CINCINNATI – Suspected gang members, who investigators say are responsible for a recent surge in violence in Avondale, might have been on a path toward a gang war, authorities said.
In all, police targeted 80 people, with about half suspected of being members of the “Savage Gang” and “Valley Boyz.” The first wave of arrests this week netted 41 arrests.
Police will arrest 10 more suspects they plan to arrest in coming months. The gang members are suspected in 117 felonies, including federal gun crimes.
The extensive catalog of violent crimes police said the gang committed demonstrate just how pervasive the gang issue is in Avondale.
District 4 Capt. Mike Neville told WCPO the two gangs pedaled drugs, namely heroin. They also committed robberies tied to drug dealing. The gangs almost exclusively operated in Avondale, with some connections to other gangs in the city, Neville said.
CPD, the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office and the city solicitor’s office launched a probe into the gangs earlier this year, following two homicides on Irving Street and a spike in robberies in the neighborhood. The investigation — which included video surveillance — found the gangs had been trafficking heroin.
Police arrested 15-year-old Dontay White, who investigators believe to be a member of the “Savage Gang,” in the killings of William Moritz on Jan. 20, and DeShawn Hutchinson a week later.
Neville said Moritz bought heroin from White, and came back later because he felt he was "shorted" in the amount of the drug he paid for. Authorities believe White killed Moritz when he returned.
The second homicide was a retaliatory killing, Neville said. The gang members were so brazen they posted photos on social media with them brandishing guns and assault rifles.
“The older one, DeShawn Hutchinson, challenged the younger one (White) because of the attention brought on by the first killing — in other words, he was bringing heat to the territory.
“The Savage boy didn’t appreciate that and ended up shooting the Valley Boy,” Neville said.
The Savage Gang is made up mostly of teens, police said, while the Valley Boyz consists of older members.
“We knew we had a problem on our hands,” Neville said.
Leading up to the takedowns, District 4 was one of the most crime-ridden areas in the city, with 50 shootings reported to police this year — the most of any city district.
How dangerous were the Savage Gang and Valley Boyz?
“We strongly believed, that at any given time, most of them were armed,” Neville said.
He did not elaborate on the leadership structure of the gangs, but did say that purpose of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence is to identify and arrest the “major players” involved in gang activity.
“The idea is to disrupt the network, and the higher the person is, the more disruption you cause,“ Neville said. “We feel like we did a lot of disruption.”
Neville said investigations have made neighborhoods like Avondale safer for residents, but the takedowns are not a panacea.
“We’re not done,” Neville said. “I know enough for round 2, but I just haven’t gotten to them yet. I know who they are and they know who I am.”
Building A Source For Problems
Police said the gang did some of its business from an apartment building in the 3500 block of Reading Road.
The apartment building at 3522 Reading Road has been, and police say, will continue to be the target of investigations. Police, working on overtime, walked through the hallways of the building, in and around the property.
Police and the building’s property owners, Boston-based The Community Builders, Inc. (TCB), agreed to allow officers to enter the building's common areas and hallways. Investigators have since built connections on who was living there, who was not supposed to be there based on rental agreements and focused their efforts on drug trafficking and trespassing.
"The Community Builders is committed to improving the quality of life for our Avondale residents and neighbors," company spokesperson Stephanie Anderson Garrett said in a prepared statement emailed to WCPO. "As we make physical improvements to apartment buildings in the Reading Road area, we are also cooperating with the Cincinnati Police Department by providing building access for proactive patrols and engaging community groups to make the neighborhood safe and secure for everyone."
In March, 14-year-old Tyan Adkins was killed, and police arrested 14-year-old Caedon Short in the accidental killing. Short had eight prior convictions from 2012 to 2014, according to a Hamilton court administrator's assistant. Those convictions range from burglary to trespassing to probation violation. Police believe he was involved with the Savage Gang.
While Adkin's death was technically an accident, Neville said the environment that led to the death was no accident.
“The accident was allowed to happen because the behavior (drug-dealing, trespassing, gang activity) was allowed to happen,” Neville said.
Placed-based policing is similar to hotspot policing, but
instead of focusing on neighborhoods, precincts or beats, investigators focus their resources on specific blocks, streets, intersections, clusters of addresses, and sometimes, individual addresses, such as the Reading Road apartment building.
“That property has been a cultural problem,” Neville said. “I was a beat officer back in the early ’90s and I remember being in that building many times – that’s why we did the placed-based stuff, because we kept being called to that location.” Neville said.
Placed-based strategies are relatively recent and mark a departure from conventional policing strategies, which historically is more reactive or based on calls for service.
“Locking people up isn’t the answer when they’re just going to replenish in different apartments,” Neville said. “We had to get the property owner to help us evict them.”
Over the course of the five-month investigation, police executed three search warrants on Irving Street, near the two locations of the killings that served as the impetus for the investigation.
“The girl who originally lived in one of those apartments was in jail in Clermont County, and she allowed them to establish a place to operate – that’s how they work,” Neville said. “A good property owner will say, ‘not here,’ and TCB has learned a great deal."