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W.Va. officials blame flood of shootings on guns-for-drugs trade

A recent spate of shootings is mostly gang-related and part of a guns-for-drugs trade that continues to bring violence to the city

By Ashley B. Craig and Matt Murphy
Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  A recent spate of shootings in Charleston is mostly gang-related and part of a guns-for-drugs trade that continues to bring violence to the city, Mayor Danny Jones said.

There have been at least nine shootings in Charleston so far this year, including the murder of a teenager on Charleston's West Side last week. It was the second killing in Charleston in 2014. Last year saw just one murder.

Jones and other city officials said the shootings that have plagued the West Side in recent weeks stem from a criminal pipeline from larger cities like Detroit into southern states where guns are typically easier to access.

"They blame our gun laws," the mayor said. "That's not me talking, that's them.

"It's the whole guns-drugs axis we're involved in here in Charleston. They came here with the worst of intentions."

From April 1993 to March of this year, Charleston limited handgun purchases to one per month. The law also required a 72-hour waiting period.

City officials scrapped that ordinance last month after state lawmakers passed a bill, a provision of which would allow the carrying of firearms into city-owned facilities and events where children are often present. Officials hoped the move would convince Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to veto the measure.

That didn't happen. Tomblin signed the bill into law in early March. It greatly reduced the ability of cities like Charleston to control gun sales.

At least nine shootings have happened in Charleston so far in 2014.

Community leaders were planning a public march Wednesday against gun violence.

Tragic and Senseless
The first murder of 2014  a brutal beating in Kanawha City, left an elderly man dead. Police believe it was a robbery that escalated.

Lt. Steve Cooper, chief of detectives, said violent crime is difficult to predict or deter and is rarely random.

"Last year we were pleased that we only had one homicide," Cooper said. "Most crimes of violence take place between two parties that are known to one another.

"Unfortunately, we've had a couple of incidents recently that are just tragic and senseless."

Over the weekend, Richard "Jimmy" Beasley, a bouncer at The Cellar, a Capitol Street bar, was shot more than 12 times while walking two women to their cars on the Boulevard. Beasley remains in critical condition at Charleston Area Medical Center's General Hospital.

His wife, Donna, said he's made progress since he arrived early Saturday. He remains on a ventilator.

"He is moving his fingers and toes," she said. "He is fighting through it. He is stubborn and strong."

She said she wants only family to see him until he's out of critical condition.

Police arrested George Sawyer and Tasheem Collins in that incident. Cooper called it an "ambush, an absolutely senseless crime." Both have been charged with malicious wounding and remain at South Central Regional Jail.

Wednesday saw two shootings. The first occurred just before noon in the 100 block of Glenwood Avenue. Craig Tolley was walking to his vehicle when a stray bullet struck him in the arm.

Construction workers saw the occupants of a gray sedan shooting at three men on foot, who shot back at the car before running away. Police arrested two, identified as Kenneth Gooden, 22, Carlos Gray, 22, in that incident. Both men have local addresses but Cooper said they were recent transplants from Detroit.

Twelve hours later, shortly before midnight, Tymel McKinney, 19, was shot to death while sitting on the porch of his Sixth Street home with friends.

Detectives arrested three individuals, identified as Mark Gaddy, 19, of Detroit, a 17-year-old Charleston boy and Darrell "DJ" Carter, 18, of South Charleston. Each is charged with first-degree murder.

Carter told detectives that he had received orders from a superior in the Sex-Money-Murder gang, which is affiliated with the 7-Mile Bloods in Detroit, to kill McKinney after the Charleston teen somehow "disrespected" the gang, according to a criminal complaint.

Clinton Giles, Capital High School principal, knew McKinney as a former student. He condemned the current spate of violence but said it's something his students know about all too well.

"I don't know any particulars about this situation. I just know there's nothing more precious than a human life and only the power of God and the authority of the state vested in the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the great state of West Virginia -- only those have the power over a life," Giles said last week. "No individual should have that or should believe they have that for any reason."

Cooper emphasized that arrests have been made in all of the shootings.

"With this recent set of incidents it's clear that there's a culture of violence when it comes to the drug trade and out-of-town gang members that come in to sell drugs," Cooper said. "One thing we've done is we have incarcerated every suspect from these recent shootings. Clearly those guys are not going to commit any violence because they're locked up and at this point those guys are locked up tight."

Several of the nine shootings this year appear to have been premeditated.

On New Year's Day, John Charles Scott, 23, of Charleston, was allegedly shot by Michael Underwood, 30, about 2 a.m. in the lobby of Recovery Sports Grill. Jamison Conrad, 37, a Fayetteville attorney, was charged with accessory after the fact to malicious wounding.

On Jan. 19, Michael "Big Mike" Butler, 18, of Charleston, was charged in the shooting of Maylik Watson, 20, also of Charleston. Watson was shot in the face at about 3:20 p.m. at the intersection of Roane Street and Delaware Avenue. Watson survived.

Two months later Timothy Rush, 24, of Charleston, allegedly shot Gontorwon Toweh, 20, of Charleston, at about 11 p.m. March 16 following an altercation at the 7-Eleven on Washington Street West.

Family Feud
The end of March saw a rash of shootings, all tied to a feud between families  the Davises and the Carters.

More than 16 shots were fired the night of March 24 at Littlepage Terrace on the West Side. Micah "Bama" Crawford, 34, of Huntington, and Andre Lee, 29, of Charleston, were both shot. Police named Levi Carter, 28, of Charleston, as a suspect.

The next day, a Mitsubishi coupe and gray pickup truck were spotted driving through the West Side about 2:30 p.m. shooting at each other near J.E. Robins Elementary School. Police arrested Aric Adams, 20, of Buffalo, N.Y., and Justin Davis, 22, of Charleston, near Florida Street Exxon station. Adams and Davis were allegedly in the Mitsubishi.

On Sunday, March 30, Darrell "DJ" Carter and Donte Davis were injured following a shooting around 1:30 p.m. in the 1300 block of Stuart Street. DJ Carter was identified as a cousin of Levi Carter and Donte Davis was identified as the brother of Justin Davis. DJ Carter later was arrested and charged with malicious wounding and wanton endangerment.

That same day, police arrested Levi Carter, who also was wanted on two counts of cocaine distribution, though he was not immediately charged with the Littlepage shooting.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said many of the shootings, including the fatal incident, appear to be gang-related

"You're talking about a very small number of people ... it's not mob violence," he said.

Change From Within
Jones said he believes change must come from city residents themselves.

"The answer to this has to come from within the community," he said.

He called those involved in the weekend shooting at The Cellar "a couple of cowards."

"These are people that have absolutely no concern, have no ability to understand or how to feel bad when they've almost taken a life of a person," he said.

Cooper said there's hope within the community and that the residents are tired of the violence.

"There seems to be a movement in the community on the West Side to take a stand against this culture of violence and the Charleston Police Department fully supports that and fully intends on participating in that, working together to end this recent rash of violence," Cooper said.

"We want everybody on the West Side to feel safe and we want to do everything in our power to work with citizens of the West Side to make that happen."

Copyright 2014 the Charleston Daily Mail

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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