The seven youths charged with wearing masks and robbing a Huber Heights AT&T store while carrying guns are affiliated with two local juvenile gangs, officials say — the latest indication of an uptick in crime by young members of armed gangs.
“We’re on a downhill (slide) right now. It’s getting bad,” said Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office detective Brian Shiverdecker, who has tracked area youth gangs since 2009. “Juveniles are getting more volatile, more violent as they come up.”
The seven charged suspects in the Huber Heights robbery include two 15-year-olds, four 16- or 17-year-olds and one 18-year-old. The two gangs they belong to, according to Shiverdecker, are known as Uptown and 2Hunnid; four to six other juvenile gangs also operate in the county and together they have about 100 members, he said.
The sheriff’s office has numerous photos of juvenile suspects posing with guns, drugs and cash.
‘They want to live a special life’
Shiverdecker said the members of these groups are not “wanna-be gangsters,” a term often used to describe someone who talks in the language of the street, but doesn’t necessarily live the life.
“I hate to say it, but we are seeing more crimes like this that involve juveniles to where a gun is in play. If they don’t have access to the gun, they’ll steal it from somebody that does,” Shiverdecker said. “We are dealing with kids that are legitimate gang members that run from the police, do not listen to any type of authority.”
The allure of easy money and the willingness to use guns to get it has made Montgomery County’s juvenile gangs increasingly dangerous, Shiverdecker and other law enforcement experts say. They are also not surprised when someone with much to lose is among those charged.
Caleb W. Johnson, 18, the only adult charged in the Huber Heights armed robbery, is an All-Ohio football wide receiver at Springfield High School. Before his arrest and jailing, he had scheduled a recruiting visit to Eastern Kentucky University, according to his coach, Maurice Douglass. As of Friday afternoon, Johnson was no longer in jail after posting bond.
Shiverdecker said involvement of juveniles in gangs shows “the pull and the lure of what these guys are and what they have on other juveniles. And if you take a juvenile who is not getting much structure at home, or in school for that matter, and they come across these kids that, you know, are walking around with guns and phones and they’ve got marijuana and stuff like that — it’s going to be hard for that kid to stay away from the lure of that lifestyle.”
The example of a high-profile athlete being charged in a serious crime is not new to local law enforcement.
Recent Thurgood Marshall High School basketball star and Miami University recruit Derrick Daniels is serving a six-year sentence at the London Correctional Institution for aggravated robbery following a series of hold-ups and pursuits by police.
Marcus Glover, a former Central State University athlete and now a truant officer who tracks down students at a number of local high schools, said many of these students don’t have the type of upbringing or structure to say no to their peers in gangs.
“They want to live a special life,” he said. “They want flash and bling and they don’t have anybody to think it through with.”
Days after the Huber Heights incident, a 17-year-old robbed a Miamisburg Shell station near Ohio 725 and Interstate 75. The teen was shot in the arm when police say he refused to drop his weapon as he threatened drivers.
In another recent gun-related crime, deputies say a robbery gone wrong led to the Jan. 30 fatal shooting of a 18-year-old Ross High School student. Two Butler County juveniles face charges in connection with the shooting of their classmate.
Tougher sentences sought
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer wants tougher sanctions against juveniles who commit serious crimes. He said a 16-year-old charged in the Huber Heights robbery was previously convicted for being part of a group that stole a woman’s car in April 2016 and drove more than a mile with her clinging on the hood.
Others in the two gangs are suspected in crimes involving stolen guns, cell phones and carjackings, according to Plummer and Shiverdecker.
“These are not kids anymore and (courts) treat them like little, innocent kids,” said Plummer. “There’s got to be consequences here. We can’t lock everybody up, but you know, these kids have been out of control for two years.”
Juvenile gang members often grow up in the same neighborhoods or attend the same schools before fanning out across the region, Plummer said.
“They just get in with the wrong characters and they egg each other on and do stupid stuff,” he said. “That’s very sad for that kid (Johnson) with his career … not only that it was athletics, but he had potential, he had a scholarship coming — something all kids strive for.”
Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi has said the four 16- to 17-year-olds in the Huber Heights robbery will automatically be bound over to common pleas court if he finds probable cause. Moving the two 15-year-olds to adult court, however, involves more discretion, the judge said.
Guns a game-changer
In a wide-ranging interview with this news organization last week, Capizzi said he is worried about a “generation of drug users” whose children are adversely affected.
“I believe we’re beginning to see long-term mental limitations or restrictions,” he said. “We all know a child’s brain doesn’t mature until age 24-25. What were they thinking? They just don’t think about two hours from now.”
As president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Capizzi knows the latest juvenile crime data. There is a downward trend overall, “but the level of crime has shot up dramatically,” he said.
“Kids used to steal bicycles and break into garages. Now, they rob someone who has a cell phone and they have a weapon,” Capizzi said. “The fact that youth have weapons now changes the game.”
Although Plummer pointed a finger at juvenile court judges for being too lenient, Capizzi said some have accused him of being too tough, particularly when athletes are involved.
He said he was lit up by parents, coaches and administrators from a school he wouldn’t name after refusing to order the removal of a star player’s electronic ankle bracelet during the basketball playoffs.
“The bigger issue is they believe they can get away with whatever they want to do and they’re privileged,” Capizzi said.
Judges sometimes encounter more than just criticism. A 24-year-old man was arrested last week for allegedly threatening Capizzi after news surfaced that he was handling the Huber Heights armed robbery case.
“If I ever see him I’m beating the (expletive) outta him he better pray I don’t catch him downtown coming out of that building,” said a social media post that carried Capizzi’s photo.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck announced Friday that Devin Wilson, 24, of Dayton, was charged with making threats toward a juvenile court judge.
‘There’s a disconnect’
When Chris Roark first started as an administrator at the Center for Adolescent Services (CAS) in New Lebanon, he said the teens who were incarcerated there were all low-level felons.
That changed over time, according to Roark, now the Fairborn High School football coach.
“I’ve had kids who I’ve dealt with at CAS who have been murdered since and kids who have committed murder,” he said. “How can that be? It doesn’t make sense. The only sense I can make of it is that of-the-moment thing. There’s a disconnect.”
In his time at CAS, Roark said he encountered youth being pressured not to pursue education and instead stay in the family business “and help me sell drugs.”
“It was a shock to me,” he said. “I would have never imagined that to be a part of one’s culture: education was being shunned because it looks like you’re upstaging the family or running away from your family obligations.”
Roark surmised that peers and social media are 1-2 in influencing juvenile behavior, with parents a distant third. The Huber Heights robbery was brazen because it was done in daylight with seven individuals, five reportedly with handguns.
But Roark surmised the group had a perfected method.
“It’s not surprising they’re trying to link this to other (robberies),” he said. “The loyalty to that posse would be stronger than anything any (NCAA) Division I program could offer.”
Roark said kids need a strong support system — if not a parent, then a mentor, someone to hold them accountable but also steer them away from a life of gangs, crime and drugs.
“I had a saying: Just because you’re standing in a pile of (dung), doesn’t mean you have to jump up and down in it,” he said. “They got that.”