Threat of gangs topic of Athens talks

Oconee County Sheriff James Hale speaks at the Georgia Anti-Gang Network meeting held Tuesday at Athens Technical College.

Law enforcement officials from throughout northeast Georgia recently said more needs to be done to tamp down violent crimes associated with gangs and to keep children from getting pulled into the criminal organizations.

Athens Technical College this week played host to about 60 people gathered for Georgia Anti-Gang Network discussions, where representatives of numerous area law enforcement agencies attended, including Oconee County Sheriff James Hale and Jefferson County Sheriff Janis Mangum.

Most of the meeting was closed to the public, but afterwards Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr discussed gang-prevention efforts in local faith- and school-based programs directed at young people.

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Keeping kids out of gangs

The focus of the meeting was geared towards preventing children from being recruited into gangs.

Carr said proposed legislation targets those adults in gangs who recruit children. The bill carries a mandatory prison sentence of 10 to 20 years for a conviction of recruiting a juvenile into a gang for a first conviction and more severe punishment for subsequent acts. Carr said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp supports the bill.

Attorney General Chris Carr

Attorney General Chris Carr

“People don’t recognize how big the problem is,” Carr said, noting that a gang-activity survey was sent to officials in each of Georgia’s 159 counties. The response showed 157 counties reported gang activity. Carr added that “two counties lied.”

Those in street gangs target the most vulnerable people who reside mostly in lower income and racially diverse communities, according to Carr.

What can be done?

To combat the growing threat of street gangs in the Classic City, the Athens-Clarke Police Department’s gang unit recently grew from three to seven officers.

Several officers at the gathering described efforts their agencies were making in preventing gang activity, including Hale, who said his office provides manpower to other agencies to help with gang activity.

“We want to partner with anyone who wants to combat this problem,” Hale said. “I don’t have that problem that much, but I get a lot of spillover because I’m surrounded by the problem.”

Carr’s office formed a new Gang Prosecution Unit in 2022 and in January the office announced it was participating in the prosecution of a murder case in Athens that stemmed from gang activity.

University of Georgia Police Deputy Chief Jeff Clark speaks at the Georgia Anti-Gang Network on Tuesday in Athens.

University of Georgia Police Deputy Chief Jeff Clark speaks at the Georgia Anti-Gang Network on Tuesday in Athens.

Athens case among the first for new unit

In the first murder case handled by the statewide unit, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Picchocinski was assigned to prosecute the case in the Western Circuit Superior Court.

In that case, Jeffery O’Neal Rice, 26, of Athens is charged with murder, aggravated battery, firearms and street gang violations in the October 2022 slaying of Alijah Nelson, 19, of Athens. He is also charged in the shooting of Demeritus Marques Wilson, 18, who was “seriously disfigured,” according to the indictment.

On Feb. 22, the state’s attorneys made available to Rice’s attorneys numerous pieces of evidence under what is called a discovery law.

Among those items made available were police reports, photographs, an autopsy report, a stolen gun report from Monroe, a rap video made by Wilson, and Instagram comments. The state has also demanded a list of items it wants from the defendant.

Rice, who remains in jail without bond as he awaits trial, was described in the Attorney General’s document as a member of the Red Tape Gang. But numerous gangs are reported as active in Athens.

The multitude of gangs

Police investigators take note of the clothing gang members wear for identification purposes and they collect their social media postings. For instance, during a 2021 gang-related trial in Athens, police said the Piru gang, estimated then at about 100 members in Athens, used marron or red colors and often wore sports apparel designed for the Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia Phillies.

Other gangs in Athens include the NBA (Never Broke Again), the 2 Tuff, Gangster Disciples, and Rollin’ 20, with some of these gangs affiliated with national street gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips and Sex Money Murder.

Police have attributed street gangs to such violent acts as armed robberies, home invasions, drive-by shootings, illegal gun sales and drug offenses.

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Attorney General, others meet to discuss gang activity in the Athens area

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