For six weeks in several cities around the southern half of the state, the U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force pounded the streets.
While it started off in the secrecy and silence of early morning, it wasn't their regular work, which usually comes after a crime is committed and they're searching out a fugitive. It was a proactive initiative called "Operation Triple Beam," which led to 270 arrests of alleged violent fugitives and criminal offenders who commit high-profile crimes around the state such as homicide, felony assault and sexual assault, illegal possession of firearms, illegal drug distribution, robbery and arson.
"Almost everything we do is reactive, but this is one operation we do that we put a proactive cap on," said Mike Quarles, commander of the U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Task Force. "We're trying to prevent crime from getting any worse and trying to do everything we can to be selective and get our top tier offenders out of the communities to make our communities safer here in Mississippi."
What it led to, he said, ended up being momentous for the state and the country.
"Historically, this is the most successful Triple Beam of this scale ever done," Quarles said.
The strategy used in Operation Triple Beam has been applied in 47 other cities across the country since 2010.
Mississippi law enforcement nicknamed the initiative "Operation Shark Tank" to give it a local identity. The focal points were Jackson, Gulfport, Biloxi, Meridian, Hattiesburg, and the surrounding areas and fugitive apprehension investigations, firearms and narcotics investigations, gang-related intelligence gathering and proactive sex offender compliance initiatives within those areas.
During the operation, 50 guns were seized, including military style assault rifles. There were illegal drugs worth around $7,500, and approximately $26,000 in cash.
"This is an operation that focuses on our nations' most violent cities. It's a national initiative led by the U.S. Marshal Service," said Chief Inspector Don Snider, who oversees the Virginia-based U.S. Marshals Gang and Organized Crime Enforcement Unit. "We're targeting the most violent gang members in each city, and it's done in a full collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors' offices and it's effective because everyone's working together focused on one mission."
High-crime areas and specific violent offenders were the starting point, said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, and in the end the information gained was a valuable addition.
“Operation Triple Beam was able to aggressively and proactively target certain ‘hot spot’ areas in our district," said Hurst. "In addition, the operation collected much needed intelligence about other criminal activity in Mississippi and increased cooperation and trust among all levels of law enforcement throughout the state.”
"We’re not asleep anymore. We see what you’re doing, we see how you're terrorizing our communities and our neighbors, and we're not going to take it anymore," Hurst said Tuesday, flanked by federal, state, and local law enforcement leaders on the steps of the federal courthouse in Jackson. "...Our citizens need to remember that when we stand up and stand together, we can put the bad guys out of business."
On April 10, alleged Vice Lord Tommy Kendrick was arrested on charges from the Jackson Police Department for shooting into an occupied dwelling. During Kendrick’s arrest, he was found to be in possession of a military-style assault weapon, as well as in possession of marijuana.
His story was just the beginning.
On May 7, Jackson resident Joshua Hannah was arrested for the stabbing death April 2 of his girlfriend’s mother, Serenthia Harris, 61.
Alleged Gangster Disciple Jaquon Cater of Gulfport was arrested in possession of a semi-automatic pistol and a military style assault rifle.
Reginald Scott, who allegedly holds the rank of general with the Bloods street gang, was arrested April 17 for failure to register as a sex offender.
Three alleged Guap Gang Empire members — Javon Byrd, Walter Williams, and Christopher Rush — were arrested in Gulfport on April 18 for federal firearms violations. They were found to have illegal weapons and narcotics at the time of their arrests.
On April 19, task force officers arrested Marcus Dortch in Forest with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. He was wanted out of Newark, New Jersey, on two counts of aggravated assault, robbery and weapon possession charges.
In the counties of Simpson, Pearl River, Hancock, and Jefferson Davis, approximately 300 registered sex offenders were individually checked for compliance, resulting in approximately 20 arrests for sex offender registry violations.
Approximately 90 of all those arrested were alleged gang members with affiliations to groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood, Gangster Disciples, Simon City Royals, Latin Kings, and Vice Lords.
The Jackson initiative was aimed at street gangs in the capital city. Forty-five people were arrested in the first week the marshals task force ran the streets with warrants, and some were arrested on outstanding warrants and indictments at the end of Triple Beam as well.
Snider was in Jackson for part of the operation.
"The city of Jackson is a Public Safety Partnership site which has gotten the attention of the Department of Justice that the crime rate is to the point to where it needs a little help," Snider said. "With Operation Triple beam, we've tried to target the most violent street gang members, targeting the trigger pullers and the leadership, and by doing that, we're disrupting the whole organizational structure of the gangs we’re focusing on."
The Hattiesburg leg of the project was named "Operation Shark Tank." It led to 45 arrests by the end of the week, with some warrants outstanding for followup in the weeks afterward.
George White, a U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Mississippi, praised the collaboration between the many federal and state law enforcement agencies that took part in the operation to “make a difference in our communities."
“I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women who worked diligently during this highly effective operation. This all-hands-on-deck approach was pivotal in the success of this operation," White said. "Many of these cases will be prosecuted in federal court. Furthermore, many of these investigations will lead to future arrests in the pursuit of dismantling the criminal element in the Southern District of Mississippi.”
Find a list of those arrested at ClarionLedger.com