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In a groundbreaking development, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston announced Wednesday that he is using the state racketeering law to go after a Chattanooga gang for the first time. The indictments include charges related to five separate homicides, including the kidnapping and murder of Bianca Horton.
The law that made today’s indictments possible is called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as RICO. Hamilton County Court Clerk Vince Dean tells us this is the first time he knows of that a 2012 amendment to the law is being applied in Tennessee.
“Before 2012 each individual would have to be charged with an individual crime, and there would have been no way to connect the individuals together to show that they were in fact organized crime,” Dean said. “This law allows law enforcement to show that these criminal gangs are organized crime.”
Dean hopes this will be an example for others across the state.
“Going through this experience will allow the district attorneys across the state of Tennessee to look at this model and be able to use it in their communities and make their communities safer places.”
Authorities held a news conference at 2 p.m. with more details:
Read the full release from the District Attorney below. This story will be updated.
“This week the Hamilton County Grand Jury handed down a thirteen count indictment charging more than four dozen Athens Park Bloods gang members with violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. The indictment also charges seven of those defendants in five homicides, including the kidnapping and murder of Bianca Horton.
Nearly half of the fifty-four defendants are incarcerated on previous charges. [Wednesday] morning, more than one hundred officers and agents of the Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Chattanooga Housing Authority Police Department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and United States Marshals Service began arresting the remaining defendants.
One of the defendants taken into custody, Antwon Lee, was also on HCSO’s Top 12 Most Wanted. In addition to the indictment charges, Lee was previously wanted for Violation of the Sex Offender Registry, three counts of Aggravated Assault, Simple Assault and Vandalism Under $1000.
Several months ago, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston offered Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy use of the DA’s Cold Case Unit to review a string of unsolved homicides, which included the 2016 Horton case.
As the investigation grew, Chief Roddy assigned an additional CPD investigator to the Cold Case Unit. The DA’s Tactical All-Region Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET), which is comprised of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, worked in partnership with the CCU. This significant level of manpower and intelligence sharing allowed the DA to seek and secure the indictment of fifty-four APB members and associates on charges of racketeering and conspiracy. Additionally, the following APB members are charged with murder:
- Cortez Sims for the January 20, 2014 murder of 13-year old Deontray Southers.
- Cordelle Collier, Martrel Arnold, and Johnny Clemons for the June 25, 2014 murder of Cedric Mikes.
- Andre Grier, Charles Shelton, and Courtney High, who each could face the death penalty for the May 25, 2016 murder of Bianca Horton. Horton was killed to prevent her from testifying at trial that she witnessed Cortez Sims murder Talitha Bowman. (Last year a jury convicted Sims of Bowman’s murder.)
- Courtney High for the June 12, 2016 murder of Jerica Jackson. This is a superseding indictment to High’s original charge, which adds the RICO elements to the murder.
- Courtney High for the August 16, 2016 murder of Marquise Jackson. Additionally, a female teenager was charged today in Hamilton County Juvenile Court for participating in Jackson’s murder. (Note: Marquise Jackson is not related to Jerica Jackson.)
This is the first time a criminal street gang in Hamilton County is being prosecuted as a criminal enterprise under the state’s RICO law. In 2012, the Tennessee General Assembly expanded T.C.A. § 39-12-201 et seq, to include criminal gang offenses as racketeering activity. Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean, who was a state representative at the time, sponsored the bill. It was co-sponsored by Senator Bo Watson.
DA Pinkston is grateful to Chief David Roddy and Sheriff Jim Hammond for their continued confidence in the Cold Case Unit and for their willingness to sacrifice investigators to support this unique effort to make our community safer.”
A court date has been set for April 27.
Read the list of charged defendants below. Hamilton Co. D.A. spokeswoman Melydia Clewell says, “40 of the 54 defendants have been served with the indictment. The remaining 14 cannot be named until they are notified of the indictment.”:
Depend on NewsChannel 9 to bring you updates on this developing story as we get them.
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