Police: 'Operation Ratchet Fire' takes drugs, guns off York City streets

Seven York-area people were indicted, and more than 15 guns as well as drugs were taken off of York City streets following a six-month investigation called "Operation Ratchet Fire," according to officials.

During a news conference Thursday, May 3, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said the arrests and seizures were the results of people not cooperating in the city's Group Violence Intervention initiative.

GVI targets the people at the most risk of committing and being victims of gun violence by frankly telling them that gun violence won't be tolerated, then giving them the tools and support they need to become better citizens.

In other words, gun violence brings police.

The GVI message is simple: We want you safe. We want you alive. We want you out of prison. And we will help you in any way we can. But if you or one of your group members shoots or kills someone, police and prosecutors from the local level up to the federal level will come down hard and relentlessly on every member of your group for every infraction, no matter how small.

Helfrich said the arrests are not what city officials want.

"If you come to us and want to partner with us, I don't care where you were before, we can help get you to a new future — that's what we want to be doing," he said.

The mayor implored residents to talk with officials.

"Just give us the information so that we can stop this chaos in the city," he said. 

Operation: Federal and local officials showed off about a dozen guns as well as drugs that were seized as part of the joint operation among federal and local authorities.

"This is a true partnership," U.S. Attorney David Freed said. "And it's a partnership that's making a difference."

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Interim York City Police Chief Troy Bankert noted that last year there was a 50 percent decrease in shootings but only a slight reduction in guns being used for other crimes.

“Shootings have been reduced, but gun incidents — not necessarily ... that means that guns are still out on the street," Freed said.

"Operation Ratchet Fire," named because of heroin's street name "fire" and "ratchet" which is the street name for guns, resulted in the seizure of 15 pistols and one AK-style rifle, and of them, six were confirmed stolen, according to officials.

Of the six that were stolen, three had their serial numbers obliterated, authorities said.

"It's not exactly the indication of lawful use of firearms," said Don Robinson, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The seven indicted were Francisco Rivera-Rivera, 26; Axel Pena-Reyes, 24; Jessica Churet, 37; Christopher Cruz-Ortiz, 23; Jaiell Montalvo, 19; Deondre Densby, 35; and Edwin Gabrial Ramos-Reyes, 37.

According to their indictments, Rivera-Rivera and Pena-Reyes sold heroin and other drugs between November and April. Their indictment also alleges that Rivera-Rivera, a convicted felon, was in possession of a firearm during that time.

Pena-Reyes was arrested late last year after police said he shot someone in the 800 block of Fireside Road on Christmas Day in 2016. He was on the lam for almost a year before he was arrested in December.

Rivera-Rivera was arrested in November 2016 after he violently resisted officers trying to arrest him on drug charges, according to officials. He pleaded guilty to simple assault and resisting arrest and was sentenced to two years of probation, according to online court records.

Additionally, the indictments for the other five allege that Curet conspired to distribute 100 grams of heroin. That is equivalent to about 4,000 to 5,000 individual doses of heroin, according to the release.

A confiscated AK-type rifle is among a number of guns, drugs and cash on display that were seized during Operation Ratchet Fire, as officials talk during a press conference announcing the results of operation at York City Hall Thursday, May 3, 2018. The operation resulted in a federal grand jury in Harrisburg indicting seven people on drug trafficking and firearms charges. The six-month investigation was the result of a partnership between the ATF, York City Police, the York County District Attorney's Office, the York County Drug Task Force, and the West Manchester Township Police Department, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney;s Office. Bill Kalina photo

Cruz-Ortiz, Montalvo, Densby and Ramos-Reyes also were indicted on firearms charges, officials said.

Robinson issued a message to anyone considering gun crime in York City: "We are going to get you."

"It's a choice for you to make, either get out of it now or look at the future that these folks have," he said. 

The six-month investigation was the result of a partnership between the ATF, York City Police, the York County District Attorney's Office, the York County Drug Task Force and the West Manchester Township Police Department, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

York County Probation and the U.S. Marshals Task Force assisted in the case.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.