Crime

As legislation fails, law enforcement continues to target gangs

By all accounts, Simon City Royals and Southern Brotherhood street gang member Welford Lee McCarty, aka “Pork Chop,” is feared on his home turf of rural George County, according to law enforcement authorities.

It has taken years for prosecutors to even get close to taking him to trial for the two homicides they say he committed in communities in George and Greene counties.

McCarty, 37, who has a history of arrests, was first indicted on a charge of capital murder in what police believe was a gang and drug-related slaying of Joshua Gautier in March 2013 in George County. That charge was dismissed in 2014 when witnesses changed their testimony because of what prosecutors believe was witness intimidation — a fear of being killed.

McCarty is now set to go to trial Feb. 13 in the gang-related slaying of alleged fellow gang member Donovan Cowart, 27. Cowart was missing for more than a year before authorities found his dismembered remains in five black trash bags wrapped in a blue tarp and stuffed under a culvert over a beaver pond in rural Greene County.

McCarty and fellow gang member, Robert Virgil Stevens, 28, are accused of killing Cowart and using an ax to chop up his remains. A higher-ranking gang member allegedly ordered a hit on Cowart because they thought he was a snitch. Cowart’s family pleaded with the public for more than a year for information that might lead them to their loved one.

Cowart was last seen, according to pretrial testimony, when McCarty picked him up at his home.

By all accounts, McCarty and Stevens, like hundreds and hundreds of gang members throughout South Mississippi and the state, are feared in their communities.

Residents’ fear of being killed for providing information on crimes to law enforcement officials prompted District Attorney Tony Lawrence and Jimmy Anthony, vice president of the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators, to help draft a bill that would have meant stiffer sentences and higher fines for gangs and those offenders who commit crimes for the advancement of gang activities. The bill also provided criteria for identifying gang members and punishing those who are operating out of prisons.

When the bill failed last week, Lawrence said he was “just shocked.”

“It would have allowed us to punish gang members that committed the crime and also the gang that authorized the crime and the gang members that are the money men,” Lawrence said. “We were really excited about the bill because it gave us the tools we needed to fight the gang problem.”

Support and concern

Senate Bill 2027 was meant to crack down on gang activity and get convicted gang members off the streets for a long time via even more enhanced penalties.

“The gangs are becoming more and more organized,” Lawrence said. “It’s very disappointing to know that even the governor’s office supported this bill. The Mississippi Prosecutors Association and the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators recognized the need for this bill, yet not one (legislator) called any of us about any concerns about the bills. I would love to have sat down and talked with those legislators.”

Some lawmakers expressed concern about the possible misidentification of kids, for example, with the same haircut who might commit a delinquent act and suddenly be labeled a gang member.

Lawrence said he felt it was clear to lawmakers there is a “really extreme and difficult vetting process before they are ever identified as a gang member. It’s not just someone has a tear drop under their eye and they are a gang member.”

Anthony believes Mississippi officials need to stop denying the existence of gangs in their schools and communities for fear of pushing away tourism and economic development and losing federal money for education.

The denial is understandable, Anthony said, but the public needs to know what is going on in their neighborhoods and on their streets.

“There are gangs in every jurisdiction, but they (are not like) Chicago gangs,” Anthony said, “so some law enforcement officials don’t consider them a real gang, but they are.”

And gang members, Anthony said, go to school with your children, shop in your grocery stores and usually control all of the street-level narcotics being dealt in the neighborhoods where they live.

“Kids are getting pressured in schools to get with a gang,” he said.

Gang crimes

In 2015, Latin Kings street gang member Josh Vallum stabbed and beat to death Mercedes Williamson because he didn’t want his fellow gang members to find out about the homosexual relationship he had shared with the transgender teen. The Latin Kings learned Williamson was a transgender girl and Vallum killed her before they could find out about their relationship.

And in 2016, federal authorities prosecuted 42 members or associates of the Aryan Brotherhood on federal racketeering charges for their participation in crimes such as meth trafficking, kidnapping, murder and other offenses. Jackson County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Smith said he assisted in that investigation because one of their victims had been kidnapped in his jurisdiction.

Smith said gang activity is prevalent throughout South Mississippi communities, though he and other law enforcement officials are working hard to combat it. Most gang members, Smith and other officials said, are committing property crimes and assaults.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office headed up a July 2015 investigation that resulted in the arrest of seven Simon City Royals accused in the kidnapping, beating and robbery of a woman they thought was a snitch.

Smith describes the gang problem as “bad” but said it is nothing the Sheriff’s Office isn’t going to handle effectively.

Just this month, 15 associates and members of the Black Gangster Disciples were arrested on federal meth charges in the Southern District.

A few brave souls

In a week or so, the public will learn whether the witnesses in McCarty’s case will have the courage to say what they know about the homicide McCarty and Stevens are accused of committing.

The men also will face trial at a later date in George County in Joshua Gautier’s killing, allegedly over drugs.

In a pretrial hearing Thursday, McCarty smiled at family members, evening mouthing “I love you” to one of his relatives before he was seated with his attorneys.

A couple of people who came to court on McCarty’s behalf quietly laughed at times when prosecutors referred to McCarty as an alleged gang member.

The prosecutor asked for pictures of McCarty’s tattoos to show a jury at his trial. The judge didn’t immediately rule, and Lawrence said he’d simply ask McCarty to take off his shirt in court during trial if that’s what it takes to show jurors his gang-related tattoos.

Meanwhile, Lawrence and Anthony are hoping to continue to work with lawmakers to come up with the language they’d like to see in a bill that would impose the additional charges, stiffer penalties and higher fines for gang members, their associates and the gangs themselves.

“It’s just a sad day when a elderly woman says she won’t sit on her porch because she’s afraid she’ll be shot,” Anthony said. “Kids are joining these gangs. They see these people with the money and the nice cars.

“They see them get arrested and go to prison for eight or nine months and get out. They figure that’s not so bad because of the money and the respect they’ll get.”

The gangs tell young people they will help them once they get to prison, that they’ll reach out to their families to provide support, Anthony said.

“But that never happens,” he said. “I worry about these kids.”

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

South Mississippi sheriffs provided the total jail population along with a breakdown of the number of gang members by affiliation incarcerated in South Mississippi.

Hancock County jail

Total inmates as of Feb. 2, 2017: 227

Identified gang members

1 Crips member

15 Gangster Disciples

9 Latin Kings

18 Simon City Royals

5 Vice Lords

Hancock County Sheriff’s Office

Harrison County jail

Total inmates as of Feb. 2, 2017: 777

Identified gang members

1 Four Corner Hustler member

4 AllCanGetIt

3 Aryan Brotherhood

8 Black Gangster Disciples

1 Blood-Piru

1 Brick Squad Killers

38 Gangster Disciples

1 Hellified Drama Click

5 Imperial Insane Vice Lords

1 Insane Vice Lords

19 Latin Kings

6 Orange Grove Erythang

1 Satanists

44 Simon City Royals

1 Sons of Silence

1 Sovereign Citizens

17 Vice Lords

2 White Supremacist

Non-jailed gang members being tracked in Harrison County: 2,541

9 Four Corner Hustlers

74 Hoover Crips

1 7th Ward

40 AllCanGetIt

62 Aryan Brotherhood

1 Aryan Circle

2 Aryan Nation

6 Asgard

16 Bandidoes

94 Black Gangster Disciples

10 Black P Stones

5 Black Panthers (New Black Panther Party)

19 Bloods

8 Blood-Piru

8 Brick Squad Killers

1 Brown Pride

7 Confederados

33 Crips

1 Cycoz

2 Devil Desciple

1 Downazz Ridaz

3 Fugawares

516 Gangster Disciples

6 Hellified Drama Click

1 Hoover Crip

1 Houstone

47 Imperial Insane Vicelords

10 Insane Clown Posse

6 Insane Gangster Disciples

34 Insane Vice Lords

5 Ku Klux Klan

180 Latin Kings

3 Mafia Insane Vice Lords

1 Mexican Mafia

7 Moorish Citizens

4 MS-13

67 Orange Grove Erythang

3 Orange Grove Posse

11 Outcasts

5 Pistoleros

1 Rebel Cause Brotherhood

1 Satanists

945 Simon City Royals

1 Sons of Silence

6 Sovereign Citizens

13 Sureno

7 Trained to Go/600

263 Vice Lords

12 - Viet Boyz

1 Web Chapel Rollin 60’s

50 White Supremacist

4 YGE600

Source: Harrison County Sheriff’s Office

Jackson County jail

Total jailed as of Feb. 3, 2017: 316

4 Aryan Brotherhood

11 Gangster Disciples

7 Latin Kings

25 Simon City Royals

1 Goon Squad

5 Bloods

4 Vice Lords

1 Crips

Source: Jackson County Sheriff’s Office

George County jail

Total jailed as of Feb. 2, 2017: 312

2 Bloods

6 Crips

1 Hoover Crip

1 Gangster

13 Gangster Disciples

22 Black Gangsta Disciples

8 Latin Kings

1 MS-13

38 Simon City Royals

1 Black P Stone

6 Vice Lords

2 Conservative Vice Lords

4 Insane Vice Lords

1 Mafia Insane Vice Lords

7 Aryan Brotherhood

Source: George County Sheriff’s Department

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