UPDATE: Gang members arrested after recent shootings, most post bond
UPDATE: The intended target of a drive-by shooting was arrested on open warrants this week. He wasn't shot. Instead, two young girls were wounded June 11.
The arrest is one of at least five Chattanooga police have made after recent gang violence wounded several people.
Police have made no arrests directly connected to the shootings. However, they are finding known gang members near the Tennessee Aquarium downtown, in neighborhoods where shootings occur, and even a couple hours away in Nashville.
They are finding ways to charge the gang members -- even if it's minor offenses -- in hopes of adding to their court records.
“We make no apologies. If you're involved in a gang that would shoot 4-year-olds, that would shoot a 14-month-old, that would endanger people in our community, then by all means we are very enthusiastic about applying measures that would make your life miserable,” Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher told Channel 3 on Saturday.
Just this month, at least five highly sought after members in the feuding gangs have been booked into the jail on assorted charges.
- On Thursday, Darius Blakemore was picked up in Nashville on numerous local warrants for probation violations and failing to appear in court. He was returned to Hamilton County on Friday.
- On June 14, Gregory Norwood, 18, was arrested for criminal trespassing at Windsor Terrace Apartments. He reportedly ran when he saw officers. When officers caught up with him, he told police that someone tried to shoot at him. He has been placed on a GPS monitoring bracelet as part of the VRI program. Norwood, who police say is a “dangerous individual” and believed to be a gunman in recent shootings, is now out of jail on bond.
- On June 12, 18-year-old Nautica Goldthreat was picked up near the Tennessee Aquarium downtown after officers saw him with other gang members. He was arrested for possession of marijuana after police say he threw two plastic bags. He posted bond.
- On June 10, Gregory Lamar Gillespie Jr., 22, and Thomas Simmons, 19, were stopped in a suspect vehicle. Gillespie reportedly pointed a gun at officers and was caught after making a run for it. Simmons ran three blocks and made it over several fences before officers were able to catch him. Both are out of custody on two counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of evading arrest. Simmons was already given the VRI message in April when officers responded to a house party. Gillespie had additional charges of aggravated assault on an officer and unlicensed carrying or possessing of a weapon.
Most of the arrests police have made are for non-violent crimes. Most have posted bond and are already back out.
Police say gang members were looking to shoot rival gang leader Darius “Tankhead” Blakemore June 11.
But instead of Blakemore getting shot, two girls, ages 3 and 4, were wounded in the crossfire as they played outside the neighboring unit of Blakemore's duplex on Youngstown Road.
“It appears Blakemore was shooting from the house at [gang members] shooting from the street,” according to an internal department email.
A 3-year-old girl chased after a small puppy outside the duplex where shrapnel from the shooting injured her temple. Her small fingers touched a shattered brick that one of the bullets struck on June 11. She's fine, her mother said. They don't feel safe at home though.
Channel 3 Eyewitness News was able to confirm that a search warrant was served on Blakemore's residence nearly a month before the girls were wounded.
Officers suspect that Blakemore is dealing cocaine out of the residence. However, when they entered they only found a bottle with eight capsules and some photos when they executed the warrant.
Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative has been in place for more than a year.
The city has investigated at least 60 shootings this year - a slight increase compared to the same time last year when there were 55 shootings.
Eight people have died in shootings so far in 2015. That's including one incident that has been ruled as self defense.
Internal department emails obtained by Channel 3 show police were already trying to clamp down on one of the gangs involved as part of the city's Violence Reduction Initiative before the girls were wounded.
In an internal email sent out a day before the girls were shot, Sgt. Steve Campbell writes, “Each impact player has been given the VRI message and many have had multiple arrests … However many of them do not think the rules apply to them.”
The email has a few “baseball card” information sheets of key gang members. It shows their photos, where they live and any observations that officers feel like other officers should be aware of.
“They are not getting the message and we need to make their lives miserable until they get the message,” Campbell writes in the email. “We need to show them that they do not own the streets. The community owns the streets.”
Fletcher said that means applying peer pressure to the group.
“Sometimes that means we're going to put a GPS monitor on you. They hate that. I love that. It really, really angers the gang members which shows me that it's really effective,” he said.
The program sometimes links gang members to jobs and counseling. If the shootings continue, the threat is a lengthy prison sentence.
“We are seeing results. We have made 387 arrests through VRI since the beginning of the process. Many of the gangs and group members are changing their behavior, but there are a select few who refuse to listen,” Fletcher said. “As you can see from the email you obtained, we focus intently on those individually.”
Fletcher said the department is still working on a way to follow up with people who continue to receive the message and still don't make positive changes.
“We can constantly evaluate and evolve,” he said noting that they are working with national experts to determine the best course of action.