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Officials: Activities down for local gangs

POSTED: September 10, 2008 5:01 a.m.
For The Times/

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To local law enforcement, Charles Douglas Graham represents the most violent and troubling era of Hall County’s street gang activity.

But as a Wednesday sentencing hearing looms for the reputed leader of Gainesville’s B.O.E., or "Busting on Everybody" gang, officials say the kind of gang-related crimes that landed Graham on their radar have decreased dramatically and membership in gangs has plummeted from its peak.

"It’s been an unusually quiet summer," said Hall County Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Ware, commander of the Gainesville-Hall County Gang Task Force. "Since the unit’s inception in 1997, this is the slowest summer I can remember regarding gang activity."

Car break-ins, vandalism and small-time drug sales make up the bulk of gang-related crimes these days. The shootings and assaults that prompted the creation of the task force are now few and far between.

Hall County’s gang unit was formed in response to a 1997 fatal drive-by shooting on a Sunday afternoon outside the Burger King on Athens Street. Police said the two rival gangs involved in the shooting were the "Brown Side Vatos," or BSV, and "Puchachos." One of the alleged shooters, Juan Bayona, was just arrested this year after 11 years as a fugitive.

Hall County’s worst gang violence occurred in 2002, when members of B.O.E. fired outside a birthday party on Smallwood Road, killing two teenagers. Graham, then 15, was accused of being the gunman in the drive-by shooting but a jury acquitted him of murder charges.

Gang task force members were in court two weeks ago to hear a Hall County jury return a guilty verdict against Graham for the sale of cocaine and Ecstasy. It was his first felony conviction.

"I think he’s being held accountable for his crimes, and that’s very satisfying to myself and everyone else that’s dealt with him since he was a juvenile," Ware said.

And while authorities acknowledge that Graham is just one person, they believe his conviction dealt a serious blow to B.O.E., one of five documented street gangs that remain active in the area.

"He was an organizer," said Hall County Sheriff’s Capt. Woody Tripp, commander of the criminal investigations division. "Anytime you can remove an organizer, it’s significant. It’s like cutting the head off the body."

With several of Graham’s former cohorts already serving lengthy prison terms in connection with a series of shootings last year in which no one was injured, the ranks of B.O.E. are effectively decimated, Ware said.

"A lot of the older members and founding members are locked up," Ware said. "With that and (Graham) being convicted, the gang’s not nearly as active as they once were."



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