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St. Petersburg police sweep targets drugs, rival gangs

ST. PETERSBURG — Posted on opposite walls in the police Career Offender Tracking and Apprehension unit's office are two organizational charts.

One is labeled: "8-Hype." The other: "Auburn Park Boys."

The charts detail the leadership and membership of two of the city's many neighborhood gangs — young men who police say have dealt drugs and warred with each other for decades.

But the cycle of violence and retaliation between those two rivals has spiked in recent weeks, police said. That's why their territories were targeted by a massive police operation on Thursday.

Officers swept through Harbordale, Bartlett Park and Auburn Park and arrested 15 adults and five juveniles, mostly on charges of possessing and selling cocaine and marijuana.

The violence started in September, police said, and in the ensuing and escalating gunfire a 16-year-old boy was shot in the neck and left paralyzed and an 18-year-old girl was killed.

The death of Latedra Everett — a bystander caught between the feuding neighborhoods — remains unsolved.

The sweep was the culmination of weeks of police work aimed at curbing the violence. Only four of those arrested are considered actual gang members. The rest may be affiliated with the two groups but are nonetheless accused of crimes in those neighborhoods.

St. Petersburg police hope they all get the same message:

"We're watching," said Sgt. Patrice Hubbard. "Straighten out."

• • •

"8-Hype" and the "Auburn Park Boys" are longtime rivals. This latest feud appears to stem simply from a personal beef between a bunch of young people.

"They're not going out and targeting them over drug territory," said police Chief Chuck Harmon. "A lot of this starts out as an argument or something silly and then it just escalates."

Police believe the feud resulted in a shooting outside a carwash Sept. 17 near 18th Avenue S and 28th Street. Two groups exchanged gunfire. One may have been in a white Chevy Impala.

Then, minutes later, four young males in a white Chevy were seen carrying a wounded 16-year-old into the emergency room at Bayfront Medical Center about 10:30 p.m. Then they drove off.

The teenager, who was not identified by police because of his age, was shot in the neck and rendered a quadriplegic, police said. Police believe he may have been involved in the feud.

The next shooting took place Sept. 25 when police said Latedra "Tee Tee" Everett was shot in the head and Jacquez Wallace was shot in the back outside his home at 638 26th Ave. S.

Everett, a Boca Ciega High School senior, was just standing with a group of people who were the real target, police said.

Wallace, a 21-year-old felon, may have been among those targeted, police said, and may be affiliated with "8-Hype." But he told the St. Petersburg Times he doesn't know who shot at him or why.

Police officials admit that only "circumstantial" information has led them to believe all this violence is tied to the two factions.

"Until we close these cases and talk to the people responsible for it," said police spokesman Mike Puetz, "the motivating factors can only be surmised."

Both shootings remain unsolved, which is why the police chief pleaded for the public to help police solve these and other crimes.

"We need the people in these neighborhoods to step up and help us," Harmon said. "We're going to take the people committing these crimes off the streets.

"But we can do a much better job with their help."

• • •

Leading Thursday's sweep was COTA, a new unit formed in September to target repeat juvenile and adult offenders. The department's old gang intelligence unit was folded into the new squad, which is now responsible for gang-related activity in the city.

St. Petersburg police refer to the city's local gangs as "neighborhood groups." An actual gang is defined by Florida law as a criminal enterprise that shares common symbols or colors.

Police say that doesn't define most of the groups that have long vexed the city. They're less organized but still blamed for crime and violence. Membership is mostly geographic. Loyalty is not an issue.

"I call them neighborhood groups because we have those who can live with mom in Auburn Park and then with dad in Harbordale," Harmon said. "So they can belong to Auburn Park and 8-Hype."

But members of "8-Hype," the chief said, were recently certified as a criminal gang. If they're convicted of any crimes, those members could face enhanced sentences.

COTA's detectives spent weeks making their presence known in the targeted neighborhoods, checking probation violators, handing out fliers asking residents to call them and contacting the parents of suspected gang members or associates. They also attended local athletic events to keep the peace.

"One of our main tasks was to infiltrate the neighborhoods where the problems were occurring," said Hubbard, who commands COTA. Meanwhile vice and narcotics officers started identifying suspected drug dealers in the neighborhoods, police said.

Those arrested range in age from 15 to 46. Four of them could face harsher sentences because of their alleged gang affiliation. But only one of those affiliated with a gang was an adult. Apresio Dmon Henry, 18, was arrested on charges of sale and possession of marijuana.

The three juvenile members are all 17, police said, and were arrested on charges including aggravated assault, hit and run, burglary, trespassing and violation of probation. Police did not release their names.

.Fast facts

Help police

St. Petersburg police ask anyone with information about the death of Latedra Everett to call them at (727) 893-7780. Anonymous tipsters can call (727) 892-5000 or text police at (727) 420-8911.

St. Petersburg police sweep targets drugs, rival gangs 12/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 11:46pm]

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