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Friday, 11 March 2011

These guys aren’t hanging out with choir boys — they’re hanging out with gang members

18:50 |

“These guys aren’t hanging out with choir boys — they’re hanging out with gang members,” task force commander Keith Booker said. “We conducted numerous interviews with these guys during the operation so we’ll have a database we can go to.”

The teams of heavily armed agents rolled into neighborhoods in convoys of SUVs, hoping to catch gang members at home. But the mission’s logistics curbed much of the surprise. Atlanta police Sgt. Jeffrey Branum, a gang unit supervisor, nodded toward young people on cell phones as his convoy turned off Cleveland Avenue — the territory of Raised on Cleveland, a subset of 30 Deep. “They probably already know we’re here,” he said.

The first raid was a bust — initially. The team fanned out around a tiny house and knocked on the door, while a marshal pointed an AR-15 at a front window. A man answered and marshals Supervisor James Ergas politely asked for permission to check the house. A man said the ex-con was not there but might be at his girlfriend’s in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood near Turner Field, home turf for 30 Deep.

As team members planned the next raid, they learned one of their 40 targets was strolling up the street toward them. An Atlanta officer couldn’t believe a wanted suspect could be so clueless as a sleepy-eyed Jason Scott looked up, wondering what all the fuss was about. “Talk about walking into a hornet’s nest,” the officer said to a gale of laughter.

The officers had a warrant for Scott, originally arrested in September for burglary, auto theft, robbery and smash-and-grab thefts and released from jail in November, according to Fulton County records.

Throughout the day, some neighbors saw the show of force as overkill. “What did he do, shoot the president?” asked Kenny Johnson, while watching the task force arrest a man in south DeKalb County.

The arrested man, a gang member not on that day’s wanted list, had a warrant from Baltimore on a murder charge. Johnson was surprised to hear that. “We know his mother,” he said.

Ergas said a show of force almost always results in safer operations. “That is why we hardly ever get into any shootings,” he said. “People who think, ‘I might try two police officers if I had a gun,’ see that it is for real. You eliminate the danger.”

Still, a day later, two deputy marshals in St. Louis were shot, one fatally, while trying to capture a suspect.

Late Monday afternoon, residents of a Thomasville Heights apartment complex emptied out of their homes to watch task force members run between the buildings and over the worn lawns. Special Deputy Marshal Josh Thompson and his men headed to Unit 59 hoping to nab Antwuan Cook, believed to be associated with the Pittsburgh Gangsters. He had Atlanta arrest warrants and a Gwinnett County probation violation, officers said.

A pair of blue sneakers hung by the laces over a nearby utility wire, marking gang territory. The complex, officers said, is home turf to gang members who identify with the national Crips, whose color is blue.

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