Dozens of charges filed against 32 alleged gang members

Dozens of charges filed against 32 alleged gang members »Play Video
TACOMA -- Nearly three dozen accused gang members were in court Wednesday to face a myriad of gang-related charges from attempted murder to assault, theft and robbery.

Prosecutors say all 32 defendants were members of the "Hilltop Crips" gang, one of the oldest and most violent street gangs in the Pierce County area. They are charged with plotting and carrying out a crime wave that terrorized a lot of people in Tacoma.

Prosecuting attorney Mark Lindquist took the unusual step of charging the alleged gang members with criminal conspiracy - a move typically reserved for organized crime figures.

"This is a significant case because it is the first time in Washington we've used the conspiracy statute to go after gang crimes on this scale," Lindquist said.

Deputies rounded up the group in a sweep across Pierce County Tuesday morning after a lengthy undercover investigation using informants and secret cameras.

Tensions rode high through the proceedings amid heavy security, with frequent outbursts by family members and one instance where an angry defendant got up and tried to walk off. Deputies had to grab him and take him back to his cell.

Prosecutors say they group were committing crimes on a daily basis, including strong-arm robberies with guns, assaulting people for their wallets and keys and ripping jewelry off the necks of their victims. Overall, 51 charges were filed over 22 separate incidents.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors asked for $1 million bail for each defendant, saying they are a continued threat to the public.
Lindquist is hopeful they've broken the back of the Hilltop Crips, and many neighbors are glad to see them off the streets.

Rev. Chris Morton helped set up Block Watch groups to keep tabs on trouble.

"We've got 90-some blocks here in Hilltop," he said. "Forty of them have block groups, and they are active."

That activism has helped clean up the Hilltop area to some extent, but neighbors wonder how long it can last.

Meanwhile, Police and prosecutors won't say they cut-off the head of the organization, but stress they've done more with this sweep than ever before.

"I'm not really going to comment on who's the boss, who are the lieutenants," Lindquist said. "What I will say is this is a major step to reducing gang violence."

Three other members of the gang are still wanted by police.