Las Vegas Sun

January 17, 2018

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Gang war fatalities mounting in valley

Two feuding gangs retaliating against each other have killed six people -- including a church deacon and another innocent bystander -- in the past three weeks -- prompting two police departments to make busting up the violence a top priority.

North Las Vegas and Metro police detectives and officers met Wednesday, trading information and coming up with plans to stop the two warring gangs from killing each other and innocent people.

Sheriff Jerry Keller ordered the formation of a task force to deal with the violence.

"We are totally focused on this problem," said Metro Police Deputy Chief Bill Young, commander of the special operations division. "We are pulling out all the stops, because people are dying."

In addition to the deaths, there were at least six shootings over the weekend, gripping the neighborhood in fear.

It's not always the intended targets who are dying, police said. Tuesday night 18-year-old Latasha Washington was walking in a group of people on Hart Avenue, near Martin Luther King and Lake Mead boulevards, when a car slowed down and a gunman inside sprayed bullets at them, killing Washington.

On Feb. 15 church deacon Floyd Wilson was driving down Carey Avenue near West Street when a gunman started firing at another car. Wilson was hit by a bullet and killed. The intended target, the driver of the other car, sped away unharmed, and the gunman fled the area.

"No one should have to live in this kind of fear no matter where they live, or what market they choose to visit or what route home they drive," said Detective James Jackson, a North Las Vegas Police homicide-robbery detective. "The police will be taking it to the gangbangers."

The violence has been centered on the area of Martin Luther King Boulevard between Carey Avenue and Lake Mead Boulevard -- a span that includes the jurisdiction of Metro and North Las Vegas police.

Police would not reveal their plans to stop the shootings and death, but said it would be a constant effort.

"We are flooding those areas with officers," North Las Vegas Police Chief Joey Tillmon told the North Las Vegas City Council Wednesday night.

Police aren't sure what started the ongoing rift between the gangs, but something as small as an insult or a glare could result in gunfire, which could result in retaliation and then more gunfire.

There are rumors that the start of the warring date back to a murder of a gang member with the street name of June Bug in 1999. The two gangs are also suspected of being responsible for the violence that broke out at a Martin Luther King Day parade last month.

Police have identified three recent slayings as targets of gang violence.

On Feb. 25 Rickey Chiles Jr., 21, was gunned down after getting out of his car by a waiting gunman in another car on Nelson Avenue.

Friday 17-year-old Marcelino Doyle was killed by gunshots a couple of streets away from Chiles. The next day 26-year-old Joseph Williams was killed not far from where Doyle was killed.

Police suspect each killing was retaliation for the previous slaying.

Two men, Sammy Guest, 23, and Henry Carr, 21, were shot Saturday and dropped off at University Medical Center. Guest died Sunday. The men were shot somewhere near the other slayings in Metro's jurisdiction, but Carr has not been cooperative with police and not told where he was when shot, Lt. Wayne Petersen of Metro's homicide unit, said.

"These criminals start spraying bullets and often times innocent people are hit," Petersen said. "We know that sometimes the people killed have no connections to any gang and are killed because they standing near the intended target."

Residents of Buena Vista Springs Apartments -- where slain teenager Doyle lived -- are caught in the gang war cross-fire and many are petrified by the violence.

A man who lives at the low-income housing development says gang members have shot up his apartment before and even shot his wife.

"They will come back here and shoot up my (expletive) house again. I'm just trying to live out the time I have left," said the man who would not give his name. "If they know I've talked, they'll come back here and shoot up my (expletive) house again."

Another resident nodded toward a man standing in a clearing between two apartment buildings indicating that man was a gang member. She said she didn't want him to see her talking to anyone about the violence.

The neighborhood on the surface looks like any other place where people are trying to raise their families. Kids ride bikes in the parking lot and the ice cream man drives his truck into the area followed by yelps of excited children.

But when a car rode slowly through the apartment complex Wednesday afternoon, several women started screaming for their children to come inside immediately.

In January a North Las Vegas Police office was opened at the complex to combat the gang violence in the area, Harold Cobb, the apartment manager, said.

"We're in the line of fire," Cobb said. "The problem didn't occur overnight and won't be solved overnight."

Cobb has managed low-income housing complexes in some of the toughest parts of Baltimore, Seattle and Denver, so dealing with gang violence is nothing new to him.

"These gangs have to know we will not give up," he said. "We will do whatever it takes to turn this around."

There have been other gang retaliations in the past, and warring factions bring the violence into the streets. But Sgt. David Jacks of North Las Vegas Police special operations unit, said the current string of violence is one the worst gang-related series of shootings in recent memory.

The shootings don't appear to be a highly organized effort by the gangs to eliminate the other group entirely.

"It's not like they are having a big meeting and saying 'We're going to kill this guy,'" Jacks said. "A lot of these shootings are targets of opportunity. One gang member just sees a rival gang member, and then it starts as retaliation."

In the past sometimes the retaliation between gangs just peters out, and other times police solving the slayings can end the confrontation between two rival groups, Jacks said.

But no arrests have been made in any of the recent murders, prompting some residents to say the police aren't doing anything to stop the violence.

The problem, police say, isn't their lack of effort, but sometimes a lack of cooperation by residents and witnesses.

"We're talking to witnesses who know these players and all we get is 'I didn't see anything,'" Jackson said. "I asked one young lady while investigating, if she knew anything about the murder would she tell me, and she said no."

Jacks understands that some residents may be afraid of retaliation by gang members who have shown they are willing to kill, but he urged witnesses to call police, even if just to phone in anonymous tips.

North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon said the council recognized the seriousness of the problem and the police department was doing all it could to deal with the situation.

"All of us who drive up and down MLK are interested, because we don't want to get shot," Montandon said.

Sobered North Las Vegas City Council members were reminded by Rev. I.W. Wilson, whose son Floyd Wilson was killed by a stray bullet as he was driving west on Carey Avenue near Martin Luther King Boulevard Feb. 15, that he wanted more than just added police in those areas.

"I'd like to know if (the police) are going to catch those who are doing the killing over there," Wilson said.

Sun reporter Kris Hill

contributed to this report.