PEORIA — Fifteen members of the notorious Bomb Squad street gang conspired with each other to murder, extort and to commit acts of violence within the city of Peoria over the past five years to further their criminal ambition, authorities allege.
A 63-page federal indictment hits the alleged gang members with charges of racketeering conspiracy and violating the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. If convicted, each faces up to life in prison. There are also weapons counts and drug distribution charges as well. Also cited are charges under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR) clause of the U.S. code. Those counts allege the gang members used a dangerous weapon and were willing to kill someone.
And one of the allegations claims the Bomb Squad was linked to the April 8, 2018, shooting at an off-campus Bradley University party, in that Kentrevion Watkins gave a handgun to Jermontay Brock, 16, of 2209 W. Millman St., who then allegedly shot and killed Anthony Polnitz at the party on West Bradley Avenue. Nasjay Murry, 18 and a Bradley University student, was also killed at the same party.
Federal officials, along with state and local authorities, announced the indictment at a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Downtown Peoria. Of the 15 charged in the indictment, five were already in custody. Authorities made early morning raids, mostly in South Peoria, to arrest nine out of the 10 men who weren't being either in state or local facilities.
About 7 p.m. Tuesday, Peoria police said in a news release that Watkins, the final individual being sought in the federal RICO indictment, had been apprehended.
"We have identified the folks who pose the greatest danger to the citizens of the Peoria and there is our focus. We have appropriately and thoughtfully sought penalties or at least laws that carry penalties that are appropriate for that behavior in an effort to debilitate those who would choose violence against rival gangs or against innocents. Our response to that is that it simply must cease," said U.S. Attorney John Childress, who was flanked by local police, federal agents, State's Attorney Jerry Brady and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis.
The sweep is reminiscent of operations that had colorful names like Iron Eagle, Crackshot, Trapline and Blue Horse. The last major federal sweep was part of the Don't Shoot program in 2013, when 14 members of the Zone 4 street gang were targeted. All wound up pleading guilty. A year prior, it was the Bomb Squad street gang's turn. A dozen or so members of that gang were also hit with massive conspiracy charges that carried stiff sentences. All pleaded to sentences ranging from less than five years to up to 15 years behind bars.
This time, there was no colorful name. Childress called it a "traditional law enforcement effort."
And the prosecutor said this case differed from the 2012 case against roughly the same number of men in that the charges were more severe and that there were specific acts involved. The earlier case focused on the men merely being in a gang. Peoria police Chief Loren Marion said the department has been following the principle of focused deterrence where officers target the "worst 1 percent" of the criminals and hope others see what happens and avoid that path.
The new charges allege the gang members sold drugs, shared weapons and used violence to get their way. The indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury last Wednesday but unsealed Tuesday, when the men appeared in court, spends several pages on the inner workings of Bomb Squad, mentioning its "crews" or groups, some of its call signs and some of its activities.
Some of the crimes alleged in the indictment are among the more egregious within the city in the past five years. Among the allegations are:
* That Eugene Haywood, the lead person on the indictment, killed Eric Brown on June 23, 2013.
* That Haywood and two others, Mytrez Flora and Lloyd Dotson, conspired to kill Tyrann Chester on July 15, 2013, believing him to be supplying drugs to a dealer outside the Bomb Squad network.
* That on June 13, 2016, Jovan McCree shot a .308-caliber rifle into a house on South Arago Street and one of the bullets struck an 11-year-old girl as she was sleeping.
With regards to the two homicides, Haywood was picked up as a suspect in the Brown murder initially but not charged in his death. Instead, he pleaded to a weapon offense that netted him two years in prison. And he was linked but never charged in connection with Chester's death.
The charges also allege shootings and beatings of more than 20 unnamed victims and, in one case, an arson that was in retaliation for the death of a fellow Bomb Squad member. Another gang member allegedly stole a dozen or so weapons from a person's house. People's homes and cars were shot at if one of the men charged thought they were linked to a rival gang.
As Tuesday's news conference was ending, some of the men were being arraigned on the charges a few blocks up the street at the U.S. District Courthouse. The small first-floor courtroom was filled. One side had the men's family and friends. The other side had Peoria police officers and federal agents who had worked the case. Of the eight who appeared, all were held pending bond hearings later in the week. The others were set to appear later in the week or next month.
Andy Kravetz is the Journal Star public safety reporter. He can be reached at 686-3283 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.