To fathom the wave of violence that overwhelmed Danville, population 41,000, a few years ago, consider these statistics:

  • Homicides, which averaged about five per year in the city from 2000 to 2015, tripled to roughly 15 annually in the 2016-17 timeframe. During those years, Danville’s homicide rate, which factors in population size, soared to the highest in Virginia. Both years, it eclipsed by far homicide rates in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
  • The number of aggravated assaults with firearms leapt from 59 in 2015 to 93 in 2016.
  • The number of gun seizures jumped from 98 in 2015 to an average of 156 in each of the next three years, according to Danville police.

Drug and violent crime cases swamped the Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Its 12 prosecutors soon found themselves “in court every day,” said Mark Hicks, a senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Danville. Soon, state police and agents from the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms moved in to help.

What happened to the normally sleepy city on North Carolina’s border? In public statements and court documents, authorities blamed gangs whose members hunted each other in drive-by shootings, staged ambushes and showed up with guns at parties where they suspected rival gang members would be.

An even a fuller picture is about to emerge in a Roanoke courtroom beginning this week as the first of two related federal racketeering cases comes to trial. Jury selection begins Monday for an expected seven-week trial against eight defendants alleged to be members of the Rollin 60s Crips. U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski is slated to preside.

According to federal court documents, the Rollin 60s were one of two nationally affiliated Danville gangs at the center of much of the carnage in recent years. Members of the other gang, identified in indictments as the Milla Bloods, are scheduled to go on trial in 2020.

Court papers allege members and associates of the two groups — sometimes working together — trafficked drugs, intimidated witnesses and killed or attempted to kill members of other gangs. Some victims were innocent bystanders.

In general terms, the violence around Danville in 2016 and 2017 showed “a reckless disregard for life,” said Danville police Capt. H.S. Richardson, a 21-year veteran cop who heads the department’s investigations division.

“They were literally hunting each other,” he said. “They were shooting at each other in different times and places. That put a lot of people in danger. They put a level of fear in the community.”

“It was just out there in the open,” said Angie Dixon, a community activist who founded Hoop Don’t Shoot: Save Our Youth. The group stages twice-weekly basketball games and works to keep teens and young adults off the streets and away from gang influences.

“They were thinking they could get away with anything,” she said.

One day in 2017, Dixon said, she found herself in the middle of gunfire at a basketball game in Doyle Thomas Park on the city’s south side.

“I was just standing there, and I heard pop! pop! pop!” she said. A gunman fired at two players — who ran for cover behind Dixon. Nobody was hurt. One of the targets that day is now in prison for killing someone else, Dixon said.

‘It’s got it all’

The federal hammer on gang activity in Danville finally dropped halfway through 2018. That June, a federal grand jury issued indictments in the Rollin 60s Crips and Milla Bloods cases. Authorities charged eight members of the Milla Bloods and seven members of the Rollin 60s Crips in two separate racketeering conspiracies.

According to court papers, the conspiracies encompass more than 200 felonies, including murder, attempted murder, drug and gun trafficking, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. The Rollin 60s indictments also charged an additional three female associates of that gang with being accessories after the fact, obstruction of justice and perjury.

At the time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia called the two cases “the largest and most significant federal prosecution of organized gang activity in the Western District of Virginia in at least a decade.”

“Today’s indictments are the beginning of a sustained assault on the gang-related violence that has plagued the City of Danville for far too long,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said when the indictments were announced. “We are fully committed to identifying the drivers of violent crime in Danville and sending them to federal prison.”

“I want to make this clear; we are not going away. We are not finished,” said Adam Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Richmond. “Agencies across the spectrum of law enforcement — at the federal, state, and local levels — are united to keep our communities from being held hostage by the drugs, the violence and the destruction of young, promising lives which gangs bring into them.”

In November, two more defendants were added to the Rollin 60s Crips case, and in December prosecutors separately charged a fifth alleged Crips member with racketeering conspiracy, bringing the total charged across three cases to 21. Meanwhile, the number of court-appointed defense attorneys ballooned to more than 40.

Those lawyers include federal public defenders and attorneys in private practice from all over Virginia — their home offices range from Alexandria to Big Stone Gap. Among them are some of the Roanoke region’s best-known criminal defense lawyers, such as Tom Bondurant, Tony Anderson, James Turk, Terry Grimes, Richard Derrico and Chris Kowalczuk.

Another defense lawyer, Bob Rider, a former Roanoke prosecutor who’s practiced for 49 years, was involved in the case but had to leave it for health reasons. He has recovered and is working again.

“I’ve never seen any [case] that big, that I’ve been involved in,” Rider said. He compared it to a federal racketeering trial from the 1990s. In that, members of a Roanoke family that owned restaurants, bars and convenience stores were convicted of drug-trafficking and a campaign of fire bombings and attempted murder against competitors and landlords of its various enterprises.

Besides lawyers, the court also has appointed a large entourage of paralegals and investigators on behalf of defendants in the two gang cases. “It is so large, particularly from the issue of discovery . . . the evidence includes videos, Facebook postings, documents — it’s got it all,” Rider said.

One federal court document identified 2,125 distinct exhibits prosecutors could present at trial. In all, through late September, the total number of court filings across the two cases exceeded 1,200.

An attorney in the case who declined to be identified said jurors will be chosen from Danville, a 90-minute drive from Roanoke. At least four days have been set aside for jury selection. Thirty-five to 40 of Danville’s 137 sworn officers have been subpoenaed as potential witnesses.

Kill on sight

Five members or associates of the Rollin 60s Crips have pleaded guilty, as have four members of the Milla Bloods. That leaves eight alleged members of the Crips and four alleged members of the Bloods facing trial.

The trial seems likely to focus on at least three distinct conspiracies, based on court documents outlining guilty pleas in the Rollin 60s Crips case.

The first conspiracy was a joint attack in spring 2016 by the Rollin 60s Crips and Milla Bloods on a rival Danville gang known as Billys Bloods.

That was outlined in a March 26 statement of facts entered into the court record when one member of the Rollin 60s, Laquante Tarvares Adams, who went by the gang nickname “Spazz,” pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

His sister, 16-year-old Nitaya Adams, was an innocent bystander killed by gang-related gunfire at a party on Aug. 6, 2017.

According to Laquante Adams’ court statement, many of the Rollin 60s Crips and Milla Bloods knew each other because they grew up together in the Danville neighborhood known as “the 800.” In spring 2016, Milla Bloods member Jalen “Fats” Terry got into a fistfight with Caseem Thompson in another Danville neighborhood known as “the 600.” That was Billys Bloods territory.

Terry, court documents say, felt disrespected when some Billys Bloods members pulled guns on him during or after that fight. At least a dozen members or associates of the Milla Bloods and Rollin 60s later met at Terry’s house on Berryman Avenue to plot revenge.

According to the statement of facts, the operation was led by Marcus “Sticcs” Davis, alleged leader of the Rollin 60s. Members of the two gangs piled into four cars, which included a gold four-door SUV and a black Impala.

“All the men were armed” with handguns and at least one semi-automatic rifle, the document states. “All four vehicles drove together to Chatelaine and Garland Avenues, where individuals in this group shot at a number of African-American males running through a wooded area between houses.”

It’s unclear from the document whether anyone was hit by the gunfire or whether the targets were Billys Bloods members.

“After the shooting, the group returned to Terry’s house where everyone was talking and hanging out,” the statement says. “About an hour later, a group of suspected Billys Bloods gang members fired on the Rollin 60s and Milla Bloods. Some Rollin 60s returned [fire] while others ran.”

The second alleged conspiracy occurred later that summer. By then, the Milla Bloods and Rollin 60s had formally “tied the flag” and agreed to work with each other in the Danville area, according to court documents. “On or about Aug. 20, 2016,” at least 15 members of the Rollin 60s and Milla Bloods met at the home of Davis’ mother on Forestlawn Drive.

The two gangs plotted “to kill the leader of the Billys, Stevie Wallace (a/k/a ‘Peteroll’) as well as other members of the Billys, including Raheem Walters (a/k/a ‘Heem’) and Tyliek Conway (a/k/a ‘Smooth’).”

That night, according to the court document, at least 12 members of the two gangs regrouped at an associate’s home in Southwyck Hills Apartments on Danville’s south side. Adams was one of them. Another was DaShawn “Shon Don” Anthony, alleged leader of the Milla Bloods.

“The individuals present in the apartment created a plan to lure Wallace (and his second-in-command) to Southwyck Apartments, where various Rollin 60s and Milla Bloods gang members would fan out around the complex and an adjoining parking lot, armed and prepared to shoot Wallace to death,” the statement of facts says. Adams remained in the apartment.

At about 10:20 that night, a van pulled into the apartment complex parking lot. “Individuals began shooting from different directions,” including from the apartment, according to the statement of facts. “When the shooting ended, Adams looked outside and saw the body of Christopher Motley laying in front of the apartment building across the parking lot.”

Eight or nine shooters fled in a black Impala, according to the court document. Meanwhile, others who remained at the scene picked up shell casings and cleaned the apartment. The court document identified Tredarius “Bubba” Keene, a Milla Bloods member, as being among those who remained.

“Keene wiped down part of a wall to remove gunpowder residue,” the court document said. A couple of days later, Adams learned from some of the participants that DaShawn Anthony and another gang member “had taken several ‘dirty’ firearms to Washington, D.C. to sell,” the court document states.

A few days after Motley’s killing, according to court documents, Adams rode with Rollin 60s member Phillip “R” Miles in his black Impala. With them were two other Rollin 60s members, Kevin “Bad Ass” Trent Jr., Deshaun “DaDa” Trent and one unidentified individual.

The statement of facts noted that as the car traveled on Jefferson Street in Danville, the occupants noticed Tyliek “Smooth” Conway and another Billys Bloods member known by the nickname “Youngun” walk out of a convenience store in Rollin 60s territory.

“In response,” the court document says, “Kevin Trent jumped out of the vehicle and began firing a pistol. Deshaun Trent opened his door and began firing a pistol before he, too, jumped out of the vehicle and continued firing.”

“Kevin Trent ran toward ‘Smooth’ and ‘Youngun’ while firing his pistol before running away,” the statement of facts notes. “Deshaun Trent got back in the vehicle” and Miles drove the Impala to Cabell Street, “where the group hid from the police … At the time of the shooting, Adams, Kevin Trent, Deshaun Trent and Miles were Rollin 60s and had been directed by Marcus Davis (a/k/a ‘Sticcs’) to shoot and kill Billys Bloods on sight.”

Turning the corner

Gang violence in Danville has calmed since the 20 defendants in the Rollin 60s Crips and Milla Bloods cases were rounded up and jailed pending trial.

Longtime Danville police Chief Philip Broadfoot resigned Jan. 1, 2018. He was replaced by Scott Booth, a 19-year veteran of the Richmond Police Department who has also worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the federal Transportation Security Administration.

“We’ve redone our entire police department,” said Richardson, the Danville police captain. “We didn’t do policing this way before, on a community basis.”

The number of captains in the department has been cut from seven to four “and we’ve put more police on the street,” Richardson said. “We’re digging deep into violent offenders, with surveillance, search warrants, intelligence gathering.”

Police also are engaging with the community in ways they never did before.

“The new chief has really put the heat out,” said Dixon, the community activist and basketball sponsor. “Police walk the streets now. They’re always there when you need them.”

Danville hired Robert David to a new position, youth gang coordinator. He’s created programs to divert children 11 to 14 — the prime gang recruitment ages — “so they don’t become 19- or 20-year-old killers, sitting in a federal courtroom,” Richardson said.

Not all the violence has ended. Someone fired on an undercover state trooper in December, Richardson said. The trooper wasn’t hit.

Last Sunday morning, three people were wounded in a flurry of gunfire at 2:10 a.m. Among the victims was a 21-year-old woman who was transferred to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

But the number of burglaries this year is down 20% compared to the same timeframe in 2018. Robbery cases are down 66%, Richardson said. Aggravated assaults are down 45%. Gun seizures are down, too.

And homicides?

“We’ve had six so far this year,” much more in line with historical averages, the police captain said. Five have been solved; one case remains open.

“Only one was gang-related,” Richardson said.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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