Federal trial begins for 12 alleged members of York City's Southside gang
Click here to read the defendants' federal superseding indictment.
Trial began this week in Harrisburg's federal court for 12 alleged York City gang members who were among 21 men indicted a year ago on racketeering and related charges — the culmination of a massive two-year investigation into gang-related violence and drug dealing.
Nine of the co-defendants have pleaded guilty, officials said. Trial began Wednesday for the dozen remaining defendants with opening statements and testimony from prosecution witnesses, police said.
All 21 are alleged to be current or former members of the Southside gang, which operates in a southeastern portion of the city called "The Jungle," according to their federal indictments, handed down in September 2014. At the time, 15 of them were serving state or county prison sentences, officials have said.
The trial is expected to last about 12 weeks.
"We believe it's going to go through December," York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said, adding he and other members of his command staff will be sitting in on the trial periodically.
Numerous witnesses: He said between 40 and 50 city officers were on the federal prosecutor's original list of testifying witnesses, although that number could change. The list includes at least one homicide detective, who is expected to testify to Southside's connection to about a dozen city homicides, Kahley confirmed.
"It was a very big project for our police department," he said. "We're glad it's finally coming to trial."
York City Police, along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the York County District Attorney's Office and state and local police, collaborated to combat city violence, according to the chief.
"Initially it had to do with all the gun violence that was taking place several years back," he said. "We wanted to (target) the individuals who were causing the violence. The investigation ended up being centered around the Parkway and Southside criminal street gangs and their ongoing (dispute)."
Much of the violence and gunfire in the city can be blamed on street gangs, Kahley said.
Turf, respect: Parkway and Southside have clashed for at least two decades, according to officials.
"Some of it is turf-related, some of it is respect-related," the chief said. "For criminal street gangs, respect is a big thing. If one group disrespects another, there can be major consequences."
A mere look can spark violence, according to Kahley — and victims of that fallout aren't always gang members.
On May 10, 2009, a "beef" between members of the two rival gangs led to gunfire in the 500 block of South Duke Street. A stray bullet killed 9-year-old Ciara "CeCe" Savage of Lancaster City as she and about five other children played on the block.
"There's only a certain group of people who engage in violence, and it's a small subset of people," Kahley said. "So if you can remove them from the population, things get better."
'Too much money': But the effect is short-lived, according to the chief.
"After a while someone steps in to take up the slack," Kahley said. "New people step in because there's too much money to be made (from drug trafficking)."
Back when he was a sergeant, Kahley supervised the city's Street Crime Reduction Unit, known as the "Red Shirts," which focused on gang-related crime and violence.
Through presentations, he educated the public about York's gangs.
The chief said stopping gang violence — and gang growth — in York City will require early intervention and prevention programs when kids first start dabbling in crime and before they become entrenched in the lifestyle.
"There's no way you can beat this problem by arresting people," he said. "We have to start looking at the root causes."
Hybrids: Gangs are nothing new to York City, Kahley said.
"York is very much an area of hybrid local gangs," he said, including Southside, Parkway and the 600s, also known as Westside. "And we've always had an influx of (national) Latin Kings."
In the mid-1990s, national gangs such as the Bloods tried to establish footholds in York City, but local gangs banded together and fought to retain their drug turf, leading to much gunfire, the chief said.
Most now realize it's better to work together when it comes to drug trafficking, leading to affiliations between local gangs and national gangs, according to Kahley.
That includes a connection between Southside and the Bloods, according to the defendants' federal indictments.
"Then everyone's making money, rather than five or six guys coming down here from a Blood set and trying to start something," he said.
The defendants: On trial are Tyree "Ree" Eatmon, Marc "Marky D" Hernandez, Douglas "Killer" Kelly, Roscoe "P Shawn" Villega, Eugene "B Mor" Rice, Jalik "Murder Cat" Frederick, Brandon "B Or" Orr, Angel "Pocko" Schueg, Anthony "Kanye" Sistrunk, Rolando "Mico" Cruz Jr., Jabree "Minute" Williams and Maurice "Mo" Atkinson, according to Dawn Mayko, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg.
Eatmon's half-brother, James "Doocs" Abney, who authorities said was one of the leaders and main enforcers of Southside, pleaded guilty in August to federal racketeering and drug-conspiracy charges, according to federal records. He is awaiting sentence.
At the time of the indictments, officials said the gang had about 100 members.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.