‘They’re dismantled’: SAFE task force uses data to target violent criminals in Greater Springfield

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A newly formed task force of local, state and federal law enforcement takes credit for bringing down the Knox Street Posse, one of Springfield’s most notorious street gangs that has been for decades. years at the center of drugs, illegal guns and violent crime in Greater Springfield.

“They are devastated. They are dismantled, ”Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said on Tuesday.

Gulluni and representatives of the Strategic Action and Targeted Enforcement Team, or SAFE, announced that, for six weeks in May and June, members arrested 15 people affiliated with the Knox Street Posse, including its senior leaders. .

In addition to the arrests, the operation recovered 20 illegal firearms, including a fully automatic assault rifle, 2.8 kilograms of cocaine, 100,000 packets of heroin and $ 70,000 in cash.

Gulluni identified three brothers, Jeremy Garcia, 22, Austin Garcia, 24, and Justin Garcia, 30, as leaders of the Knox Street Posse, and three others, Nathan Mercado, 28, Joseph McLeod, 23, and Omar Harris, 38, as Best Partners.

The Knox Street Posse was the first target of the SAFE team, a unique unit that employs different agencies to target what Gulluni called a “small number of determined and violent people” who are responsible for most of the crimes. violent. in the zone.

“I would say it was extraordinarily effective,” he said.

SAFE was conceived two years ago when a review of crime data showed that much of the violent activity in the region was the result of a handful of bad actors. From there emerged the idea of ​​forming a team to use “lawful, efficient and effective investigations” to tackle the groups and individuals who pose the greatest threats to public safety.

The arrests were the result of traditional surveillance work by the police. But they also used what officials called new technology to gather intelligence and process data to gather information on the suspects. Gulluni declined to elaborate on what it was, although he described it as “cutting edge technology in the most sophisticated investigative techniques”.

People associated with the Knox Street Posse have been implicated in drugs, violent assaults and homicides for the past two decades, Gulluni said. There have been dozens of news articles during this period relating to homicides, shootings and robberies, drug-related arrests, and investigations where suspects have been linked to the gang. Gulluni described them as being heavily involved in the distribution of guns and drugs in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont.

“The Knox Street Posse is known for its unbridled violence,” he said. “The members of this group have distinguished themselves as the most violent and brazen individuals in this region and have carried out relentless attacks against a rival group in the city. “

Col. Christopher Mason, Massachusetts State Police Superintendent, said he was happy to get involved with other agencies to tackle violent crime.

“The strategy of using data and intelligence to really focus on the most prolific violent offenders in our community makes sense,” he said. “It’s a proven strategy, and we’re going to hopefully commit to it by removing and disrupting the activities of this small group of people in our community. “

Kenneth Kwak, deputy special agent in charge of the Federal Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Boston Field Unit, said he was happy to get involved with SAFE to eliminate what he called the “trigger shooters”.

“I am proud to be here with my law enforcement partners engaged in the fight against violent crime, criminal street gangs, drug traffickers especially those who use guns to facilitate their illegal activities. and terrorize their neighborhoods, ”he said.

Based on his experience with office operations, Kwak said, “What I see in front of me today is one of the most successful investigations we have had across the country.”

The SAFE team is intended to be permanently assigned out of Gulluni’s office and under his direction.

Its members include the ATF, State Police, Homeland Security Investigations, Massachusetts National Guard, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, and Holyoke, West Springfield and East Longmeadow local police.

Missing among the attendees is the Springfield Police Department, which chose not to join. The ministry provided assistance and intelligence in connection with the operation.

Gulluni said Springfield Police were invited to join us, but declined. Spokesman Ryan Walsh said the reason was an ongoing workforce issue with the ministry. The permanent deployment of staff to serve on the SAFE team would leave the department short-staffed, he said.

“We hope to reach a point in the near future where we can dedicate a full time officer,” he said.

Gulluni said the SAFE team is not meant to focus solely on gangs or gang activity. It will also focus on individuals suspected of repeated acts of violence.

The names of those arrested and the charges held are:

  • Jeremy Garcia, 22, carrying a firearm (subsequent offense), carrying a loaded firearm, possessing a firearm in commission of a felony, firearm violation with a violent crime / previous drug, possession of a large-capacity firearm, cocaine trafficking 36 -100 grams, heroin trafficking, driving a motor vehicle with suspended license
  • Austin Garcia, 24, carrying a firearm (subsequent offense), carrying a loaded firearm, possessing a firearm in commission of a felony, firearm violation with a violent crime / previous drug, possession of a large capacity firearm, cocaine trafficking 36-100 grams, Hampden Superior Court warrant for firearms offenses
  • Justin Garcia, 30, gun carrier without an FID card, carrier of large capacity gun while committing a crime, carrier of loaded gun, substance trafficking Class B (cocaine) over 200 grams, trafficking in a Class A substance (heroin) 100-200 grams, possession of a firearm without an FID card (six counts), possession of a large capacity feeder (five counts), possession of ammunition, improper storage of a firearm in the presence of children, concealment of stolen goods under $ 1,200 (Glock Firearm)
  • Joseph McLeod, 23, driving motor vehicle with suspended license, possession with intent to dispense Class A substance (heroin), possession with intent to dispense Class B substance (cocaine), possession with intent to dispense Class D substance (marijuana), carrying a loaded firearm, possession of a firearm without an FID card, possession of a large capacity firearm, possession of a firearm in commission of a crime
  • Jonathan Martinez, 35, is being held on a federal probation warrant. Additional charges are pending based on his alleged involvement in two recent shootings.
  • Nathan Mercado, 28, carrying a firearm without a license (two counts), possession of a firearm without an FID card (two counts), receiving stolen goods under $ 250, assault and battery on a police officer, resistance to arrest
  • Dwight Clark, 23, carrying unlicensed firearm (two counts), possession of non-FID firearm (two counts), receiving stolen goods under $ 250 (two counts)
  • Omar Harris, 38, trafficking in a Class B substance (over 200 grams), bodily harm with a dangerous weapon (motor vehicle, two counts), driving a motor vehicle with a suspended license, no -stop for the police, exploitation to endanger
  • Justin Crawford, 24, possessing / carrying a firearm (three counts), possessing a large capacity weapon or power supply (two counts), carrying a loaded firearm ( three counts), possession of a large capacity firearm in commission of a felony (two counts), possession of a firearm in commission of a felony, possession of ammunition without an FID card (three counts), trafficking cocaine over 200 grams, cocaine trafficking 36-100 grams, heroin trafficking 36-100, receiving stolen goods under $ 1,200 (Glock firearm)
  • Kiernan Perkins, 21, possessing / carrying a firearm (three counts), possessing a large capacity weapon or feeder (two counts), carrying a loaded firearm (three counts) counts), possession of a large-capacity firearm in the commission of a crime (two counts), possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of ammunition without an FID card (three counts), trafficking cocaine over 200 grams, trafficking in cocaine 36-100 grams, trafficking heroin 36-100 grams, receiving stolen goods under $ 1,200 (Glock firearm)
  • Joshua Santiago, 23, carrying a firearm without an FID card, carrying a large capacity firearm in commission of a felony, carrying a loaded large capacity firearm, possession of a large capacity feeding device (two counts), possession of a class A substance (heroin) with intent to distribute, possession of ammunition, trafficking of a class A substance (heroin) over 200 grams (two counts accusation)
  • Juan Romero, 33, trafficking in a class B substance (cocaine, over 200 grams), trafficking in a class B substance (cocaine, 18-36 grams), possession of a large feeding device ability, carrying a firearm in commission of a felony, possession of ammunition without an FID card, possession of a Class B substance (oxycodone) with the intention of distributing
  • Luciano Bigelow, 22, possession / carrying of a firearm (three counts), possession of a large capacity weapon or feeder (two counts), carrying of a loaded firearm (three counts) counts), possession of a large-capacity firearm in the commission of a crime (two counts), possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of ammunition without an FID card (three counts), trafficking in cocaine (over 200 grams), cocaine trafficking (36-100 grams), heroin trafficking 36-100, concealment of stolen goods under $ 1,200 (Glock firearm)
  • Tire Shakespeare, 19, home invasion (three counts), unloading a gun within 500 feet of a building, theft under $ 1,200, carrying a gun without a license , assault with intent to kill, malicious damage to a motor vehicle
  • Nathaniel Palmer, 30, possession of firearm without FID card, carrying firearm with ammunition, possession of Class D substance

All but Romero, Bigelow, Shakespeare and Palmer are denied bail under the state’s Dangerousness Act, which allows judges to order people accused of violent offenses to be held without the right to release on bail up to 120 days.

Romero is being held on $ 100,000 bond, Bigelow on $ 10,000 and Palmer on $ 3,000. Shakespeare is being held without bail because he allegedly violated his pre-trial probation.


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