Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2017 Gang Threat Assessment. Read the first part online at http://bit.ly/2gfFxcl.
Following the release of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2017 Gang Threat Assessment, members of Grayson County’s criminal justice community shared their knowledge on the inner workings of gangs, as well as the allure and the consequences that come with membership and organized criminal activity.
The report, which was published in July, lists four gangs as having a presence or claiming members in Grayson County. They include Tango Blast, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, the Crips and the Bloods. While area law enforcement officials were not able to provide estimates on the number of gangs or self-identified members in Grayson County, the area falls within the state median for gang concentration. The state of Texas is believed to be home 100,000 active gang members on the streets and in correctional facilities, according to DPS.
Gang formation and structure
DPS defines a criminal gang as “three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities.”
Grayson County First Assistant District Attorney Kerye Ashmore said gangs typically organize to engage in illegal activity from which they believe they can make a profit and such organization and activity is of great concern to law enforcement.
“It’s a bad situation when bad people form together collectively because it empowers them,” Ashmore said.
The DPS assessment indicates that Texas gangs display a variety of structures when it comes to leadership and operations, but defines four main models: paramilitary, regional cells, cliques and loose affiliation.
Paramilitary models are built on a hierarchical structure with clear distinctions between ranks. Titles within the gang often include general, captain, lieutenant, sergeant and soldier. Leading, senior members typically issue orders to subordinate members, which are to be carried out as instructed.
Regional cells are made up of several cells that are part of the same gang but often act independently of one another. Individual cells may have their own internal hierarchy, but coordination of command and operation between cells is infrequent.
Cliques tend to adopt a common culture and identity but display few connections to one another. Each clique may have a senior member who acts as a leader, and larger cliques may display a leadership hierarchy.
Loose affiliation gangs usually have relaxed membership requirements and do not usually display a leadership hierarchy. Sherman Police Sgt. DM Hampton said the gang presence his department sees most commonly in Sherman falls under the loose affiliation structure.
Gang recruitment and membership
The DPS assessment indicates that Texas gangs recruit new members in a variety of settings, including prisons, schools, online, neighborhoods and from within families. Gangs often recruit to provide additional protection for individuals and the organization as a whole. Some gangs require that members serve for life, while prison gangs sometimes allow members to leave after their release.
The report also states that Texas gangs are particularly interested in recruiting young members. Ashmore said gangs promise young people many things with membership, such as money, power and respect. But he added that the root of young people’s interest in gangs boils down to a sense of belonging.
“One of the real draws of gangs is the need to be accepted, to belong, to have this common goal and camaraderie,” Ashmore said. “There’s a lot of young people that, I think, because of their background and their vulnerability — maybe they’ve been abandoned by a parent, maybe they’ve grown up in really bad circumstances — they crave that sense of belonging, that sense of brotherhood and the things that gang members say that they will give you.”
Sherman-based ATF Special Agent Justin Holbert, who spent a portion of his career in the Oklahoma City Police Department’s Gang Unit Task Force, said many of the current and active gangs known to law enforcement now turn to relatives when recruiting.
“Most gangs have become more family oriented as in everybody is related — really and actually blood-related,” Holbert said.
To reach new members and advertise their offerings and successes, gangs are increasingly making use of the internet and social media. The assessment says gangs use such platforms to make membership look more attractive and the gang appear powerful.
“Gang members showcase self-produced music videos, glorifying the gang lifestyle and taunting would-be rivals,” the report said. “Gang members use social media sites to upload photos of themselves with weapons drugs and money.”
While many gang members are aware that law enforcement officers may regularly monitor their social media activity, they often use video-sharing and messaging services that have higher levels of security and limit the chances of revealing identifying information.
“These include encrypted messaging platforms whose use by gang members challenges law enforcement agencies’ ability to investigate and collect criminal intelligence information,” the report said.
Ashmore said those who wish to become gang members are often required to show their commitment and loyalty to the gang with actions. Some gangs refer to such as actions as “making your bones.”
“Making your bones can mean different things to different gangs, but at a minimum, you go through basically an indoctrination period and then you’re called on to do something that’s normally violent and illegal in order to make your bones and to be in the gang,” Ashmore said. “That shows your allegiance and that you’re willing to do whatever you’re ordered to do by your superiors.”
Gang activities and consequences
According to the DPS threat assessment, gangs participate in illegal activities, which range from “nonviolent, white-collar crimes to violent crimes such as murders.”
A DPS data breakdown on the crimes committed by Texas’ incarcerated gang members, indicates that 59 percent of gang members are in prison for violent crimes including robbery (23%), homicide (16%), assault (14%) and sexual assault (6%). Drug offenses and property crimes each account for 13 percent of gang member convictions and other crimes against public administration, such as weapons offenses, evading and escape, and fraud and forgery account for the 15 percent of gang members’ convictions. Gang members may also engage in money-laundering, bribery, human trafficking and smuggling, and prostitution.
“They basically specialize in anything illegal they think they can make money at,” Ashmore said.
The assistant district attorney said he and members of his office have prosecuted members of all four gangs who operate in Grayson County. Ashmore said that prosecutors take gang affiliation seriously and will factor in the knowledge when considering charges and sentencing.
“Certainly, if we’re aware you’re a gang member, we’re probably going to look at you a little bit more harshly — particularly if this isn’t your first time in the criminal justice system,” Ashmore said. “We’re certainly going to take that into consideration and it’s probably indicating that you may well be very unlikely to be rehabilitated. So, the best thing we may be able to do is try to put you some place where you’re not around honest, law-abiding citizens, for a long time.”
Holbert added that the organized criminal operations, especially those that involve the pooling of money, often widen the net of charges prosecutors can cast over gang members. The ATF agent specifically referenced the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, an American law enacted in 1970 which allows victims of organized crime to sue those responsible for punitive damages.
“It goes from a single person trying to make himself money to now ten people trying to make the gang money,” Holbert said. “That’s why you get some of the bigger racketeering, Rico-type charges on some gangs.”
Ashmore said gangs and even rival gangs share a desire for success and will, in some instances, establish temporary and mutually-beneficial arrangements with one another. He said these arrangements often center on the sale, purchase and distribution of drugs.
“These gangs network and they’re organized,” Ashmore said. “Some of them will work together periodically to accomplish a goal.”
But because gangs often participate in similar criminal activities and vie for the same illegal markets, competition and rivalries remain common and can result in violent confrontations.
Such conflict was illustrated in May 2015 in Waco, when two rival outlaw motorcycle gangs, the Cossacks and the Bandidos, descended on the same restaurant. The two groups were both in the town to attend a scheduled rally on the political rights of bikers and despite a large and precautionary police presence nearby, a shootout between the Cossacks and Bandidos erupted. Nine bikers were ultimately killed by members of the clubs and by law enforcement. An additional 18 people were injured and dozens were arrested.
While bad blood often runs between rival gangs, Ashmore said violence can just as easily erupt between members of the same gangs.
“It’s not all hugs and kisses within the gangs,” Ashmore said.
Grayson County saw an example of that during the 2016 trial of Lisa Gibby and Dalton Clayton for the death of Albert Duane Parker, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. During the trial, Parker’s sister Sherra Layman testified that fellow ABT members carried out a brutal attack on Parker in 2010, which left him with brain damage and permanent physical injuries. Accounts differed as to why Parker was attacked, but testimony given during the trial suggested it may have occurred because Parker disobeyed or questioned an order from a superior or because he had a relationship with a female relative of a fellow ABT member.
“He had been attacked by other members,” Ashmore said. “If I recall correctly, he had been shot;, I want to say stabbed, beaten and everything else and left for dead. And they actually burned his (ABT) tattoo off with a blow torch.”
Parker survived the attack but was killed four years later in 2014. His body was found in East Sherman. He was 49 years old.
Gibby’s testimony indicated she knew of Parker’s past with the gang, including the 2010 beating. She said Clayton killed Parker because he believed a gang contract calling for Parker’s death had been ordered and that killing him would secure his membership within the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Gibby said she helped Clayton dispose of bloody clothes following a meeting he had with Parker and that she did so to help him escape charges. She maintained that she never knew that Clayton intended to kill Parker, but prosecutors did not believe her claims.
Neither Gibby or Clayton were ever found to be full-fledged members of the Aryan Brotherhood, but both were ultimately charged with murder and participation in organized crime. Gibby was sentenced to 70 years in prison, and Clayton was handed a life sentence.