Two gangs from Brooklyn who are said to be responsible for at least 13 shootings, homicides and other crimes, were charged in a 122-count indictment after cops arrested 34 members and seized 16 guns, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced Wednesday.
The gangs, known as the Wooo (We on Our Own) and the Choo, were part of a major investigation, dubbed “Operation Boxed In,” by the Brooklyn North Gang Squad and the DA’s office Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau. The two groups main purpose was allegedly “to fight each other,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez pointed out that not only did they shoot at each other, but several innocent bystanders were hit too.
Gonzalez showed several videos of the actual shootings, including one in which the shooter, identified as Shan Mason, narrated the shooting of a rival and the wounding of a young woman who was in the crossfire.
“I hit a lady in the face, bing,” Mason could allegedly be heard saying in his Facebook Live narration of the shooting he committed. Gonzalez called it “remarkable,” and “a total disregard for human life.”
“One woman was shot in the head and while she is doing okay, she will forever have that trauma,” Gonzalez said. “They were shooting at each other and innocent bystanders were being shot. It is my solemn obligation to keep people safe and that’s what we are doing.”
The suspects range in age from 17-26, with one of them still on the run. Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison identified him as Equan Ware, 20, adding that both a state warrant and a federal FBI warrant have been issued for him, as he is considered “armed and dangerous.”
On Feb. 4, the NYPD announced a 17% increase in crime city-wide and officials say gangs represent a large percentage of those violent crimes throughout the city.
“These arrests will stop violence in troubled neighborhoods and with the focus on precision policing, we expect to bring down violence and especially in recent months,” Harrison said. “These people are the ones pulling the triggers and we are doing this throughout the city.”
Gonzalez said many of the guns that were seized were allegedly used in shootings in Brownsville and other gang related incidents in which “you shoot one of ours, we will shoot two of yours.” The violence sometimes extended into East Flatbush, and Gonzalez said many of the revenge shootings are “inter-generational,” and involve shootings from “many years ago” that had not been avenged.
“Brooklyn is safer today as a result of these arrests,” Gonzalez said, as his attorneys and detectives scanned the weapons on a table in front of them, many of them coming from the southern part of the country such as Georgia. Last week, Harrison stood with Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance where they announced arrests of a gun running ring from Georgia.
In addition to the murder and attempted murder charges, some of the gang members are accused of using young women to act as “Holsters” to carry and transport weapons for gang members, with the idea that the younger women would not face as severe a penalty as the men if caught with a firearm.
Some of those same men are accused of rape including that of a 14-year-old girl. The gang also did small time drug dealing, but more recently, were involved in credit card and financial fraud and other white collar criminal cases to support their life of crime.
Bail reform an issue as crime rises city-wide
Gonzalez has been a proponent of bail reform, though recently that reform has come under fire. This past month, 143 people out on bail committed 280 crimes including robbery and assault in New York City. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea blames part of the increase in crime, 17% this past month, on people released without bail, in addition to those on parole or probation.
“Bail reform was needed as we needed to move away from people buying their way out of jail,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think the system of bail reform is complete and it didn’t allow judges discretion. A lot more needs to be done and we need to move towards elimination of bail, more like the New Jersey model.”
The New Jersey model all but eliminates cash bail for those charged with crimes, instead allowing judges to set different release conditions based on the perceived risk posed by the defendant. Prosecutors are able to request a suspect be held without bail pending trial, if a judge determines they’re unlikely to return to court or pose a serious risk to the community. New Jersey also does a computerized “Public Safety Assessment,” which takes into the account the nature and seriousness of the crime along with the defendant’s adult criminal history – this is used by the judge to determine whether a defendant should be released pending further proceedings, or detained without bail.
The New Jersey model has come under fire from law enforcement groups, especially out of Newark where critics say people being let out of jail without bail were committing new crimes.
“We need to have systems in place that take into account repeat offenders or those who represent a danger to the public,” Gonzalez said. “There were just too many people in Rikers Island that do not need to be there and one shouldn’t be in Rikers simply because they are poor. We must be able to trust judges to do their jobs and it looks like bail reform will work.”
Gonzalez acknowledged the January numbers of those committing crimes while released without bail.
“What I’m saying is bail reform is necessary and a month is too short a time to draw conclusions,” he said.
Gonzalez added that all of those arrested have either been remanded or are being held on high cash bail.