LITTLE ROCK—Multiple gang members are among the dozens of individuals arrested in a major law enforcement operation targeting violent criminals in central Arkansas. Thursday's early-morning takedown highlights the coordinated work of federal, state, and local agencies to combat drug and gun crime in Little Rock, and is part of both new and continuing efforts by all law enforcement in the area to address the rise in violent crime.
Cody Hiland, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Stephen G. Azzam, Special Agent in Charge of the New Orleans Field Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), announced Thursay’s arrests, as well the unsealing of 13 indictments and two complaints charging 49 individuals with dozens of federal gun and drug-trafficking crimes. The indictments were presented as part of a collaborative violent-crime reduction initiative in the greater Little Rock area.
The overall operation, led by the DEA and assisted by the FBI, resulted in 21 people arrested on Thursday morning and is the product of the combined efforts of the law enforcement agencies comprising the GET Rock task force. Early Thursday morning hundreds of officers from multiple agencies executed arrest warrants for the charged suspects. Nine defendants remain fugitives. Included in the arrests were multiple members of Little Rock's two dominant gangs — Bloods and Crips.
Agents also executed 11 search warrants, which resulted in agents seizing 21 illegally possessed guns, body armor, 9.6 pounds of cocaine, 4 ounces of methamphetamine, 7.2 ounces of crack cocaine 12 ounces of marijuana, 5 grams of heroin, 293 ecstasy pills, and 93 pint bottles of promethazine cough syrup. Agents also seized approximately $50,000 in drug proceeds, 4 cars, and 1 motorcycle.
This operation is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department's renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney's Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.
“Gangs use violence to try to assert a false sovereignty over our neighborhoods, but they will fail,” Attorney General Sessions said. “The Department of Justice is committed to reducing violent crime in America. That's why we have restored our Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which customizes our crime reduction strategy in each of our 94 U.S. Attorney districts. Federal, state, and local law enforcement in Arkansas has prioritized dismantling gangs—and together we are producing results. Today's arrests are the next steps toward taking back our streets.”
Hiland made clear that the people arrested in this operation are the type of criminal he is most determined to remove from our communities.
“A team of over 250 agents and officers from law enforcement agencies across our state came together this morning to begin the process of dismantling violent gangs and removing dangerous people from the streets, with the goal of making our community a safer place,” Hiland said. “These agents also took drugs and violent people off the street today—people we believe endanger the lives of law-abiding citizens and endanger the future of our children with their toxic influence. Since I took this position, I have said that targeting violent offenders will be a priority for this office, and we are committed to that priority. Today's operation is a victory over gang, gun, and drug violence, but is just the start of what the combined resources of these law enforcement agencies can do.”
“These arrests should serve as a warning and send a clear message—we will relentlessly pursue these violent criminals and drug traffickers plaguing our communities and bring them to justice,” Special Agent in Charge Azzam said. “Our neighborhoods deserve to exist without fear and intimidation inflicted by violent drug gangs. These dangerous criminals arrested today were responsible for infesting our communities with more than drugs—they also threatened our citizens with guns and violence. The DEA stands here today with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, confident that we have dismantled these violent drug trafficking organizations and made the streets in these communities a safer place to live.”
The DEA served as lead agency while working in conjunction with GET (Gang Enforcement Task Force) Rock during the operation. GET Rock was formed at the request of Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson in response to the escalation in gang and gun violence in Little Rock, highlighted by the July 1, 2017, mass shooting at the Power Ultra Lounge in Little Rock that injured 28 people. Nine central Arkansas law enforcement agencies—the U.S. Attorney's office, FBI, DEA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), U.S. Marshal's Service, Little Rock Police Department (LRPD), Pulaski County Sherriff's Office (PCSO), Arkansas State Police (ASP), and Arkansas Community Correction—comprise GET Rock, which is coordinated out of the FBI Little Rock field office and continues to serve as the clearinghouse for all gang-related law enforcement actions in Little Rock.
“With these arrests and indictments, we are serving notice that Arkansas will not tolerate the reign of terror by those who traffic in illegal drugs, illegal guns, and rule by intimidation,” Governor Hutchinson said. “I applaud the work of all of the agencies who participated in this investigation and dangerous round-up of suspects. Our newly formed GET Rock team has demonstrated that cooperation across agencies at all levels is an effective approach to identifying and apprehending gang members and others who threaten the lives of our citizens. These officers have taken great risks on our behalf, and I thank them on behalf of all those whose neighborhoods are a little safer today.”
“Violent street gangs, including the Wolfe Street Crips and the Monroe Street Hustlers, have a long history of crime and violence in the Little Rock community,” FBI Little Rock Field Office Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch said. “We are determined to hold accountable these individuals who have paralyzed our community. We appreciate and applaud the efforts of this amazing team of law enforcement agencies.”
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, a former prosecutor, praised the city's law enforcement officers in the successful operation.
“The impact of today's arrests will go a long way toward bringing safety back to the streets of Little Rock,” Mayor Stodola said. “Our citizens deserve to live without fear, without the nightly crack of gunfire piercing the darkness of night. Drugs and guns are a deadly mix which often ends in a homicide. Those who insist on mixing the two with criminal activity must be taken off the streets. Our thanks to the 250 law enforcement officers from our federal, state and local law enforcement agencies who, with the actions taken today, are making our streets safer.”
Hiland announces new program designed to produce more federal prosecutions On Thursday, the heads of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies attended a press conference announcing these arrests, during which time Hiland also announced a major PSN initiative his office is implementing that is designed to marshal the combined resources of federal and state law enforcement to remove violent, repeat criminals from the streets of central Arkansas.
Overall, violent crime increased approximately 5.52% from 2016 to 2017 in Little Rock, including increases in homicides, rapes, and burglaries. The largest increase was in the number of aggravated assaults, which jumped from 2,229 in 2016 to 2,556 in 2017. Guns are used in a vast majority of these assaults.
At the press conference, Hiland introduced Joann Rhodes, a Little Rock grandmother who was nearly killed last Friday afternoon when a bullet pierced her windshield inches from her head while she was driving on 12th Street in Little Rock. Rhodes also lost a son to gun violence four years ago.
“In response to a continued spike in violent crime, the Little Rock Police Department joined resources with our local, state and federal partners,” LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner said. “Our collective efforts have resulted in a significant takedown of many individuals responsible for crimes in our community. Little Rock is grateful to everyone who has assisted to keep the capital city safe. We remain committed to pursuing the individuals responsible for heinous crimes in our city.”
Recognizing the need to address the acute and immediate threat that gun violence is having on our communities—which includes people like Ms. Rhodes—Hiland seeks to use the full force of his office and federal firearms statutes, which provide significant punishment for repeat offenders and felons who possess guns. Without similar punishments in the state system, it is prosecution in the federal system—which has no parole—that provides a recognizable deterrent for these violent criminals.
“To those who have held our communities hostage to your violence, to those who have declared war in our neighborhoods with little fear of retribution, we are coming for you,” Hiland said. “We will seek your removal by any means available to me under federal law. The announcement of this program is your warning—my office, along with the shared resources of all of our local, state, and federal partners—stands ready to do what needs to be done to take you off the streets, and make our communities safer places. Everyone in the law enforcement community shares this goal.”
Under this PSN initiative, the Eastern District of Arkansas will greatly increase its capacity to federally prosecute violent crimes involving guns and drugs by enlisting the help of attorneys currently working for various state offices. These attorneys will be deputized as Special Assistant United States Attorney's (SAUSAs) and given authority to prosecute cases in federal court.
Six county prosecuting attorney's offices (Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Jefferson, Lonoke, and White) have offered prosecutors to assist in federal court. Additionally, the Attorney General's office and the Governor's office have volunteered attorneys to serve as SAUSAs. In total, approximately 13 SAUSAs will initially serve the Eastern District of Arkansas, allowing the office to prosecute far more cases in federal court.
Hiland's office has already begun increasing its caseload. In December and January, the U.S. Attorney's office opened approximately 50 new gun cases, many of which originated with an arrest by a local police department. Thus far in February the office is reviewing another 20 gun cases, and Hiland pledges to work with the Pulaski County prosecutor's office to review every gun arrest that occurs in Pulaski County for potential federal prosecution.
“I am proud to join U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland in the important fight against violent crime,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said. “The addition of Special Assistant United States Attorneys will help law enforcement curtail unnecessary violence and lock criminals up for the gun crimes they commit. No Arkansan should live in fear and I am confident that prosecuting and removing dangerous criminals from our streets will make our neighborhoods safer.”
“This initiative will enhance coordination and cooperation among the local, state, and federal agencies tasked with keeping our communities safe, and in reducing gun violence in particular,” Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said. “I can say with confidence that prosecutors throughout the counties of the Eastern District of Arkansas welcome this outreach effort and will put it to good use for the public we serve. The violence on our streets must stop, and this is a terrific effort to that end.”
Hiland's gun initiative would not be possible without the assistance of both the local prosecuting attorney's offices and the local police departments, as well as federal partners such as the ATF. Many of the cases these SAUSAs will prosecute in federal court will begin with arrests by the LRPD, PCSO, North Little Rock Police Department and the Arkansas State Police, and then move into the federal system with the help of the ATF. The ATF will provide expertise and the logistical and technical support of special agents to allow cases that began with state arrests to proceed in the federal system.
“ATF remains committed to the detection, investigation, and prosecution of individuals who would illegally possess and utilize firearms in crimes of violence,” ATF Little Rock Resident Agent in Charge Jeff Reed said. “We applaud this new effort to enforce federal gun laws on violent criminals who want to take the law into their own hands. ATF will work in lockstep with the United States Attorney's Office to accomplish the removal of the threat posed by those individuals who would enforce their will upon the citizens of Arkansas by illegally possessing and using of firearms.”
The new SAUSAs are expected to begin prosecuting federal cases in the coming weeks. On Thursday, thirty-one of the 49 defendants included in the operation are charged in two indictments. In 2017, law enforcement identified Clifton Thomas and Marvin Collins as founders of a local Bloods-affiliated gang, Real Hustlers Incorporated (RHI). The gang, known to frequent the area of Monroe and Brown Streets in Little Rock, started as the Monroe Street Hustlers and changed its name to RHI due to mounting and unwanted attention from the LRPD. RHI, which promotes itself as an organization for rap artists, utilizes 5108 31st Street in Little Rock as a music studio, and as a location for distribution of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone, and other controlled substances.
The mass shooting at Power Ultra Lounge was precipitated by the rivalry between RHI and the Wolfe Street Crips, which is a local Crips-affiliated gang in Little Rock. Police identified various RHI members as having participated in the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, and in subsequent retaliatory shootings involving Dewquan Johns, James Langford, Rodney Scott, Damien Young, and Edmond Blue (all of whom are indicted as part of this operation), among several others.
The DEA, using court-authorized wiretaps of various phones, identified gang members and the drug and gun crimes the gang was committing. Charges in the Thomas indictment include conspiracies to distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, felon in possession of firearms, and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking. Included among the defendants is Bilal Johns Muhammad, identified as a long-time leader in RHI, and formerly the Monroe Street Hustlers. Two of Bilal Johns Muhammad's sons—Bilal Sean Muhammad and Kain Jordan—were also indicted in the case.
The DEA and GET Rock also identified another 18 defendants as part of a drug trafficking organization headed by Robert Turpin III. The investigation revealed that Turpin was distributing ounce quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, as well as thousands of oxycodone and alprazolam (Xanax) pills in the central Arkansas area. Turpin was found to be importing pharmaceutical drugs from India for illicit distribution, and during the course of the conspiracy more than 150,000 pills were obtained and distributed.
Furthermore, the Turpin organization was responsible for the transportation and distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, pharmaceutical controlled substances and money to and from Texas, Massachusetts, and North Carolina using personal and commercial vehicles, the United States Postal Service and FedEx. This organization also trafficked in firearms and has engaged in firearm-related violence in the Little Rock area. Law enforcement agents carried out the operation that resulted in the arrests of 15 of the 18 indicted members of the Turpin organization on Feb. 14, 2018.
Also arrested Thursday morning was Chris Alexander, a member of the Wolfe Street Crips and purported community activist who has promoted anti-gang and violence programs in Little Rock in the past. Alexander, along with fellow gang member Kenya Davis, who is still a fugitive, was indicted on marijuana conspiracy and distribution charges. Alexander was also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking.
These cases were investigated by the DEA Little Rock District Office Task Force Group 2— composed of DEA special agents and task force officers from the ASP, PCSO, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Saline County Sheriff's Office, and Benton Police Department. Also involved in the investigation was FBI, ATF, United States Marshals Service, LRPD, North Little Rock Police Department, Arkansas Community Corrections, and the Arkansas National Guard Counter-Drug Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Anne Gardner is heading the prosecution of these cases.
An indictment or complaint contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.