White supremacist prison gangs, such as those under suspicion in the recent murders of Colorado’s prisons chief and two district attorneys in Texas, “increasingly threaten our communities” as their members finish their sentences and continue gang activity in the outside world, a national expert on the organizations told the Dayton Daily News Wednesday.
“We’re living in a moment when these organizations, which formerly were restricted to the prisons, are increasingly spilling out into the streets,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow for the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Ala., which tracks hate groups.
Members of prison gangs “once shed their membership at the prison gates,” Potok said. “That’s no longer allowed. They’re required to stay in the groups and bring in money” through criminal enterprises.
Vinko Kucinic, security threat group coordinator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction declined to say how many members the Aryan Brotherhood and other white supremacist gangs are believed to have — “I don’t want to advertise for them” — but he said they collectively are the largest security threat group in Ohio prisons.
A newly released report shows that one in six Ohio prison inmates — nearly 8,300 of 50,000 — belong to a gang, including the Aryan Brotherhood and other white supremacist organizations, as well as black gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods.
Prison officials say they’re disproportionately responsible for a spike in recent years in assaults on staff and other inmates, and they control trafficking of drugs, tobacco, cell phones and other contraband in the prisons, as well as committing robberies, extortion and gambling offenses.
“These guys are no joke,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “This isn’t a club. These are tough, hard-core criminals. They’re nasty and we have to take them deadly seriously.”
“Where they’re most prevalent, or at least where we see them the most, is in prison,” DeWine said. “But they’re on the outside, as well. They’re active in drug trafficking and other things that are associated with drug trafficking, like robberies and assaults. They’re a racist group. They’re a crime group, as well.”
The Aryan Brotherhood and two other convict organizations led the Lucasville prison riot 20 years ago this month, which resulted in the deaths of a guard and nine inmates believed to be informants. Five inmates, including Aryan Brotherhood leader George Skatzes, were sentenced to death.
White supremacist prison gangs have made news in recent weeks because of a spate of high-profile murders of public officials.
Colorado Corrections Director Tom Clements was killed March 19 when he answered the door at his Colorado Springs home. Suspect Evan Ebel, an ex-con and member of the white supremacist 211 Crew, was killed in a shootout with police in Texas two days later, the ingredients for a bomb hidden in the trunk of his car.
On Saturday, Kaufman County, Texas, District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were found dead in their home. Less than two months earlier, Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was killed in a parking lot near the courthouse. Before the murders, Texas authorities had warned of possible retaliation by the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas after 34 members were indicted on racketeering charges by a federal grand jury in Houston. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that a federal prosecutor has withdrawn from that case because of security concerns.
The string of murders continued Wednesday, when police say Tennis Melvin Maynard shot and killed Mingo County, W.Va., Sheriff Eugene Crum as Crum sat in his vehicle outside the county courthouse. Maynard, 37, was wounded by police gunfire while being arrested. It was unclear at press time whether the killing was gang-related.
There have been some incidents locally and across Ohio involving Aryan Brotherhood members freed from prison. Last month, a grand jury subpoena was issued in the case of Anthony Russell Murphy, reportedly an Aryan Brotherhood member. Court records show he was charged with felonious assault for allegedly using brass knuckles to break a former member’s cheekbone, jaw and nose at a Walmart in Miami Twp. on Dec. 30.
In a heavily publicized 2005 case, six SWAT teams and 125 federal and local officers conducted no-knock raids on numerous homes in northeastern Ohio, arresting 34 people with Aryan Brotherhood ties and seizing automatic machine guns, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and painkiller Oxycodone.
Kucinic said gang members write letters to members on the outside, who help them smuggle in drugs and other contraband. As well as valuable black-market items like drugs and tobacco, contraband includes cell phones that can be illicitly used to plan escapes or crimes on the outside.
A declassified FBI report on the Aryan Brotherhood said, “the rule of thumb is that once on the streets, one must take care of his brothers that are still inside. The penalty for failure to do so is death…. Some of the paroled members’ duties would be to supply his brothers inside with drugs, or to make hits on the street as commanded by his brothers.”
The Aryan Brotherhood was formed at San Quentin Prison in California in 1964 as a “racial protection association” at a time when prisons were being desegregated, Potok said, but it evolved into a regular criminal gang that checks its racism when it suits leaders’ purposes. For example, the gang is known to work with the Mexican Mafia in smuggling drugs to the U.S.