LORAIN — Lorain police cracked down on gang activity on the city’s south side Tuesday and Wednesday, arresting 20 people on charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
Police are still seeking one man — 24-year-old Artis Taylor III — on charges in connection with the sweeping effort to stop the violence that has plagued the city in recent years.
The investigation, which remains ongoing, was launched in October and closed out one killing that police said was related to the rivalry between gangs on the city’s south and west sides.
Eric Witcher’s Oct. 18 death from a heart attack has been ruled a homicide. The 32-year-old Witcher, who police said was from the city’s west side, was part of a fight involving more than a dozen people outside the Luna Del Mar bar on East 28th Street. He died shortly after the fight.
Facing charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and aggravated riot in connection with Witcher’s death are Randy Atkinson, 29, Jason Fowler, 24, Billy Gilbert, 25, Lantous Thorpe, 22, and Cameron Seymore, 27.
Several others also were charged with attacking other people during the October brawl.
All have extensive criminal records, including Thorpe, who served three years in prison for his role in the 2005 stabbing death of a man during a fight on Ely Square in Elyria.
The bulk of those arrested during this week’s sweep were affiliated with gangs on the south side of the city, said Lorain police Lt. James Rohner.
“They’re a menace to society,” he said.
Rohner called those arrested “thugs” who spend their days dealing drugs, robbing and doing whatever they can to make a buck.
“These guys wake up in the morning and their goal is to hustle to get through the day,” he said.
Lorain police Capt. Bill Engle, who heads the special task force assigned to deal with the city’s gang problem, said the gangs aren’t necessarily large groups of highly organized individuals like more famous street gangs in Los Angeles.
Instead, Engle and Rohner said, they’re often small groups of people who will work together and go by names such as the Dirty Thirty, the Hard Bodies, the Campido Boys and ABM, which is short for All ’Bout Money.
Officers analyzed crime patterns and identified repeat offenders to zero in on their core suspects and problem areas throughout the city.
“We targeted the hot spots in Lorain,” such as Long Avenue, North Central Drive, East 30th Street and Globe Avenue, and Fulton Road and East 31st Street, Engle said.
“Most of these repeat offenders are hanging out at those areas,” he said.
The rivalry between south- side and west-side gangs has led to numerous shootings and other violence, which is what prompted police to step up efforts to combat the problem, police Chief Cel Rivera said in a news release.
“Violence imposes a heavy burden on a community, and gun violence takes a particularly heavy toll,” he said. “We know that this violence is usually concentrated among groups of serious offenders, and remarkably clustered among high-risk youth in high-risk places at high-risk times.”
Not all of those charged this week had to be tracked down. Some already were in jail on other charges while others turned themselves in when they learned police were looking for them.
Rohner said during the course of the investigation, police made numerous minor arrests and executed four search warrants, which netted five guns, 1,626 grams of marijuana, 148 grams of powder cocaine, 42 grams of crack cocaine and $3,700 in cash.
Thorpe and two others were arrested during a December raid on a West 25th Street home where police found a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun as well as cash, cocaine, crack and marijuana.
Although the investigation allowed police to file charges in Witcher’s death, two other homicides that police said are tied into the south side-west side feud remain unsolved.
Christopher Hill, 16, died a day after he was shot in the face on June 22 at West 18th Street and Long Avenue. Less than a day later, Rohner said, a retaliatory drive-by shooting at West 13th Street and Long Avenue left 18-year-old Marquis McCall dead.
Even when police have suspects — as they did in the Feb. 3, 2009, shooting death of 35-year-old Christopher Lundberg near West 29th Street and Ashland Avenue — getting charges to stick is difficult.
Two of the men charged as part of the anti-gang sweep, Avery Taylor and Andrew Lorenzana, both 20, were both initially charged in connection with Lundberg’s death, but prosecutors have since dropped the charges. Although the two men remain suspects, the case still is under investigation.
Part of the problem in dealing with gang-related shootings, Rohner said, is the refusal of witnesses and victims to cooperate with police. He recalled numerous instances when a shooting victim would come into the hospital and claim they had no idea who shot them or where it happened.
One of those arrested, Bohannon Miller, 20, is already facing an obstruction of justice charge for allegedly lying to police about McCall’s death.
Police did charge a suspect, Marlo Sanford, with murder in the Hill shooting, but those charges were later dropped because of the difficulty detectives had in getting witnesses to cooperate.
“People are afraid to come forward,” Engle said, adding that he hopes this week’s arrests will prove to people in crime-ravaged neighborhoods that the police can stop criminals and protect ordinary citizens.
It’s a hope shared by Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko, who said he was pleased with police efforts to curb gang violence and stamp out drugs.
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Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.