safety, but urged that they call police immediately if they see something unusual, such as aggressive behavior, people congregating in one place, colors associated with gangs (red for Bloods, and blue for Crips) or an unusual amount of traffic going in and out of a house.

He said there isn’t a main reason why gang members are drawn to Hagerstown.

In some cases, he said, small gangs originate in the city, then become affiliated with larger gangs such as the Bloods and Crips.

“They might not have a name that is common, but they’ll affiliate with a larger group,” he said.

Holtzman said some of the gang members settle here after they establish local contacts at the state prison system south of Hagerstown.


Joining forces

The Hagerstown Police Department is well-positioned to fight gang activity by joining forces with other law-enforcement agencies, Holtzman said.

He said local gang units, including the one in Hagerstown, regularly attend Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network (MARGIN) meetings.

Those meetings, Holtzman said, allow gang investigators from local jurisdictions to share information so they can track gang activity.

“That’s how we start to connect what’s going on in Hagerstown, with maybe Frederick, or someplace else in the state, or someplace else in the country,” he said. “That’s how we sweep as many people up in the indictment as possible.”

Police said the investigation into April’s shooting involved not only local officers, but the Frederick Police Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Holtzman praised the joint effort and the efforts of Kessell to gain the indictments.

“It just shows the level of effort we’re putting into gang investigations,” Holtzman said. “This was a complex investigation with a lot of suspects involved ... Gang activity will continue to be a top priority for the Hagerstown Police Department.

“I think the key is sharing information with the community when it happens, letting them know what happened, and who’s involved and what we’re doing about it.”


Facing charges

The following men were charged with one count each of attempted second-degree murder; conspiracy to commit second-degree assault; first-degree assault; second-degree assault; reckless endangerment; unlawfully firing, discharging and shooting a firearm within city limits; affray; wearing, carrying and transporting a handgun upon their person; wearing and carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to injure; and firearm use in a violent crime:

• Steven Todd Bowie, 30, of 815 K Stratford Way in Frederick, Md.

Bond for Bowie, who previously was being held without bond, was set at $350,000.

• Ronnie Malik Bradford, 17, who was charged as an adult. His address is listed as Silver Oak Academy in Keymar, Md.

His bond was reduced from $200,000 to $100,000.

• Andre Derryl Cooper, 26, of 133 W. Bethel St. in Hagerstown.

His bond was decreased from $500,000 to $350,000.

• Mark Steven Dawson Jr., 16, who was charged as an adult. His address is listed as the Western Maryland Children’s Center.

His bond was increased from $200,000 to $350,000.

• Delonte Tra-Vel Ellison, 22, of 14408 Greencastle Pike near Hagerstown.

His bond was retained at $250,000.

• Matthew Steven Gardner, 27, whose address is listed as the Washington County Detention Center.

His bond was retained at $650,000.

• Jason Lee Gross, 19, whose address is listed as the Washington County Detention Center.

Bond for Gross, who originally was being held without bond, was set at $250,000.

• Nathaniel Evan Knox Jr., 35, of 803 S. Potomac St., in Hagerstown.

His bond was retained at $350,000.

• John Anthony Leonard, 19, whose address is listed as the Washington County Detention Center.

His bond was reduced from $650,000 to $350,000.

• Jermaine Reed II, 19, whose address is listed as the Washington County Detention Center.

His bond was reduced from $550,000 to $200,000.

• Purnell Ricks IV, 22, whose address is listed as the Washington County Detention Center.

His bond was reduced from $500,000 to $200,000.

One of those arrested faces lesser charges.

• Corie Tamel Beckett, 23, of 902 Hamilton Blvd. in Hagerstown was charged with one count each of reckless endangerment; wearing, carrying and transporting a handgun upon their person; handgun: wearing/carrying and transporting in a vehicle/public roads, etc.; unlawfully firing, discharging and shooting a firearm within city limits; and malicious destruction of property valued at more than $500.

His bond was increased from $75,000 to $100,000.

All remained in custody at the Washington County Detention Center as of Saturday at 5 p.m.

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