This article originally appeared in The Flat Hat. It was republished as part of a partnership with the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.
The shots seemed to come from nowhere.
Witnesses heard five of them, one after the other. Some were fired above the heads of those in the crowd. A few did damage to student housing. One struck a security guard in the back. Three days later, the security guard, who goes by “Lord,” wrote on his Facebook page that he knew he had been shot when he felt the heat and the pain running up his back. He prayed not to be paralyzed or to die. And then, he wrote, he was no longer afraid.
A local repairman cleared away the damage to Tribe Square two days after the shooting, but Lord, who was still under special protection in the hospital, would have to keep the bullet lodged in his body for the rest of his life.
To students, the shooting seemed random. In four years, there had been only five shootings reported to the Williamsburg police. According to Williamsburg Police Department Spokesperson Greg Riley, there had never been a shooting like this: a weekend night, an establishment frequented by students, bullets hitting campus.
In an interview the day after the shooting, Riley said the shooting involved two groups who had gotten into an altercation. William and Mary Police Chief Deborah Cheesebro published an opinions article in The Flat Hat a few days later in which she said the shooting was an “isolated incident involving individuals in a dispute[.]”
An investigation by The Flat Hat found that the shooting at The Crust was neither an isolated incident nor a random act of violence. In fact, it involved two local gangs well known to the Williamsburg Police Department and likely also known to the WMPD, which receives gang intelligence from the WPD.
The shooting at The Crust fits into a pattern of escalating violence between two gangs, both with roots in Williamsburg, which are known to commit crimes such as shootings, witness intimidation, drug trafficking and homicide.
The gangs, which refer to themselves as 143 and Centerville after the neighborhoods they are based in, have been feuding for years. As summer ended, tensions were especially high because of the July shooting of 18-year old Kameron Stanley, a York County resident who had friends in 143. According to his mother, Dawn Taylor, Stanley worked both in dining services at the College of William and Mary as an employee for Sodexo and also at the Triangle.
Sodexo Resident District Manager Jeffrey McClure did not respond to a request for confirmation emailed Sept. 23 or a voice mail left on his cell phone Sept. 30. Sodexo Human Resources Manager Keith Carr did not respond to an email sent Oct. 2. The Triangle could not be reached for comment Oct. 3.
To conduct its investigation, The Flat Hat collected dozens of public records, interviewed sources with ties to local gangs as well as multiple individuals present at The Crust the night of the incident, reviewed footage of the event taken hours before the shooting, and reached out to police departments in six nearby jurisdictions.
The Flat Hat also reviewed social media postings made by members of both gangs and spoke to an independent expert in campus security. The Flat Hat has decided to use the names of both gangs, which appear for the first time in print in this article.
This article also appears to be the first to identify the Colonial Area Gang Intelligence Network, or CAGIN, an informal organization directed by a member of the WPD that comprises 20 agencies, including the WMPD. The organization, which has expanded since its founding in 2007, is dedicated to facilitating communication between police departments and correctional facilities about gang-related activity in the colonial area.
In April 2011, Williamsburg Police Department investigator Lang Craighill gave a speech to the Williamsburg Kiwanis Club about gang violence in Williamsburg. Click to read the whole speech.
Aug. 29, two days after the shooting, the WPD issued a press release naming John Johnson as a suspect. Another press release was issued two weeks later, indicating that Johnson had turned himself in. Neither press release noted that the police department suspected the shooting was gang-related.
While the WPD would later say that they had no knowledge of Johnson’s gang ties at the time of the incident, the shooting at The Crust was not Johnson’s first encounter with the police.
Two years before, Johnson was arrested for allegedly shooting a man with a 9 mm pistol on the 100 block of Merrimac Trail.
Immediately after that shooting, court documents available in the WIlliamsburg James City Courthouse show Johnson admitted to the crime. He was never convicted: News reports in the Williamsburg Yorktown Dailyshow that an uncooperative witness led to the failure of the prosecution. A source with knowledge of the incident, who asked not to be named in order to avoid retribution, said the victim was threatened with violence outside a pre-trial hearing and fled the city.
As late as August 2016, Johnson, who goes by the nickname “Mullah,” appeared to claim credit for the incident on his Twitter feed, referring to the victim by name. Johnson, through an employee of the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, declined a request to comment. The victim in the incident could not be reached.
Johnson, who has posted about his involvement in 143 both on Facebook and Twitter, also posted a tweet a few days before the shooting at The Crust about what appeared to be investigations by the James City County and York County Police Departments.
“Message to JCCPD & YCPD IM NOT IN NO GANG I AM A FRAUD ALL MY STATUESES ARE LYRICS FROM GANGSTER MUSIC,” Johnson wrote in theAug. 23 tweet. “LEAVE ME ALONE PLEASE.”
York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Dennis Ivey, Jr. would only confirm that they were aware of the gang 143 and were actively monitoring its activities. The Flat Hat is still negotiating with the James City County Police Department for documents related to Johnson, though the department has said they will not waive the fees to process the records, which they said could cost more than $5000. Open records laws do not require police departments in Virginia to provide documents containing criminal intelligence, though those departments may do so voluntarily. Both of the gangs whose members were at The Crust the night of the shooting are identified as gangs in multiple court documents available at the Williamsburg James City Courthouse.
“All four suspects admitted to associating themselves with the gang of the accused,” one written criminal complaint said. “Police also located and interviewed members of the specific, identified rival gang.”
Riley said that the press releases he issued after the shooting did not include information about Johnson’s alleged gang affiliation because the department did not have the information at the time of the incident.
“At the time we began investigating this particular offense, none of the gang association information was known to us,” Riley said.
The information contained in court documents suggests that the WPD had extensive knowledge of Johnson’s gang ties.
In affidavits for search warrants issued the day after the shooting, available through the Williamsburg James City Courthouse, WPD investigator Lang Craighill wrote that Johnson’s gang affiliations were well known.
“Police have extensive gang intelligence concerning Johnson, indicating he is a member of a specific, identified criminal street gang,” Craighill wrote in the document that was signed Aug. 28, a day before the first press release was issued. “Police have obtained information as part of this investigation that Johnson typically resides with two of his fellow gang members[.]”
Court documents also show that the WPD was actively investigating another occupant of Johnson’s Williamsburg residence for gang activity.
In mid-September, the WPD filed its first gang-related charges related to the incident. Sept. 16, Johnson was charged for gang activity, while six more individuals were charged three days later, including Travis Campbell, Jamel Young, Dominique Wallace, Kajoun Johnson, Eric James and Malik Born. Unlike the first charges, which were just related to shooting and firearm violations, no press release was issued immediately after these charges were filed.
Sept. 30, The Flat Hat sent a request to Riley asking whether Dominique Wallace and Travis Campbell were suspects in the case.
Within an hour, the WPD issued a release to the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily naming Dominique Wallace and Travis Campbell as suspects in the shooting at The Crust, in addition to four others. That release was the first to make public that the WPD was filing gang-related charges in the August shooting.
Riley said he was not aware the investigating officers had obtained the warrants until the evening of Sept. 29. Riley said he sent out the release after receiving the first request for information.
WMPD Lieutenant Don Butler said he did not have any information about the gang-related charges involved in The Crust shooting.
“I think that it’s accurate to say that this was a dispute between individuals,” Butler said, referring to the article that Chief Cheesebro had written using similar language. “It may have been inappropriate for us to put out any more [information] than that at the time.”
The WMPD was not told to withhold information about gang activity, Butler said, adding that the police department does not provide information about other departments’ cases unless that information is necessary.
“We can’t change the fact that the event happened and we reacted to it in the way we did, which we think was absolutely appropriate,” Butler said.
Gang violence is not included in the 2016 Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report, released Sept. 29 by the Provost’s office. Butler noted that statistics for the 2016 report are based on crimes that happened in 2015, and that a number of different factors go into deciding what is in-cluded in the narrative section. Discussions held by the College’s Threat Assessment Team, Butler noted, were confidential.
Independent Campus Security Consultant Daniel Carter noted that the College would not be legally obligated to divulge information about gangs, but that it is the type of information that could be useful to provide to a campus community.
Original reports of the shooting didn’t include the fact that Johnson was a resident of Williamsburg, listing him instead as a resident of Newport News.
Both of the original releases referred to Johnson as a resident of Newport News. Based on court documents and social media postings, Johnson appears to have come to Williamsburg from Newport News five years ago. While he is listed only as a resident of Newport News in press releases, in dozens of court documents going back to 2014, the WPD lists only his residence in Williamsburg, with the exception of one warrant issued the day after the second press release, which lists an address in Newport News.
Riley said that the WPD used the address for Johnson listed in its database, but did not explain why that address is different from the one officers used in court documents.
On social media, Johnson said that he has lived in Williamsburg for five years. That claim is consistent with a 2014 bail form, which notes that Johnson had at the time been living in Williamsburg for three years, and was employed at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Richmond Road.
Of the six other suspects in the incident, five live in James City County and one, Wallace, lives in Williamsburg.
While the exact cause of the dispute is unknown, sources close to the gangs have said that the argument that preceded the shooting was related to the July shooting of Kameron Stanley, in which three teenagers, who sources allege have ties to Centerville, shot Stanley outside his home.
Dawn Taylor, Stanley’s mom, said that even though she doesn’t believe her son was in a gang — he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, she said — it doesn’t make his death any easier.
“He had seen the good in everybody,” Taylor said.
When asked about the toll that gang violence takes on the Williamsburg community, Taylor said that over 500 people came to Stanley’s funeral, including the friends he had known since his days in Little League and an elderly neighbor whose grass he had cut growing up.
General XO, who was deejaying the night of the shooting, said in 10 years of deejaying in Williamsburg, he had never seen any gun violence before the night at The Crust. XO, who is aware of 143 and Centerville, said he doesn’t consider them gangs, because they are more of a neighborhood phenomenon. Noting that 143 and Centerville are both named after entire neighborhoods, XO said the word “gang” gives the wrong impression: A few people committing acts of violence are not a gang, he said.
“I don’t consider it to be a gang thing, as I said before. It’s more a, my friend, neighborhood thing,” XO said. “There are no gangs in Williamsburg.”
But XO said he has repeatedly asked the WPD to provide security at parties, both before and after the shooting at The Crust.
“A lot of people are going to come out to a party or situation,” XO said. “The best deterrent is to have a police presence there. But the police say they won’t do that.”
Riley said that an officer working off-duty could create a conflict of interest.
“Our Administrative Orders require an off-duty officer to act in his official capacity if he/she becomes aware of an incident which requires police action and time is of the essence to safeguard life or property,” Riley said in a written response.
Gang activity in Williamsburg is not new, though it is milder than the kind of gang activity found in major metropolitan areas, Riley and Butler said.
In a 2011 address to the Williamsburg Kiwanis Club, Craighill, who is a member of the Virginia Gang Investigators Association, laid out the challenges he perceived in preventing gang violence in Williamsburg.
“Our success against gangs will be won or lost in our ability as a community to be clear and firm in our response,” Craighill said, according to prepared notes, “and not allow any room for escape or to hide for gangs, both directly in terms of members within and among us, and indirectly — in rejecting this concept of gangs as a ‘mainstream’ or acceptable thing on any level.”
According to Riley, gang violence within Williamsburg has increased since then. James City County Police Department Deputy Chief Steve Rubino said that gang-related violence in James City County has remained about constant.
Riley said that Williamsburg gangs are loosely affiliated with national organizations like the Bloods and Crips. A source familiar with Williamsburg gangs said 143 and Centerville have not obtained recognition from those organizations, though, the source said, they do draw inspiration from the two organizations. Butler, who previously supervised the gang unit in Portsmouth, Va., noted that the area around campus is particularly safe compared to more populous cities.
“In my time here, I have never seen a student on campus victimized by gangs,” Butler said.
According to Craighill, who has worked at the WPD since 2000, the area’s first gang crimes occurred in 2005. In 2007, because of the perception of increased gang violence in the area, Craighill established an informal network to facilitate communication about gang violence between neighboring jurisdictions.
“In January 2007, the Colonial Anti-Gang Network (CAGN) was devised in response to the perceived threat of organized criminal activity, in particular, in the form of criminal street gangs, in the City of Williamsburg and the greater Williamsburg area,” Craighill said in an email.
Craighill said that, although gang activity continues, the network has been effective and now contains 20 agencies and 100 members, including members of the WMPD, who attend its monthly meetings. In 2010, the network changed its name to the Colonial Area Gang Intelligence Network.
“The threat and reality of gang related criminal activity in Williamsburg and the greater Williamsburg area has not abated,” Craighill wrote in an email.
“The threat and reality of gang related criminal activity in Williamsburg and the greater Williamsburg area has not abated,” Craighill wrote in an email.
Since its inception, the network has been replicated by police departments around the state, Craighill said. In addition to preventing crime, he said, the network also operates to assess public perceptions of gang crime in Williamsburg.
In 2009, after the arrest of a member of MS-13, The Flat Hat reported on increases in Hispanic gang activity seen in the area. Recent gang violence, however, appears to be separate. The most recent FBI annual crime report showed street crime rates are increasing around the country, particularly in major cities. Taylor said she hoped that more people would acknowledge the damage that gang violence is capable of, and said that she thought Stanley did not die in vain.
“I want people to know that gang violence is real,” Taylor said. “A lot of people in our community think it does not exist.”
The case against Johnson will continue Oct. 4 in the Williamsburg James City County courthouse. The Flat Hat was unable to reach the other suspects related to this incident, but will continue to attempt to do so as the cases move forward.