Leader of 'The Squad' gang

Brandon Griffin, leader of the Squad street gang, was sentenced to 48 years in prison last year.

Street gangs have been connected to several high-profile violent crimes in Manchester over the past 12 months, say authorities, who are frustrated over how to confront their growing presence in the Queen City.

According to court records and interviews with prosecutors, the groups are not affiliated with high-profile national gangs such as MS-13.

Prosecutors are unsure what objectives, if any, unite the gangs, whose members are mainly in their teens and 20s.

Yet they have access to handguns and are accused of shootings and gunpoint robberies of other youth, according to police affidavits filed in court cases.

Their members include youths who are from intact families and have been involved in high school sports.

Meanwhile, authorities are hamstrung by the unwillingness of almost anyone to provide information to police, said Nicole Schultz-Price, head of the major crimes unit of the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.

Suspected gang members won’t even talk about rival gangs, she said. “People just don’t speak. We found the same problem with witnesses and with victims,” she said.

How these gangs differ

Last year, Schultz-Price spearheaded the prosecution of the Squad street gang, which attempted a takeover of the Manchester drug trade in 2015.

During the prosecution, several members testified against gang leader Brandon Griffin, who was sentenced to 48 years in prison.

Group members were older. Leaders doled out drugs, money, guns and assignments. The gang had a goal, Schultz-Price said.

“This is different,” she said. Authorities don’t have any information about leaders, their organizations or any criminal enterprises they run, she said.

A defense attorney said police are quick to call someone a gang member without concrete proof.

Yes, shootings are up, said Manchester lawyer Suzanne Ketteridge. But that could be related to gangs, drugs or a hot summer during which people are cooped up because of the pandemic. She is worried about innocent people being labeled gang members.

“I’ve had one client say when four (black) kids get together, police call it a gang,” Ketteridge said.

What they’re up to

In numerous court filings over the past several months, three gangs have been identified:

RCG, for Red Couch Gang, which has been in Manchester since at least last summer and was identified last year after the unsolved shooting death of Brian “Boogie” Clark, 19.

DRS, for Da Real Savages. One member was on hand during a shooting outside a Manchester diner last December and was present when a stabbing victim died in early July.

GTS, for Go To Sleep.

One of the best explanations of gang behavior comes from a police affidavit filed against an alleged GTS member.

Police officer Michael McGee, a member of the department’s Gang Prevention Unit, wrote that the group is involved in robberies, assaults and reckless conduct, a charge that police bring against people who fire guns at houses in drive-by shootings.

In the affidavit, police detail how Delano “Lano” Lawrence, 20, tried to recruit a 16-year-old to GTS. The teen was “doing mad mad s---,” according to Lawrence’s Snapchat exchange with the youth. Because of the teen’s reputation, he would not have to be jumped, or physically beaten by gang members, as an initiation, Lawrence told him.

Instead, the teen and Lawrence could commit some robberies together, Lawrence wrote. He went on to say that a friend of the teen’s could join GTS but would have to be jumped in.

Violence heats up

Manchester police have noted an increase in violent crimes and shootings, often involving youth.

In mid-July, Manchester police reported 10 shootings had occurred in the previous 30 days, resulting in two deaths and four injuries.

Police Chief Carlo Capano called the shootings senseless and reckless. Lack of cooperation from suspects and witnesses, he said, was putting people in danger.

Some of the recent crimes are gang-related, police said, but they would not provide specifics to the Union Leader or agree to an interview with the department’s Gang Prevention Unit.

“Repeatedly, Manchester investigators are not getting cooperation from the individuals involved in these shootings or those who were witnesses. This is a serious problem that hinders our efforts in trying to solve these crimes,” said Heather Hamel, the department’s public information officer, said in an email.

Police would not say how many people they estimate are associated with each gang.

The younger, the worse

A national expert on gangs said several factors draw youth to gangs, including economic disparity, boredom and a violent culture.

To those, you can add a recent re-focus of police resources on opioids and greater cautiousness in the age of Black Lives Matter, said Christopher Przemieniecki, a professor of criminal justice at West Chester University, outside Philadelphia.

Two things are necessary for gangs to exist, he said.

“When you have drugs and guns, you will have gangs,” he said.

Being young, members are reckless, careless and more destructive and violent than in more established gangs, he said.

“Young gang members are trying to prove they’re the toughest gang around,” Przemieniecki said.

The seriousness of gun play surfaced four days before last Christmas outside the Red Arrow Diner in downtown Manchester. Two brothers — one 25, one 28 — were shot and wounded, one in the neck, another in the rear end.

Bullets lodged in walls just inches from customers’ heads.

Refugee and track star

Manchester resident Aweis Khamis, 22, has been charged with first-degree assault and reckless conduct in the shooting.

During a pre-trial hearing, Manchester police said Khamis was affiliated with DRS. Khamis was born in Kenya to a family of Somali refugees and lived in a refugee camp until he was 7, according to his attorney. His mother died in childbirth, and he lives with several brothers and sisters.

He graduated from West High School, where he was a track star.

Khamis had a job making $15 an hour when he was arrested. He has no serious record.

Khamis has been in jail since the incident, but his prosecution may prove difficult. A video of the incident shows one of the shooting victims — Zabayullah Qahir — punched Khamis in the head outside the restaurant.

“The police know these individuals are armed and dangerous. My client has a right to defend himself,” said Joseph Prieto, who has since left the case. Khamis has filed notice he will claim self -defense.

Accompanying Khamis to the diner that night was 21-year-old Eddy Assani, a DRS gang member, according to police reports.

Assani faces a charge of intentional contribution of delinquency and conspiracy to commit robbery. Police said he was present in early December, when Miguel Gensee, 18, a member of the Central High School football team, robbed a fellow student of an expensive backpack.

Assani also was with Siidi Dhurow, 22, when he was stabbed and eventually died, according to court affidavits. Dhurow’s body was discovered in a car involved in a July 5 traffic accident at Beech and Lowell streets.

His murder remains unsolved.

Assani was not charged in any crime related to Dhurow’s death. But prosecutors used the accident to revoke his bail on the robbery charge.

Gang expert Przemieniecki said a community-wide effort is needed to address gangs. He pointed to the successful Operation Ceasefire effort in Boston in the late 1990s.

He said during that period, police, schools, hospitals and social service agencies focused on efforts to discourage gang membership and activity.

“If you try to go suppression only, it’s not going to work. If you try to go prevention only, it’s not going to work,” he said.

Monday, January 18, 2021