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Officials: Apartments were gang's epicenter

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Alongside the gang unit, Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters speaks during a press conference Monday regarding a gang sweep in the county.
 Officials discuss the arrest of 49 gang members, including 30 netted during a multi-agency gang sweep in December.
 Officials discuss the arrest of 49 gang members, including 30 netted during a multi-agency gang sweep in December. 

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Alongside the gang unit, Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters speaks during a press conference Monday regarding a gang sweep in the county. Officials discuss the arrest of 49 gang members, including 30 netted during a multi-agency gang sweep in December. Officials discuss the arrest of 49 gang members, including 30 netted during a multi-agency gang sweep in December. 

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Bradford Gwinnett apartment complex

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Gang Sweep Press Conference

LAWRENCEVILLE -- What started as an anyonymous email to the chief of Gwinnett police culminated in a multi-agency gang crackdown that focused on a Norcross apartment complex once heralded for shedding its blight but described by a federal official Monday as "a veritable rats' nest of thieves."

Authorities called last week's sweep a first step in dismantling the "Gangster Disciples," a hodgepodge of several smaller sects, including the Ninth Ward gang of New Orleans, which was headquartered at apartments on Castor Drive. Residents there called the complex quiet and child-friendly, with no discernible gang activity.

Gang affiliates were largely responsible for a wave of 66 home burglaries that stretched from Duluth to the U.S. Highway 29 corridor and included homes occupied by police officers. Those homes were targeted for guns, protective vests and other police equipment, but it wasn't clear how they were singled out, said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter.

The investigation had built steam since February and resulted in the arrest of 49 gang members, including 30 netted during the gang sweep. The gangsters are responsible for dealing drugs and committing burglaries, thefts, robberies (including stick-ups of high school students and mall patrons), carjackings and other violent crimes in Gwinnett County and metro Atlanta, police said. Some 100 ATF agents, U.S. Marshalls and Probations and Paroles officers joined Gwinnett police in the sweep, serving about 120 warrants.

Gwinnett police gang unit Investigator James Evans said Gangster Disciples, whose roots date back to 1970s Chicago, are identified by black bandannas, six-point star diagrams and pitchfork symbols. He's documented 112 known members and expects more arrests. Most members have been identified and ferreted out of Gwinnett schools, he said.

The criminals favored selling drugs and committing other crimes at the Bradford Gwinnett Apartments, a tucked-away complex off Beaver Ruin Road with a single, non-gated entrance where look-outs that included children were posted, Evans said. Gangsters threatened to shoot or burglarize residents who called police.

"They just kept the community in fear," Evans said.

Two suspects with alleged ties to the gang -- Brandon Mosley, of Lilburn, and Hunter Mason Davis, of Snellville -- have been charged with murder in the July shooting of a 19-year-old man at an apartment complex near Lilburn. Another suspect, Daryl Fuller, 20, of Norcross, was fatally shot in the head by a gang unit member in April. Authorities said Fuller pointed a handgun at officers after they approached him for questioning on Singleton Road.

Scott Sweetow, Special Agent in Charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Atlanta Field Division, said part of the gang was comprised of New Orleans residents who fled after Hurricane Katrina and, like the more infamous Bloods and Crips before them, spread across the nation with a focus on branding their gang name.

"They bring this incredible violence with them," he said. "They'll set up shop here and attack the citizenry."

But parents who reside at Bradford Gwinnett Apartments hardly painted a picture of distress Monday. A property manager declined comment.

Built in 1982, the complex sits behind Beaver Ridge Elementary School with orange warning signs declaring the community a drug-free school zones with increased penalties. The tidy rows of apartments are painted in earth tones, with multiple playgrounds and children skittering along sidewalks.

Historically, the 194-unit property was so sketchy, rumor held that pizza delivery people refused to venture in.

But the complex appeared to have turned a corner several years ago, when a nonprofit redevelopment company poured $30,000 into each unit and launched a no-cost afterschool program, weekly teen enrichment groups, senior programs and a community computer lab.

Like others, seven-year resident Alicia Brown said she has no qualms with raising her three young children in the complex.

"I never seen (gang activity), never would have thought," Brown said. "The most I've seen is writing on the walls and stuff by kids. But as far as adults outside gang-banging -- no. My kids play outside everyday."

Ten-year resident Phil Fyneface admits she "pretty much stays indoors" but has never so much as heard of gangs. Waves of police and federal authorities near her home last week left a lasting shock.

"If there are gang members, I want to know how they look," Fyneface said. "They're blending in really good. I would expect this in a big place, not this little-bitty place."