Police target “89ers” gang for drug crimes

Eight members of an alleged St. Roch-area street gang known as the “89ers” were among 18 people booked or wanted by police after a months-long undercover investigation into drug dealing around North Tonti and Almonaster streets, New Orleans police Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced Friday.

All but two in the group, also known as “T-blocc,” were either in jail already or swept up over the past few weeks for plying crack, heroin and marijuana in the area seven days a week, rain or shine, police said. Serpas said members of the group were so brazen they routinely dealt drugs in front of small children. Surveillance photos show some of them working in front of the ChongWah Express Market.

The group slung their wares “in a very carefree and unconcerned way,” Serpas said. “They acted as if they had no worries in the world.”

Police launched the investigation in September, prompted by several tips to Crimestoppers, and it continued until recently, said Lt. Mark Morrnay with NOPD’s Intelligence Unit.

Serpas said the 89ers gang is among about 40 neighborhood groups that the city has identified as active in drugs or violence in the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has targeted those groups in his “NOLA for Life” campaign, which is aimed at cutting into the city’s nation-leading murder problem.

All of the men arrested or wanted from the federally funded drug operation have prior drug charges, and several have arrests on a variety of gun crimes, burglary, domestic violence and other crimes. Their ages range from 18 to 59.

Serpas said most of the group was caught up in the operation.

“The narcotics unit went through this gang pretty rough. I think we got pretty much all of them,” he said.

All eight of the alleged 89ers members face new drug charges. Six have been booked: Marquette Chambers, 35; D’Oliver Pierre, 18; Tommie Winley, 26; Armando Amador, 20; Welton Leblanc, 24; and Jermaine Armstead, 40, who served 13 years on a manslaughter count before being paroled in 2011.

Remaining free late Friday were Eddie Dokes, 43, on a marijuana distribution count, and Gerald Chambers Sr., 59, on a count of dealing crack. Combined, the two men have a dozen felony arrests and 27 misdemeanor arrests on their criminal records, police said.

Serpas took note of the ages of Dokes and Chambers and their arrest records, arguing that they signal a break down in the criminal justice system.

“Once we looked at their rap sheets, it became painfully clear, again: Where are the consequences for these men who use drugs and weapons as their business? They don’t want to be rehabilitated,” Serpas said. “They chose to be criminals. They chose to be drug dealers. They chose to put children at risk.”

In addition to the gang members, nine others were arrested and a tenth was issued a municipal citation for marijuana possession in offshoots of the investigation.

Among them, two men — Kenneth McDaniel, 30, and Timothy McDaniel, 29 — were busted for possession with intent to distribute crack and marijuana, as well as possession of stolen property and possession of a firearm while holding drugs. Police said the gun was stolen.

Jimmie McDonald, 53, Timothy Humprhey, 52, and Sherman Mayo, 58, face various drug possession counts, though it’s unclear how the gang investigation touched on them. Nickey James, 38, and Keiante Ellis 18, both were booked for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, while Frank Horn, 46, and Edward Good, 53, each were booked on outstanding warrants for heroin and crack cocaine.

NOPD detectives Melvin McCullom and Travis Brooks sparked the investigation. Police with NOPD’s Intelligence and Major Narcotics units were assisted by the Jefferson Parish and St. Bernard sheriff’s offices, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the multi-agency Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force and state Probation and Parole.