Police: 'No tolerance' in Rock Hill for violent gangs, 12 arrested

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJanuary 24, 2014 

— A dozen alleged Rock Hill gang members – whose feuding police blame for drive-by shootings, violent robberies and one shooting death over the past few months – were arrested this week in a sweeping round-up, putting a “pretty big dent” in the city’s escalating gang presence, police said Friday.

Investigators charged nine members of 715 FAM, a group of teens and young adults police say are responsible for several drive-by shootings amid a violent feud with members of 901 KOB (Kash Over Broads), a rival gang. Three men comprising 901 KOB’s leadership also were arrested, and police on Friday were looking for a fourth.

Those arrested are: Charles Gaither, 16; Rashawn Sibley, 18; Antonio Wylie, 20; Hakeem Caldwell, 17; Robert Johnson, 18; Cierra Hope, 18; Dimitri Oden, 18; Delveon McCleod, 20; Wali Rhinehart, 21; Marquelle Erby, 17; Jalonnie Hames, 18; and Benjamin Shannon, 23.

The charges range from attempted murder, criminal conspiracy, armed robbery and criminal sexual conduct, to burglary, carjacking, armed robbery and weapons possession.

During the massive sweep – in which officers knocked on family members’ doors and questioned relatives – police recovered 60 stolen iPhones from one suspect’s home, more than 70 grams of marijuana from another’s, and several weapons.

More than 80 officers with the Rock Hill Police Department, York County Sheriff’s Office, the State Law Enforcement Division, the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives filed 62 total charges between Thursday and Friday. A police SWAT team was on standby at two homes where police expected to encounter resistance and violence. None came.

The sweep started off slowly as word about the round-up began to spread, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department. Some members turned themselves in to authorities, while others tried to flee throughout the day. Two were found in Fort Mill, and most had been taken into custody by mid-afternoon.

Two of the suspects were quietly taken into custody at school – one each at Northwestern and South Pointe high schools, Bollinger said. Police didn’t use “any show of force at the schools.”

By Friday morning, several of the accused were being held at the York County Detention Center, with bond amounts ranging from $30,000 to $665,0000. Police believe 715 FAM and 901 KOB are affiliated with federally recognized gangs, such as Folk Nation and the Bloods, respectively.

Members of 715 FAM have argued in the past that their group is not a gang, but a group of music artists who have been unjustly stereotyped by law enforcement.

“They took the whole perspective of what my son was trying to do...out of perspective,” said Bonnie Wylie, mother of Antonio Wylie, who police say is 715’s leader. “They took the whole thing to...another level, and my son has to suffer for something positive he tried to do.”

‘Code of silence’ unraveled

For the past four months, members of the Rock Hill Police Department’s newly formed Violent Crimes Unit worked to dismantle the city’s gangs.

“We’ve known there’s been a gang problem in Rock Hill,” Bollinger said, “and we’ve been working on it. But the code of silence on the street (made) it tough to actually make cases on these guys.”

Joint investigations with the FBI, ATF, 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and SLED revealed 715 FAM as one of the city’s most persistent and prevalent gangs, Bollinger said, their tactics becoming more violent over the past year as they “upped the ante.”

Beginning as drive-by shootings on the streets and in apartment complexes, the violence escalated to homicide earlier this month when police say Maurice Burris, 16, Dontavion White, 17, and Abdul Emmanuel, 19, chased, robbed and shot to death Michael Giddens, 25, in his home on Cedar Grove Lane, off Cherry Road. Giddens, police have said, did not have any gang affiliation.

Police records show that Burris and White were both charged in an August 2013 assault and robbery at Walmart, in which the victims identified the teens as members of 715 FAM.

On social media websites, Burris, White and Emmanuel each boasted about their affiliations with 715 FAM, posting pictures and emblems displaying the group’s music and logo. After the three were charged with murder, police started developing more information about 715 FAM, monitoring their Facebook pages and watching their videos.

As police investigated a spate of drive-by and seemingly random shootings, anonymous sources in the community began sharing information with law enforcement that pointed to 715 FAM and 901 KOB – a newer group possibly using S.C. Highway 901 to identify themselves – as the culprits.

The group “popped up” in the city just within the last two months, Bollinger said. Not much is known about them aside from their feuding with 715 FAM. Though police arrested 901 KOB’s “top brass” on Thursday, police remain unsure how many members there are.

Police blame the gun-slinging rivals for an October drive-by shooting at Glenarden Apartments, a drive-by shooting on Walnut Street in November, shots fired at the Ramada Inn last month, and a brief shootout on Pebble Road – the same area where Daniel Ervin, 29, was shot to death outside his cousin’s home last October. No one has been charged in Ervin’s slaying, and Bollinger said Friday that investigators have not established a connection between his death and either of the gangs.

In October, 11 Winthrop University students were robbed of their iPhones while at a cookout on Ebenezer Avenue. Police accuse 715 FAM members of stealing the phones and selling them as part of a black market phone network in which a seller can earn about $120 for every phone he steals.

Police believe their sweep took most of 715’s more influential members off the streets. They are unsure why 715 FAM and 901 KOB have been feuding.

“Years ago, it used to be neighborhoods...sections of town,” Bollinger said. “But 715 FAM members are all over the place. We don’t know if it’s turf. There’s no school allegiance.”

715 FAM, music group?

The origins of 715 reach back to 2011, when Staten Bratton, 18, accidentally shot himself to death at 715 Green St. His friends and supporters, police claim, took the name 715 FAM in his memory.

While they don’t often “fly colors,” police say, 715 FAM members sometimes wear black and camouflage to identify themselves. Bollinger said police have gathered information indicating that new members have to fight their way into the gang during initiation.

While their alleged trouble-making has gone as far north as Kate’s Skating Rink on Celanese Road, police say, the group is active mostly in southern Rock Hill. Police would not say how they have uncovered some information about the group, although Antonio Wylie has said police are using informants to gather intelligence.

In previous interviews with The Herald, Wylie has maintained that 715 FAM is not a gang, but a group of rap artists comprising four core musicians and a manager. The rest of the teens featured in their videos and now charged with violent crimes, he said, are fans. The group posts music videos on YouTube, Facebook and other music-sharing websites.

Their videos depict “what’s really going on in our city,” Wylie told The Herald earlier this month. He said 715 FAM’s legitimate artists should not be held accountable for the actions of a few.

“The younger guys,” Wylie said, “they’re really rapping and living out their lyrics.”

Police call the group’s music a “smokescreen,” saying members counted on a “code of silence” to maintain their cover.

“We have evidence to present in court that they do more than music,” Bollinger said.

Wylie, 20, was arrested on Thursday. Police charged him with burglary and criminal conspiracy after they say he and two others broke into a South Pointe High classroom, rifled through a student’s purse and stole her iPhone. He also is charged with violating the state’s anti-gang law; police say he recruited others to be part of 715 FAM. He turned himself in to police, his mother said, after officers “bust” into her home and told her they had warrants for his arrest.

Bonnie Wylie scoffs at the accusations about her son, questioning why police did not charge him with more serious crimes if he’s truly the “warlord” of an alleged gang.

“They would have gotten him on a bigger charge...not on some burglary charges,” she said. “Why does the leader only got a burglary and conspiracy charge about some iPads? That’s the only hit he made?”

Wylie said her son got into trouble when he was a juvenile, but learned his lesson as he reached adulthood. He is the father of two children, she said, and lives in Fort Mill. Like her son, Wylie believes the 715 members allegedly committing crimes are younger fans over whom Wylie has no influence.

“Those boys were in school,” Wylie said. “My son didn’t live in Rock Hill, so he wasn’t around them every day. He wasn’t in Rock Hill when the guys were down there shooting; my son wasn’t walking up and down Green Street.”

The group never held meetings, she said, aside from getting together in a studio to record music. Their only weapons were notepad and paper, she said.

“How can you be accountable to other people for what they’re doing?” Bonnie Wylie said. “Those young guys, they probably did feel in their mind they were a gang. To the artists, the ones making the music, that didn’t have nothing to do with what they felt.

“That gang stuff – they took the whole perspective of what my son was trying to do...they blew the whole thing out of proportion.

“I am going to get a lawyer to fight for my son.”

More work to be done

Police plan to continue a crackdown on the city’s gangs. Bollinger said investigators are probing at least three other groups in the city, most comprising teens and young adults.

“When you find out about some of these kids, some of them go to church, some of them have family members who (are) good, solid citizens in the community,” he said.

Despite their ages, Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts said of the 715 FAM members, “it has been documented that they are members of a violent organized gang.”

“Our agency will not tolerate this type of activity,” he said, “and will continue to bring individuals to justice who commit these criminal acts.”

The gang problem is not so widespread that it affects everyday citizens, Bollinger said, but “these are groups, they hang together. But at some point...they start committing crimes.

“Unfortunately, it seems to be the thing in Rock Hill for a certain segment of the population to belong to gangs.”

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