Armed robbery, interstate narcotics trafficking and murder are just three of the charges on which six members of a New Haven street gang have been federally indicted after a 21-month-long police operation.
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, ATF Special Agent in Charge Daniel Kumor and New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman held a joint press conference Thursday at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Haven to announce charges against six members and associates of the Red Side Guerilla Brims — a sect of the Bloods street gang based in New Haven.
“Our message should be clear to anyone involved in firearms trafficking or pulling triggers — you are next,” Kumor said.
The indictment includes six counts of murder spanning from March 2011 to March 2012, five of which occurred in the Elm City. If convicted of violent crimes in aid of racketeering murder, four of the defendants — Jeffrey Benton, Keith Young, Robert Short and Trevor Murphy — will face life imprisonment or possibly even the death penalty. The remaining two defendants, Robert Harris and Christopher Graham, could face prison terms of seven years to life for the brandishing of firearms in relation to crimes of violence.
“They’re in the federal system, so the consequences are very severe for violent crime,” said Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning at Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is very capable of locking these guys up for a very long time.”
Daly said police arrested Murphy, Young and Harris following news of the indictment, while Benton and Short were already in custody for unrelated reasons.
The offenses of murder, attempted murder, racketeering, firearms, narcotics and money laundering came to light through “Operation Red Side,” a police effort which began in January 2014. Daly said “Operation Red Side” connected these offenses through a series of controlled narcotics purchases and firearms seizures. The Connecticut state crime lab analyzed ballistics evidence recovered from the crime scene to link the shootings to the defendants, Kumor said.
“Operation Red Side” also indicated that Benton led other associates of the gang in transporting crack cocaine and heroin to Bangor, Maine. The gang members would either sell the drugs in the town and its surrounding communities or trade the narcotics for firearms, which they then brought back to New Haven.
“They used these guns to protect their criminal enterprise through intimidation and violence, including murder,” Kumor said.
Daly said investigations on other gangs remain active and ongoing, but she does not anticipate additional arrests in the near future. Esserman added that while his police station chooses to keep the exact number of gangs in New Haven confidential, he wants all individuals who commit crimes such as murder to know “we’re coming after you.”
Daly said that Luis Padilla — a gang member involved in several of the defendants’ alleged crimes — is being charged separately after he pled guilty to a number of offenses related to the indictment earlier this week. She added that more defendants are expected to plead guilty in the coming days.
Professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Louis Schlesinger said in cases like these, the federal government typically looks to turn low-level defendants against their former gang in an effort to take down its leaders.
“The government will look to flip those people to testify against the major ones in the group,” Schlesinger said. “They want to break this up, and the best way to do that is to go after the leadership.”
Yale Law School professor Andrew Papachristos said that prosecutorial success in federal courts is very high, citing the roughly 85-percent conviction rate of federal prosecutors in Chicago. Because federal investigations require a large amount of resources, he suspects the defendants are “serious criminals” and that prosecutors have enough evidence to form a strong argument.
“This isn’t your typical case, this isn’t your typical gang and I think it’s consistent with what we know about violence in inner cities being concentrated in small groups,” he said.
In many cities, small networks are responsible for a large portion of violent crime, Papachristos said. As a result, the impact that the Red Side Guerilla Brims had on gun violence in New Haven was likely significant. Schlesinger said while the removal of six gang members might simply enable six other individuals to take their places in the gang, this case should bring a major blow to the Red Side Guerilla Brims.
Lowler said the defendants — assuming they are found guilty — will serve as an example to other gang members.
“People who are in these types of groups, we are ready, willing and able to help them exit from such a lifestyle — but if they choose not to, this is what will happen,” he said. “The message we want everyone to hear is they need to put the guns down and they need to stop shooting each other, this is a major example of the kind of consequences we’re talking about.”
Prosecuting these types of violent crimes is the first priority of state and federal criminal justice systems, Lawlor said, adding that he expects the defendants to receive lengthy prison sentences.
Esserman said the indictment of these six men would allow locals to breathe a sigh of relief, given the impact he has seen the group has on New Haven.
“There are many, many New Haven families that have been waiting for this day who tonight will go to sleep with answers that for years have haunted them,” he said.