Back to the books to fight violent crime

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

Allison T. Williams

Suffolk, for the first time, is using anti-gang legislation to crack down on violence in the city.

On Wednesday, the grand jury indicted three people, who were all juveniles at the time the crimes were committed, using statutes making it illegal to be involved with street gangs. All three will be tried as adults.

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Indictments were handed down against:

n Antonio Ryshawn Chapman, 15, on charges of using force or threats to recruit (members) into a street gang, participating in a criminal act for the benefit of, or at the direction of, a street gang, and aggravated malicious wounding.

Chapman was arrested on Feb. 28, after allegedly assaulting a 24-year-old man, of the 2500 block of East Washington Street, said Lt. Debbie George. Details on the gang-related charges were not available and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Wiser declined to discuss the case at this time.

A June 19 trial date has been set.

n Marvin Verdell Kimmie Jr., 18, was charged with participating in a criminal act for the benefit of, or at the direction of a street gang, conspiracy to commit a felony, unarmed burglary, grand larceny, and entering property with intent to damage.

n Deron Nathaniel Sherrod, 18, was charged with four counts each of participating in a criminal act for the benefit of, or at the direction of, a street gang and entering property with intent to damage, six counts each of conspiracy to commit a felony and unarmed burglary, and three counts of grand larceny.

Both Kimmie and Sherrod were allegedly involved in a local street gang, “The Commission,” that burglarized nearly 20 homes in Smithfield, north Suffolk and Isle of Wight County last year, said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Walden.

Trial dates have not been set for the pair.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office’s use of the anti-gang statutes comes in the wake of a rash of homicides and violent crimes involving youth in the past year. The city had eight homicides in 2005, at least three of them involving juveniles either as suspects or victims.

“A significant amount of the violence we’ve experience, either directly or indirectly, is gang-related,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson. “We fully intend to use the gang statutes passed by the General Assembly … whenever appropriate to bring charges against people who violate the law.

“The reality is gang members are not going to be safe from prosecution by this office. It’s imperative that we do this, because the public has a right to be safe in their communities.”

Also, statistically, gang members tend to commit violent crimes at a higher rate than the average street thug, he added.

The General Assembly has adopted or beefed up the legislation within the past couple of years, after the experiencing a surge in street gang violence in Northern Virginia.

The laws make it a felony to participate in or commit crimes that benefit street gangs, to recruit juveniles into gangs, or to have any gang-related activities within 1,000 feet of a school, Ferguson said. Offenders can be sentenced from five to 10 years per violation.

“Quite simply, the laws make it illegal to participate in a criminal street gang,” Ferguson said. “The state has given us these additional tools to use to deal with gang activity, and we are going to use them.

“We are taking a tough approach to dealing with people involved in gangs.”

Attorneys in his office have recently received training on the new and updated gang laws, Ferguson said. His office has also established a task force that brings prosecutors and law enforcement together to share information and education related to gangs.

Additionally, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has representatives on the Suffolk Initiative on Youth, a city task force created to address the overall problem of youth violence and prevention. Assistant City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn is organizing SIY, which includes citizens and members of the religious, youth service and law enforcement communities.

Ferguson said his office already is beginning to make a dent in gangs on Suffolk streets. He said several people suspected of gang-related activity have recently been tried, or are in the process of going through the judicial system.

The anti-gang laws will be used whenever applicable, regardless of whether the suspect is an adult or juvenile, Ferguson said. Prosecutors have the option of asking the court to try anyone 14 or older as an adult.

“The mere fact that someone is a juvenile will not shield him from the justice system.”