Less than a month after a teenager threatened to shoot a police officer and another threatened to "shoot up" the block after a gang-related mob attack, both Rock Hill teens pleaded guilty Tuesday to beating two teenaged girls.
The two admitted gang members pleaded guilty to assault by a mob. The change of heart was shocking because one of them threatened on Jan. 30 to "shoot up the (expletive) block" where the girls were attacked, according to testimony. Rock Hill officer Brent Bruggink testified the other teen "threatened to smoke me" after a detention hearing Feb. 7 when Bruggink walked past the teen's cell.
The two teens made these threats when all of 15 years old, and with an audience of alleged fellow gang members. They pleaded guilty alone and went to jail alone.
The allegation that one of the teens threatened a police officer shocked York County Family Court Judge David Guyton. Defense lawyers for the teens described the January crime itself as a "simple fight." The Feb. 7 threat on the officer was, in the words of another defense lawyer, just a young kid "running his mouth" and making an "empty threat."
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Guyton forcefully told all in the courtroom that gangs and threats against police and the community is unacceptable, and "just because the crime is called a simple assault doesn't mean there is anything simple about it."
Further, Guyton noted that just Monday night a fundraiser was held in Rock Hill to benefit the families of police officers killed in the line of duty.
"Maybe it was just a young man trying to show off in front of his friends to 'smoke' a police officer, but to me that is no empty threat," Guyton said.
The two teens who pleaded guilty were sent Tuesday to a juvenile jail for a pre-sentencing evaluation. They will be sentenced within 45 days, said Ouida Dest, York County deputy solicitor for juvenile cases. Under Family Court rules, punishment could be as severe as jail until age 21 - although an adult conviction for assault by a mob, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum of one year in prison.
In the Jan. 30 fight, two girls walking home from a store were jumped by five teenaged boys on Crawford Road in Rock Hill just south of downtown, testimony showed. The boys asked the teenaged girls what gang they were in, and the girls said neither was in a gang. Then the boys identified themselves as Folk Nation gang members before assaulting the girls and fleeing to a vacant house nearby.
Folk Nation gang members have a reputation for four things anywhere they are: ruining any place or person within reach, violence, drug sales, and eventually, as it should be, getting caught and going to prison.
Just last week, a South Carolina rapper nicknamed "Boss G" with proven ties to the Folk Nation gang, whose real name is Darnell Mealing, was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to cocaine dealing and weapons charges. The judge in Columbia gave Mealing a long sentence because he used his gang status to use weapons in crimes including drug deals.
During the January fracas in Rock Hill, one girl suffered a scratched and bruised face. The other had a ripped shirt and scratches, prosecutors said. A concerned citizen, a neighbor where people work all day then come home to this violence on some evenings, flagged down responding police officers and told them the suspects fled into an abandoned house left empty after a recent fire.
After all five were caught Jan. 30, the teens threatened police, yelled and flashed gang signs, and even threatened to "get high, have sex, and hang with their boys" on Feb. 7 if released after court.
The Herald is not naming the defendants because of their age.
Bruggink, the officer, called the Jan. 30 scene at the city jail "chaotic," as several officers were needed to maintain order with the rowdy teenaged gang members.
In the Feb. 7 hearing, a visiting Family Court judge, Gene Morehead from Florence, denied release to all five, stating that custody was for the safety of the defendants and the community. Tuesday's hearing was another detention hearing within two weeks, as required under juvenile court rules.
Only after Guyton ruled that neither one who made the threats against the police and community would get sprung from jail did both plead guilty.
Guyton allowed two of the remaining defendants Tuesday to be placed under house arrest in other neighborhoods pending trial and sent the third to a juvenile release home in another part of the state. He said in court that the safety of people in the neighborhood where the crime happened, and the community in general, must come first.
One of the juveniles who pleaded guilty Tuesday to the assault charge, plus trespassing in the abandoned house, agreed to testify against the other defendants. Guyton ordered that all defendants have no contact with each other, citing the potential for gang reprisals.
In offering the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop a single assault by mob charge - there were two victims, so two assault charges against each - for each teen. It is unclear when the other three teens will return to court, but Dest, the prosecutor, stated after court she has offered the same plea deal to the three remaining defendants.
"The end result, here today, is two pleaded guilty to the crime," said Dest after court.
The other result that was clear Tuesday, though, is two extra weeks in jail apparently changed each teen's tune. None of the five showed any disrespectful behavior in custody or court Tuesday, according to police, prosecutors, lawyers for the defendants, and juvenile justice officials.
Nathan Sheldon, the lawyer for one of the teens who pleaded guilty, even admitted in court about the five defendants: "Clearly when they get together, they can't behave."
But when together, these are tough guys of ages 14 and 15, claiming gang affiliation, with two of them in court admitting that they were so tough they jumped girls and yelled gang slogans at the cops and made threats of gun violence.
Yet alone, in court, nobody threatened anybody. Certainly nobody threatened Judge David Guyton, Marine Corps Persian Gulf veteran, National Guard colonel, and Iraq War veteran. Just the words to the judge, "Yes sir," when admitting all the cops said about two young people not old enough to drive was true.