2017-11-30 / Front Page

Years-long gang investigations result in tough sentences for five violators

Local Bloods gang leader Christopher Sims pleaded guilty to multiple charges including violations of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (SGTPA) stemming from gang motivated criminal offenses beginning with a night club shooting at the Lucky Day Café on January 1, 2016.

He also pleaded guilty to gang charges involving conspiracy to harm witnesses to that shooting and drug smuggling crimes all while an inmate at the Wilkes County Jail. Based on a plea recommendation by the state, Toombs Circuit Judge Britt Hammond sentenced Sims to a total of 55 years with the first 25 in prison.

Sims, along with fellow Bloods gang members or associates Savallas Mercier, Nyheim Milton, Nyheim Gartrell and three others who are currently awaiting a bench trial were indicted for a variety of gang motivated offenses under Georgia’s SGTPA in February of this year. Based on the state’s plea recommendations of the state, Judge Harold Hinesley sentenced Milton on May 5, 2017, to 40 years with the first 10 in prison. Mercier was then sentenced by Hinesley on November 13, 2017, to 20 years with the first 10 in prison.

Gartrell, also a Bloods gang member, committed his crimes while awaiting trial in jail for the June 1, 2014, murder of James Edwards. Gartrell was convicted of that offense and is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Since no meaningful additional amount of time could be given to Gartrell, his case was placed on the dead docket.

The three defendants awaiting their bench trials are presumed innocent, according to District Attorney Bill Doupé.

The Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act allows law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office to prosecute those in a leadership role of a street gang, or those who are members of a street gang, or those who associate with a street gang who then commit crimes in furtherance of the gang or in furtherance of their status with the gang.

“A criminal street gang is defined as any group of three or more persons associated, whether formally or informally, who then engage in criminal gang activity,” Doupé explained. “The law allows prosecutors to charge a series of crimes and individuals in one indictment when they are associated with a criminal street gang.”

Well before the Lucky Day Café shooting, Wilkes County Sheriff Mark Moore and his deputies noticed an increase in violent crime in Wilkes County. Reports had been made of groups of young men terrorizing the community, violence at night clubs, drug dealers being robbed, and other thefts. Subsequently, a partnership was formed between the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force.

Task force member Mark Bryngelson worked closely with Wilkes County Investigators Jason Gaddy and Thomas Bailey and opened a case to begin gathering intelligence and form a plan to try and combat the gangs in Wilkes County.

While that investigation was starting, the Lucky Day Café shooting occurred in which Sims had a dispute with the club and entered with a .22 rifle and started shooting. “He made no effort to hide his identity and he didn’t appear worried that everyone knew him,” Doupé said. Two females were struck – one in the back of the calf and the other in the sole of her boot. “Fortunately, no one else was hit,” Doupé added.

Sims was on the run until he was arrested s few months later. While in jail, law enforcement officers received information that he was involved in getting others to bring marijuana and other drugs into the jail where the drugs would then be resold or used. Gaddy then started listening to jail calls where the smuggling was discussed. “It also became apparent that those involved were gang members and spoke in gang ‘code’ in an effort to avoid detection,” Doupé explained. “The law enforcement team then started building a case against the Bloods gang premised on their drug dealing.”

While monitoring the phone calls it was also discovered that Sims was coordinating with others to try and get the victims in the night club shooting to exonerate him. “Sims gave orders to offer money and get the witnesses to sign affidavits.” Doupé continued. “When those efforts failed, Sims instructed Nyheim Milton to kill the two females who had identified him as the New Year’s shooter.”

Once law enforcement heard the threats, Milton was arrested. His phone showed that he had finally located a gun to be used for the killing. Sims was already in custody for another charge.

The investigation showed that Sims was a leader of a Bloods sect in Washington. “His shooting at the night club was a way of gaining respect and fear on the street,” Doupé said.

During the investigation, it was also revealed that Mercier led a Bloodss gang in Tignall. While in custody on other charges Mercier and Sims worked together in an effort to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the jail, according to Doupé.

Also in connection with the SGTPA, in the more recent case of burglary at The Company Store which occurred on June 19, 2017, Jaylan Maddox pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary and a violation of the SGTPA for his role in the burglary of that pawn shop. “That gang is believed to be a variation of the Bloods gang and is known as ‘MTO,’” Doupé said.

Judge Hinesley sentenced Maddox to 20 years with the first five in prison.

The cases for the remaining two defendants in the pawn shop burglaries had to be continued as one of their lawyers was involved in a trial in another county during the Wilkes term of court. Those cases will be tried in the spring. Doupé stressed that the remaining two defendants are presumed innocent until otherwise shown at trial.

“I hope these sentences will deter others from making bad decisions in joining up with gangs and doing crimes,” Doupé stressed, and he also expressed his pride in the way law enforcement in Wilkes County worked with outside agencies to develop this series of cases.

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