COLUMBIA — With Thursday's announcement of federal indictments against 16 people on drug and gun charges — 14 of them from Columbia — the Columbia Police Department officially acknowledged the presence of gang activity in Columbia for at least the past year and a half.
"The days of saying there are no gangs in Columbia are over," Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said. He added that the Police Department is now doing away with "semantic dancing" around the question of gangs.
The 16 alleged gang members were indicted by a federal grand jury for two different drug-trafficking conspiracies that involved three drive-by shootings and other various gun-related violations, said Dresner and Dan Nelson, executive assistant U.S. attorney.
The indictments were the culmination of an 18-month investigation by the Columbia police, the FBI, the Boone County Prosecutor's Office, the Boone County Sheriff's Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and the Missouri Department of Corrections.
All of those indicted are accused members of the Cut Throat gang in Columbia. Nine were arrested Thursday; the other seven were already in custody for various state charges, according to Nelson. All were being held without bond, described by authorities as dangerous and flight risks. Fourteen of those accused are from Columbia and range in age from 19 to 42.
Columbia residents Eric Coats, 21, Koda Coats, 22, and their mother, Donna Coats, 39; Dametrell Washington, 27; William Boyd, 21; Demarco Burnett, 24; Tarron Cason, 25; Cheviss Denny, 20; Dajuan Harris, 25; Brandon Isom, 19; Ryan Kee, 22; William Rogers, 42; Diondre Cooper, 19; and Robert Simmons, 36; along with Fayette resident Michael Stapleton, 22; and Kansas City resident Robert Jones, 19, were named in the 34-count indictment.
Each faces 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, the first count of the indictment.
From 2003 to 2007, Koda Coats was arrested in Missouri 15 times, according to previous Missourian reports.
The indictment also links Eric and Koda Coats, Boyd, Denny, Harris, Cooper, Simmons and Jones to three drive-by shootings:
- the first near a Break Time gas station at 1000 Smiley Lane in Columbia on June 2, 2007;
- the second near a BP gas station at 800 Stadium Drive in Jefferson City, on Jan. 1, 2008; and
- the third near a Petro-Mart gas station at 3300 Falling Leaf Lane in Columbia on May 31.
In each incident, at least one person was injured.
Thursday’s announcement was a departure from the Police Department’s traditional disavowal of gang activity in the city, especially under the leadership of former Police Chief Randy Boehm, who was loath to describe violent crime as gang-related.
"Technically, some of those groups could be considered gangs," Boehm said in a November 2007 interview with the Missourian, referring to groups of young men the Police Department partly blamed for the increase in violent crime from 2006 to 2007. "We do have groups of really loosely organized individuals that commit crimes together."
Dresner called the indictment "significant" but clarified that it did not mean an end to gang activity in Columbia. "It's like ... the Hydra; you cut off one head and another appears," he said.
But Dresner said he hopes the indictments will deter future gang activity.
Dresner said the Cut Throat gang was in competition for territory with other “individuals.” Neither Dresner nor Nelson would say the competitors were from rival gangs.
But Nelson did acknowledge their existence, saying: "There are other gangs under law enforcement's scrutiny at this moment."