Indictments provide inside look at city's crime problem
If you want to know why crime is so rampant in the city of Youngstown and why some neighborhoods have become virtual prisons for honest citizens, read the front page story in Monday's Vindicator headlined "Grand jury indicts gang in crack sales."
Particular attention should be paid to the comments of Lt. William Powell, Youngstown Police Department vice squad commander. Here's what Powell had to say about the indictment of 14 members of the East Side gang called the Ayers Street Playas:
"Many of them have real serious arrests, but convictions fall off because of the intimidation factors. If you shoot at someone and you're not convicted, it adds to your legend."
The indictment was issued by a Mahoning County grand jury based on evidence of 51 undercover drug buys.
Bonds: Twelve of the accused were arraigned Monday by Judge Jack Durkin of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, who is deserving of praise for setting bonds that reflected the seriousness of the charges. The judge asked for cash or surety bonds ranging from $50,000 to $80,000.
As of Monday, five of the 14 were released from jail, while two were at large.
The indictment charges criminal gang activity and trafficking in crack. If successfully prosecuted, the defendants could be imprisoned for a minimum of eight years.
Surprise arrests began Friday morning and police seized guns, crack, marijuana and a truck. But the investigation by the police department's gang unit was launched 10 months ago and "was a nightmare from day one," in the words of Patrolman Mike Lambert.
The drug buys -- $20 rocks of crack -- were made by active gang members and an undercover agent from the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
The 25-member Ayers Street Playas operated in a brazen and arrogant fashion. According to police, the gang controlled all drug trafficking in the area of Ayers Street and Himrod and Wilson avenues, known to drug users as "La La Land." They ruled by intimidation.
The drug trade on Ayers Street went on day and night. Gunfire was a common occurrence.
Two of the gang leaders, Sean Rushton and Ashanti Bunch, went on trial after a 1995 shooting that killed 23-year-old Craig Jackson, a drug dealer. A jury acquitted them.
Now they're back, and it's up to the county prosecutor's office to develop an airtight case against them and the others accused. What must not happen is for these gang members to walk on a technicality. That would simply fuel the gang activity in the city of Youngstown.