Prosecutors accuse Colorado prison gang of murder, racketeering
By JON SARCHE
Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) - Prosecutors said Wednesday they have filed murder and racketeering charges against members of a white supremacist prison gang accused of brutally beating an inmate to death, threatening witnesses and trafficking in guns and drugs outside prison walls.
The gang, known as the 211 Crew, has an estimated 300 members throughout the state's prison system, police detective Aaron Lopez said. Lopez said the gang's alleged leader, Benjamin Davis, was ''recruiting killers.''
Indictments unsealed late Tuesday include nearly 70 charges against 24 current and former inmates, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter said. All but two were in custody by Wednesday.
The charges also include assault, witness tampering and drug violations.
Davis, 29, who is serving a 30-year sentence for burglary, faces 15 counts including assault and forcing others to commit assault or distribute drugs.
Five inmates face first-degree murder charges in the Dec. 12, 2001 slaying of Donald Mayfield, who was beaten to death in his cell at the Arkansas Correctional Facility. Authorities believe he was beaten with a padlock.
To join the gang, inmates were required to attack someone, Lopez said, and if released from prison, they were required to send money to members still behind bars. Members outside prison sometimes were required to intimidate witnesses in cases against other members, and they could be targeted for violence themselves if they refused or failed to raise money, Lopez said.
Members most often raised money through gun and drug trafficking and communicated through coded letters and telephone calls. Investigators spent hundreds of hours decoding messages in an effort that ''quite frankly in my opinion saved some people's lives,'' Lopez said.
He compared the gang to the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang active in several states.
Ritter said gang members did not necessarily target minorities, but he said investigators had recorded phone conversations and intercepted letters in which members spoke of attacking minorities.
Lopez identified one member of the 211 Crew as Nathan Thill, who is serving a life sentence without parole for the 1997 slaying of a Senegalese immigrant and the wounding of woman who tried to help the victim. Thill was not charged in the indictment announced Wednesday.
Members of racist prison gangs often have been put behind bars for crimes that don't involve racism, said Mark Pitcavage, director of fact finding for the Anti-Defamation League.
''With most racist prison gangs, any ideology they might have is secondary to their organized crime or criminal enterprise motives,'' he said. ''They're not your typical hate group, they're criminal enterprises that also happen to be hate groups.''
He said the 211 Crew does not appear to have spread beyond Colorado.
Authorities believe the gang took its name from a section of California law on violent crime. Members are often tattooed with ''211,'' swastikas or a shamrock symbol, Lopez said.
Lopez said the investigation began in 2003 after he began looking into a near-fatal assault over a $25 drug debt and ''exploded'' when witnesses told him about the 211 Crew.
The investigation helped Corrections Department investigators looking into Mayfield's slaying, agency spokeswoman Alison Morgan said. The department investigators had identified suspects but the case had been stalled until the Denver police investigation got under way, she said.
''When you deal with criminal behavior and gang behavior in the enclosed environment of prison, the danger is increased exponentially,'' Morgan said.
Morgan said prison gangs are one of the Corrections Department's biggest problems. Gang activity unrelated to the 211 Crew prompted the April 2004 transfer of 121 inmates to a Mississippi prison.
Ritter said other gang members could be arrested if investigators uncover more evidence of organized crime.