Five self-described members of a Columbia gang, which has gone by numerous names including the “Gambinos” and the “Coalition,” were arrested by police on suspicion of gang activity Wednesday night.
The gang activity charges are the first to be sought by Columbia police since the law was enacted in 2004.
Police arrested Byron E. Anderson, 20, Robert L. Jones, 15, David T. McBride, 20, Maurice F. Penny Jr., 21, and an unidentified male, 16, at about 7:30 p.m. at the Break Time gas station at 4 Business Loop 70 E.
Capt. Brad Nelson said police officers working on a special patrol in central Columbia saw the men involved in “suspicious activity,” but declined to say what initially caught officers’ attention. Nelson said an officer was trying to talk to the men when one of the suspects fled.
“After he made contact, the suspect started immediately running on foot,” Nelson said.
Officers discovered that a Jeep one of the suspects was driving had been reported stolen in Miller County, Nelson said. Officers also located 1.5 ounces of crack cocaine and a small amount of Ecstasy inside the vehicle and in the suspects’ possession, he said.
“Based on statements, the sheer amount of crack cocaine and the fact they were in a stolen vehicle, we felt it was appropriate to classify them as a gang,” Nelson said. He added that the group labeled themselves a gang and were “loosely organized with very poor leadership.”
Nelson said police were aware of the group and other loosely organized Columbia groups calling themselves gangs.
“This group of males likes to fancy themselves as being a gang, but they don’t fit what the average person would think of as a traditional gang,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he has heard of the “Gambinos” and “Coalition” names used by the group, but said the men gave officers a different gang name when they were arrested Wednesday night. He declined to release the name.
“I don’t want to give credence to what they’re calling themselves, because they’re just going to change the name next month,” he said.
Nelson said Jones, a juvenile, had been certified by the courts as an adult, but added that he did not know why Jones had been classified as such.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane said the gang activity charges are the first his office has been forwarded since a law was passed in 2004 creating a special statute for crimes related to gang activity.
If his office decides to pursue the charges, Crane said they would not take precedence over other charges filed in the case. The gang activity charges are currently unclassified as a felony or misdemeanor, he said.
“We’re going to look at it, but if we have someone with a Class A felony, where you can get seven years in prison, and someone with a gang charge, where you can get up to three years in prison, then we’re going to follow the Class A felony rather than have him get out on a small bond amount,” Crane said.
Tracy Edwards, chief ambassador of the First Ward Ambassadors, a youth-mentoring group made up of black men in central Columbia, said he knew some of the men arrested Wednesday night.
“These kids grew up together,” Edwards said. “You can call them a clique, a gang, a group of buddies, whatever you like. To me, they’re not a gang.”
Edwards said the five men arrested Wednesday do not have any connection to a string of shootings and robberies in the summer of 2001. Area residents called gang members involved in those incidents the “Gambinos” as well.
“They all like to use the same names, like the ones they see in movies,” Edwards said.
Edwards described Anderson as a “good kid” and said much of the blame for their mistakes lies with the community.
“When they have dropped out of school or are unemployed, they get up and do the same thing every day, day in and day out,” Edwards said. “It is their fault, but it’s also our fault.”
On Thursday, prosecutors charged Anderson with second-degree drug trafficking and possession of the illegal drug Ecstasy. Anderson’s bond had not been set Thursday night.
Penny was charged with second-degree drug trafficking and first-degree tampering with a motor vehicle. He remained in Boone County Jail with no bond set because of a probation violation Thursday night.
McBride and Jones were released on charges of second-degree tampering after each posted a $1,000 bond.
Anderson was arrested in April in connection with a shootout near LaSalle Place and Allen Street, which left four bullet holes in a day care center. Anderson, Penny and McBride were arrested in connection with a shooting outside the Columbia Mall last June.
Anderson is the grandson of former community activist Sarabelle Jackson, who worked for Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department for 32 years and frequently weighed in on issues involving youth in the city’s black community.
In July 1985, Jackson quelled a riot near Douglass Park at the request of then-Columbia Police Chief Bill Dye after a black teenager was fatally shot by Columbia police. Jackson died in 1999. Anderson lives in the same home on Circus Avenue that his grandmother lived in.