Beaufort County Marines Suspected in Gang Activity - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

08/15/06

Beaufort County Marines Suspected in Gang Activity

A strange case has four Beaufort Marines in trouble with the law. Sheriff's investigators near Columbia, South Carolina, say the four are among 18 members of the "Crips" street gang plotting an attack at an Irmo High School football game.

Richland County deputies raided an abandoned community center Sunday, rounding up and arresting everyone inside. Included in that group were four Marines based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

"We've been coordinating our investigation with the Marines," Sheriff Leon Lott said. "They're helping out in terms of trying to seize some computers, searching rooms, giving us some background. We haven't got all that yet."

Investigators say the four Marines were helping the other Crips plot an attack.

"You learn how to shoot, come in and move out," explained Richland County Sgt. David Soto. "And those are things you also bring back to the general public. And these are things they'll also give the same training to their fellow gang members."

Lance Cpl. Marcus Lofton and Lance Cpl. Shavon Striggles have been charged with trespassing. Cpl. Jermel Matthias is charged with trespassing and unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon. Pvt. Carlos Downing has just been charged with trespassing, but has also disappeared, and is classified as absent without authorization from MCAS. That carries additional disciplinary penalties from the Marine Corps.

Deputies say the group of 18 Crips included members as young as middle school age, and the involvement of these four Marines was worrisome.

"They were probably the major focal point of this meeting," said Sgt. Soto.

"I don't know where their loyalty would lie," wondered Sheriff Lott. "To defending the United States, or to the Crips."

All of the Marines were released on their own recognizance, and the three who returned to the Air Station are now being held in the brig in Charleston.

Pvt. Carlos Downing is still being sought by military police.

Investigators say there was actually no football game scheduled at Irmo the day the Crips were planning on, but don't think they realized that.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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