New Orleans “Taliban” gang targeted in state indictment

A state grand jury has handed up a racketeering indictment accusing eight alleged members of a street gang known as “The Taliban” with meting out violence and other intimidation in the Pigeon Town area, including a brazen drive-by shooting on the Pontchartrain Expressway that killed a man in 2011.

According to the 13-page indictment, the group primarily operates in the area bordered by Monroe, Gen. Ogden, Green and Hickory streets.

Also referred to in the indictment as “Hot Glocks” or “P-Block,” the gang is among the 40 or so street groups that police, prosecutors and a multi-agency task force set up by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office last year blame for an inordinate share of the city’s infamous murder epidemic.

Among the crimes that its members allegedly committed was the killing of Ralph Bias, 20, shortly after noon on Jan. 5, 2011, on Interstate 10 near the Broad Street overpass. Bias and the passenger of the car, who also was shot but survived, both had been targeted by Taliban members, the indictment claims.

The 12-count indictment marks the sixth and latest stroke by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office in a campaign to sweep up suspected members of violent street groups by weaving a net of seemingly disparate crimes into a single indictment.

“What you see in this strategy is the ability to take a single, isolated event and be able to use this racketeering statute to build a context to this event,” said Cannizzaro spokesman Christopher Bowman, who described a campaign of violence and intimidation by the group that has rippled through the neighborhood.

Defense attorneys call it a politically motivated tactic that clogs the court and lets prosecutors weave far-fetched, guilt-by-association tales to bolster weak cases. Indicted Wednesday were Dale “Check Peazy” Elmore, 22; Jamal “Malloyn Calloyn” Harris, 25; Seyuntray “Brotha” Noel, 24; Tyrone “Tyga” Davenport, 24; Jerome “Sookie” Toliver, 22; Cornie “Porch” Jones, 24; Darryl “Dino” Bannister, 27; and Tyrone “Goggles” Brooks.

Only Brooks remained at large Thursday morning as authorities searched for him.

Elmore, Harris and Davenport all were indicted in 2011 on counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder for Bias’ killing and the wounding of a passenger, then 19, in the spray of gunfire near the Broad Street overpass. Noel was indicted as an accessory after the fact in Bias’ killing.

The move riled attorneys for the men accused of participating in the freeway shooting. Their trial on murder charges was slated to begin Monday after more than two years. Now, the case essentially returns to the beginning, with the new racketeering and murder charges replacing the previous murder charges.

Noel’s attorney, Nandi Campbell, said he could have gotten out of jail on an earlier deal in the case, but refused to plead guilty.

“He’s been sitting, waiting for his day in court. Now, when his day in court is about to come up, it seems the DA is using this racketeering law to, in effect, get a continuance on cases they can’t prove and denying him his constitutional right.”

Rick Teissier, the attorney for Harris, one of the alleged drive-by shooters, echoed that sentiment.

“The murder case against Jamal Harris is beyond weak. There was no way in the world that he would get a conviction on that charge,” Teissier said. “My guess is the DA’s using it as a tool to get pleas, as a hammer, because he knows he can’t try them. But why do you wait three years? Why does he get to keep ‘em in jail for another three years?”

Cannizzaro has made an aggressive point of wielding the once-obscure state racketeering statute, which is modeled on a federal law created to hammer at organized crime.

“I think Leon should stop trying to act like he’s on Camp Street. His concept that he’s (former U.S. Attorney) Jim Letten at Tulane and Broad is bananas. Tulane and Broad is not made for these kind of cases. It never was,” Teissier said.

Bowman dismissed the idea that such cases shouldn’t be tried in the criminal courthouse. Cannizzaro “has said he intends to use every weapon in his prosecutorial arsenal to go after those people who are committing crimes of violence on the streets, and this is an example of that.”

Bias had been driving a black Chevrolet Camaro when a silver sport utility vehicle rolled up on the freeway, He had been shot at several times previously, a source in the District Attorney’s Office said, before the fatal spray of gunfire sent his car veering into the breakdown lane.

The shot passenger, identified only as “C.M.” in the indictment, survived and is cooperating in the drive-by case.

The source said C.M. was also a witness to the murder of a family member in a 2007. That man, 18-year-old Warren Martin, was killed about three blocks from The Taliban’s alleged turf. Prosecutors say the freeway shooting was one of several attempts by the alleged gang members to threaten or kill both men, including attempts on C.M.’s life before and after the drive-by shooting.

“They made every effort to try to snuff this guy out,” said a source in the District Attorney’s Office.

Davenport and Harris are accused in the indictment of trying to kill C.M. on June 1, 2010.

The indictment also accuses Toliver, Jones and Bannister with trying to kill C.M. and another person identified only as “J.L.” around Mar. 31, 2012.

The three men were charged in that case in May with attempted second-degree murder and intimidating or injuring a witness.

“This is a group that is continuously perpetrating violence, using it as a means to an end to try to accomplish an objective that makes them particularly dangerous,” Bowman said. “It’s bigger than this one incident.”

Members of the group also threatened another person, identified as “W.D.,” on the same day that Bias was shot, the indictment states.

Toliver and Elmore also are accused in the indictment of possession of a firearm and cocaine. Jones, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile, also is accused of gun possession by a felon.

Days after Bias was gunned down on the freeway, his remains were mistakenly cremated after what Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard called a foul-up between his office, the crematorium and the funeral home, according to a Times-Picayune report at the time.

The indictment was handed up by a special grand jury created this year to handle new gang racketeering cases.