9 suspected gang members face 97 counts under state gang act - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

9 suspected gang members face several charges

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Nine alleged gang members are being held responsible for the death of a man on River Street last fall, according to a 97-count, gang-related indictment unsealed Thursday morning.

However, as Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said her office is stepping up it's gang-related prosecution efforts, Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Chief Willie Lovett told WTOC he believes one of those men may have been the main shooter.

The nine suspects are members of the Hell Hole and Tatemville Terror gangs and have been indicted by a grand jury under the Gang Terriorism and Prevention Act.

Six of them were arrested Thursday night during SWAT operations after a two-year operation between SCMPD, Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team and the Chatham County District Attorney's Office. It's a partnership they all say is necessary to continue to combat violent crime and gang violence. Offenses ranged from murder to sexual assault to aggravated assault and armed robberies and drug activity.

The gangs were linked to several crimes, including violence last year at the Chatham County Fairgrounds and River Street, according to the district attorney's office. 

Tyates Franklin was shot and killed on River Street in September 2012. All nine men are charged with three counts of felony murder aggravated assault, felony murder aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and felony murder while in commission of offense in violation of the Georgia State Gang Terrorism Act. 

Not one single person was charged with the murder alone.  

"Our concern is that someone committed a murder, and we know who that someone is, and he was charged. Unfortunately the charges from the grand jury came out a no bill," Lovett told WTOC. "We can still charge him under the statutes we have. It helps us a whole lot, so I'm not disappointed he got away with that particular charge. He was still charged and will be prosecuted."

"You asked earlier if it packs more punch with them being indicted together. I don't know if it's that, but when you look at what they're doing, the number of crimes these guys are committing, the violent crimes they are committing, it makes sense they should walk into court and face the charges together," said Matt Breedon, assistant district attorney.

Breedon and Isabel Pauley were named the new gang-related crimes prosecutors under the new effort by the Chatham County District Attorney's Office. Heap said they were instrumental in pulling all of the evidence together and building this case.

Heap, Lovett, Mayor Edna Jackson, City Manager Stephanie Cutter, County Commissioner Helen Stone, and Breedon and Pauley were on hand Thursday when the announcement was made about the indictment and the DA's office change of focus on gang-related crimes. 

They say the suspects, members of the two gangs, were responsible for the September 2012 shooting death on of Franklin and the Coastal Empire Fairgrounds shootings in November 2012 that left eight people wounded, plus a shootout last spring, three armed robberies last fall, a drug trafficking incident last winter.

It may be just the beginning.

Heap told WTOC "these are some bad guys". They have more work to do, but in this case, all nine suspects will be tried under the Georgia gang statute and face from five to 15 years in prison if convicted. The other charges range from murder and armed robbery to sexual assault and aggravated assault, but they all were named in this indictment.

"Now it takes a community to help do what they are doing here today. Get them in court. Get them prosecuted and get them in jail," Jackson said.

Police still have some work left as well.

They are still looking for Tashard Orr, Kavon Smalls and Jashavious Keel. Anyone aware of the location of any of the men is advised not to approach them but to call 911 immediately. or they can call CrimeStoppers at 912.234.2020.

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