N.O. authorities charge 20 alleged gang members

Twenty members of the so-called “3-N-G” gang,” which authorities describe as a bloody Central City drug operation, have been indicted in a sweeping state racketeering case that includes counts for numerous murders over several years.

Most of the defendants already were behind bars, and New Orleans police and other law enforcement officials rounded up two of the four defendants who remained free. The two others, Kentrell “Black” Hickerson, 33, and Kevin “Weefus” Lynch, 32, remained on the loose as of late Thursday, police said.

“Now is the time to turn yourself in,” NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The indictment stems from a multi-agency investigation involving state and federal authorities. It marks the latest in a string of prosecutions targeting violent gangs in the city, in a strategy that takes advantage of state or federal racketeering laws to sweep up known confederates — many of them already facing charges — under a single prosecution. In all, the indictment includes 30 charges against the alleged 3-N-G members.

According to Serpas, half of the 20 men have prior murder arrests on their records, and 18 have been busted on firearms violations.

Among those indicted are several men who have been accused in some high-profile crimes in the city, including the 2011 slaying of toddler Keira Holmes in a courtyard of the former B.W. Cooper housing development.

The clan is named for their stomping grounds at 3rd and Galvez streets in Central City, near the Cooper, now called Marrero Commons. According to the indictment, the group claims territory mostly around Taylor Park, just on the lake side of South Claiborne Avenue. Most of the counts, which fall under a state racketeering statute that Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has turned to with growing frequency, involve drug activity.

But the indictment also alleges several murders and other violence, along with attempts to coerce witnesses and solicit false testimony over crimes allegedly perpetrated by the group. According to the indictment, 3-N-G often took aim at a rival gang known as the “Front of Town Killers,” or the “Calliope Projects Front of Town/A.D. Gang.” Some of the alleged crimes cited in the indictment date back to 2005.

Serpas drew a connection to the indictment last month of 15 alleged members of the “110-ers” gang, in a similar racketeering conspiracy prosecution. Some 110-ers members are accused in the Central City killing last year of 5-year-old Briana Allen while she attended a birthday party.

“There is another very sad common denominator: The killing of innocent children,” Serpas said, citing “another baby killed (from) the ruthless, reckless, cowardly behavior of these gangs.”

Among other killings, authorities link members of 3-N-G to the shooting death of Omar Breaux, whose body was found shot up and pinned under the driver’s side of an overturned Lexus at Earhart Boulevard and South Roman Street in 2009. The indictment claims that two of the indicted men, Hickerson and Quincy “Pizzle” Briggs, later bragged about the murder.

Briggs also is accused of murdering Ricky Cheneau, who was found shot several times with various guns last September in front of a house on South Prieur Street. Police last month booked Briggs in that murder.

Another indicted man, McCoy “Rat” Walker, and associates murdered Jerome “Man-Man” Hampton and popular local rap artist Renatta “Magnolia Shorty” Lowe in December 2010, then bragged about it, according to the indictment. Hampton and Lowe were sitting in a car in New Orleans East when they were shot dead.

One other indicted man, Darrius “Smooth” Knox, is accused of shooting and killing Carlanthony May, in the 2500 block of South Galvez Street in February. Police arrested Knox on that crime a few days later.

The prosecution marks the latest strike from a multi-agency gang unit that Mayor Mitch Landrieu helped form last fall to tackle what city officials claim to be the source of an overwhelming number of killings in the nation’s most murder-prone city: A relatively small gaggle of young black men and youths who belong to about 40 identified neighborhood groups that the city classifies as gangs. All told, the city claims to have identified about 650 members of those groups.

Federal agents, along with New Orleans police, have picked off several 3-N-G members in recent years, gaining convictions and long prison sentences for some of them.

Among them, Kenric “Lil Man” Rodney, who was considered a top leader of the group, was sent away in late 2011 on a 30-year federal prison sentence, convicted of selling crack and planning to distribute heroin and more than five kilograms of cocaine, According to prosecutors, Rodney supplied drugs to lower-level members of the gang, which pushed large volumes of cocaine and heroin throughout the city and to other groups. A jury acquitted an alleged cohort, Derrick Fleming, of all charges in the same trial. Fleming is not named in the indictment, which a state grand jury handed up late Wednesday in a closed courtroom.

In 2010, 3-N-G drug dealer Danquell Miller was sentenced to 25 years in prison, while a pair of associates, brothers Dalton and Lance Bennett, earned life sentences. Ivory Brandon “B-Stupid” Harris is serving a 25-year prison stint for his role in a pair of killings.

Chris “Boogie” McCann, is serving a 6 1/2-year federal sentence for a gun charge. Police said they found McCann with the gun used in 2008 to kill Alvin Wilson, according to court testimony. That allegation, too, is part of the indictment handed up Wednesday.

Hickerson, who was accused of killing Wilson, was acquitted last year after Mark Brooks, who had fingered Hickerson as the shooter, changed his tune on the witness stand, denying he saw Hickerson fire away. Brooks now faces a perjury charge.

Authorities have said 3-N-G’s rivalry with another group led first to Wilson’s murder and then to a 2009 Mardi Gras shooting in which seven bystanders were wounded along the St. Charles Avenue parade route.

Along with McCann, Hickerson, Briggs and Walker, those indicted were: Alfred Clay, Christopher “Lil Chris” Collins, Damien “A.D.” Barnes, Darrius “Smooth” Knox, Demetrich “Meechy” Robinson, Jared “Lil J” Johnson, Kevin “Weefus” Lynch, Lonnie “Rilla” Ingram, Rene “Butchy” Knockum, Ronnell “Nelly” Owney, Tadaro Keller, Terrioues “T-Red” Owney, Tyrone “Biscuit” Knockum, Washington “Dumplin” McCaskill, Dwight “D-White” Bush and Rico “Freaky” Jackson.

Ronnell Owney is accused in the indictment of fatally shooting Floyd Moore on April 28, 2011, when more than 100 shots rang out in the Cooper housing development. Moore was killed while riding his bicycle through the project.

Jackson is accused in the indictment of possessing a gun used to kill Hampton, Lowe and Breaux.

McCaskill is accused of possessing a firearm that later was used to kill Charles “Buck” Anderson inside a house in St. Roch. At the time, Anderson had also been linked to Keira Holmes’ murder.

Tyrone Knockum has previously been indicted in the killing of Holmes, who was slain just days before her second birthday, spurring a widespread public outcry. The indictment accuses Knockum and Terrioues Owney of carrying out that slaying. According to a witness, Knockum, now 22, emerged from a white Chevy Tahoe and fired an assault rifle into the courtyard. He was due in court Thursday for a pre-trial conference in the case, in which he faces charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.

Owney, who also was initially tied to Keira’s slaying, was arrested last year in Georgia on a heroin-trafficking charge stemming from a two-year federal investigation.

Rico Jackson was arrested in 2011 for brandishing a handgun at a New Orleans police officer while fleeing a traffic stop on South Carrollton Avenue. The cop fired his gun at Jackson, but missed.

According to prosecutors, the aim of the racketeering charges is to paint a more thorough portrait of a gang conspiracy for jurors who might otherwise only confront the facts surrounding individual crimes.

“Now we get to tell the whole story,” Cannizzaro said.

The prosecution follows the high-profile indictment last month that corralled 15 alleged members of the “110-ers” gang, named for their turf in the 10th and 11th wards.

According to authorities, the 110-ers are responsible for 15 killings, numerous attempted murders and armed robberies and other violence across the city since 2008, including the Central City killings last year of 5-year-old Brianna Allen and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce.

Critics of the tactic — namely, attorneys for the defendants — argue that prosecutors are attempting to lower the bar for proving their case by linking a variety of disparate crimes that they might not be able to prove individually. Derwyn Bunton, who heads up the Orleans Parish public defender’s office, said the increase in broad racketeering conspiracy cases by Cannizzaro’s office is taking a toll. Because of conflicts with other cases, Bunton’s office can’t represent most of the defendants, so he must find private attorneys to represent them, and pay for it.

More than a month after the indictment in the 110-ers case, Bunton said, still eight of the defendants have not been appointed lawyers.

“I’m not against this kind of prosecution,” he said. “What I’m against is folks seeming to not recognize or just ignore that public defense is not just important but indespensable in the criminal justice system.”

Cannizzaro’s response: Cry me a river.

“If the question is (whether) these are too complicated cases for the courts and the public defender, I simply say that’s too bad, because we’re coming with these cases,” the district attorney said.

The 51-count indictment against the 110-ers — an alleged uber-gang made up of the St. Mary Mafia, the St. Thomas Young’ns and Skull Squad Mafia — was believed to be the most wide-ranging street-gang indictment in New Orleans history.

In the sheer number of defendants, if not the level of violence attributed to them, the indictment unfurled on Wednesday is broader still.

Landrieu unveiled the so-called Multi Agency Gang Unit in November. This week’s indictment marks the third major prosecution that the unit has developed.