Gang task force makes arrests

By Ed Brock

The first day of Clayton County's new gang task force was a busy one.

On Tuesday the 34-member task force, comprised primarily of officers from the Clayton County Police Department, arrested 14 individuals, ranging in age from 17 to 39, confiscated marijuana and crack cocaine and seized at least three handguns, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said.

"One of these firearms was taken off of a 17-year-old boy," Turner said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

That gun, a .45-caliber Colt that may have been military issue, and the other weapons will go to the Atlanta office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"It is our intention to trace these firearms, find their origin and present a case for prosecution," said ATF agent Robert Levingston.

Levingston said they may use the serial numbers on the weapons to trace them.

"Based on that serial number any time (a gun) is transferred there's a record," Levingston said.

The gang task force was formed in response to recent gang violence in the county, including the April 24 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Larry Bishop, Jr. during a party at a Jonesboro home. That shooting is believed to be connected to a fight between rival gang members that occurred at Mundy's Mill High School two days before the shooting.

"Gangs have increased and their violence has increased, so we're trying to be proactive," Turner said.

Turner said the 17-year-old, Jatavious Ponder of Riverdale, got the gun from a man in a 4-door sedan who has reportedly been selling weapons to minors around the Jonesboro area. Acting on information from a student resource officer the task force started looking for the man but were unable to find him. Ponder was found loitering in Garden Lake Apartments on Lake Ridge Parkway around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

He has been charged with theft by receiving, gun in possession of a minor, disorderly conduct and being a minor in possession of a handgun.

The police department press conference was held on the same day that Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill officially introduced his Cobra Unit that will also target gang activity as well as street level drug activity.

Hill said most of the teens involved in the supposed gang activity consider themselves to be members of "rap" groups, referring to the musical form, who are engaging in occasional fights over "lyrics or girls."

Turner said it doesn't matter if the groups call themselves rappers.

"When fights escalate to gun violence, when kids are carrying automatic weapons, there's a problem," Turner said.

Turner said Hill has also been invited to join the task force and in the field there will be total cooperation between the agencies. He also said a consolidated effort would be best to provide focus and avoid duplication of efforts.

"We need to be in the same court," Turner said.

Anyone with information on gang activity can call the task force at (770) 473-5400 or through the watch offices of any of the CCPD's precincts.

People outside of law enforcement are also responding to the outbreak in violence.

State Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, said she is asking Gov. Sonny Perdue to offer a $5,000 reward for information in the Bishop shooting.

Gerald Rose, founder of the Cobb County-based group New Order, said he's planning a press conference for 10 a.m. Friday in front of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro to solicit the community's help in finding suspects in Bishop's death.

He also said the group is planning a memorial march for May 14 in the county in tribute to the young victims of violent crime.