The arrests of leaders from two Omaha street gangs could bring a significant reduction in violent crime over the next few years, a gang expert said.
Bruce Ferrell, a former Omaha police officer and the chairman of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, said the arrests early Thursday of four men will most likely thwart the gangs' gun- and drug-trafficking efforts. Omaha police said Friday afternoon that a fifth man was apprehended Friday morning.
After such raids, Ferrell said, lower-level gang members usually go into hiding to avoid being arrested. Ferrell noted that the 2007 arrests of more than two dozen MS-13 gang members led to a reduction in gun violence.
“Anytime we can take gang leadership off the street, it makes it harder for those entities to operate,” Ferrell said. “They're going to be ducking, worried about fallout down the road.”
Local and federal authorities said “Operation Purple Haze” put the five Omahans behind bars. Authorities asked for the public's help in finding four others. A 10th suspected gang leader wasn't named because he is wanted under a sealed federal warrant.
All are said to be among the upper echelon of the 40th Avenue Crips and 29th Street gangs.
“We consider these to be high-level players,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said. “This is a major bust, one that will make the city safer.”
The Police Department's cold case unit is investigating whether any of the gang leaders is tied to unsolved murders. “This is one way to get somebody off the streets who we believe is a killer,” Schmaderer said.
SWAT teams began bursting into the homes of the suspected gang leaders about 7 a.m. Thursday.
The 40th Avenue Crips and the 29th Street gangs are based in north Omaha, but authorities said they commit crimes across the metropolitan area. They specialize in dealing crack cocaine but have also committed robberies and violent crimes.
Police have identified more than 70 gangs in Omaha, including 11 in north Omaha and five in South Omaha that they rank among the most violent.
The Greater Omaha Safe Streets Task Force, the group that ran the operation, used undercover officers, drug purchases and Crime Stoppers tips to build a case against top gang leaders, who often remain in the background, leaving their underlings to do the work.
The nine-month investigation involved officials from the Omaha, Bellevue, La Vista and Papillion Police Departments; the Douglas County and Sarpy County Sheriff's Offices; the Nebraska State Patrol; and the FBI and federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Most of the men who were arrested or being sought have convictions for drug possession or drug dealing. Others have been convicted of violent crimes.
Marcus Jefferson is the most notable of late. This week, prosecutors added eight felony charges in connection with shots fired at a car carrying James M. Moss Jr., his girlfriend and their 1-year-old daughter.
Moss, 37, told police in September that he was driving near 42nd Street and Ames Avenue when Jefferson opened fire from a vehicle. Moss survived that attack but was found slain Oct. 19.
Police have not said whether Jefferson is a suspect in Moss' death. Jefferson was charged Thursday in a federal warrant with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The others arrested:
» Vernon Elmore, charged with delivery of crack cocaine. His record includes a weapons conviction.
» Lawrence McGarity, charged with delivery of crack cocaine. He has served three separate prison terms for dealing crack, dealing marijuana, leaving the scene of an accident and operating a motor vehicle to avoid arrest.
» Adonis Williams, charged with delivery of crack cocaine. He served a prison term for leaving the scene of an injury accident.
» Michael Liggins, was wanted on charges of delivery of crack cocaine. He has served prison terms for manslaughter and dealing crack. In 2002, he pleaded no contest to accidentally shooting and killing Chinudi William, 17, while they were trying to steal a car.
Those still being sought: Eric English, Jerell Haynie, Jabari Liggins and Carlos Taylor; all four are wanted on charges of delivery of crack cocaine.
Jabari Liggins was sentenced to 18 months to two years in prison for attempting to deal crack in August 2008. Last month, a former girlfriend sought a protection order against him, alleging that he had thrown a brick through her window.
City Councilman Ben Gray, who represents north Omaha, said gang intervention groups had previously reached out to some of the men arrested or still at large.
Gray helped start the nonprofit Impact One, which offers gang intervention and prevention, re-entry services and employment training.
“We try these gang prevention efforts,” he said, “but when people continue to act out, we have to take action to protect the community.”
Schmaderer said the task force's work is only beginning: “If you are involved in a street gang, you will be arrested. Being a gang member is not going to pay off.”
World-Herald staff writer Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.
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