Indictment Alleges 21 Shootings Over 2 ½ Years; 17 Guns Recovered
Part of Manhattan D.A.’s Comprehensive Strategy to Combat Gun Violence in East Harlem
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea today announced the indictment of 13 members of “Chico Gang,” based in and around NYCHA’s Wagner Houses, for engaging in numerous shootings and other acts of violence carried out against their rivals, including residents of NYCHA’s Jefferson Houses. The indictments allege 21 shootings – with 12 shooting victims – in and around the Jefferson Houses and other areas of East Harlem beginning in November 2018.
The defendants are charged in two New York State Supreme Court indictments containing 65 counts. All of the defendants are charged with Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree. Additional charges include varying counts of Attempted Murder in the Second Degree, Assault and Attempted Assault in the First Degrees, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, among other crimes. The indictment follows a long-term investigation led by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Unit (“VCEU”) and the NYPD’s Manhattan North Violent Crimes Squad.
“This indictment is one part of our work to break the cycle of violence gripping East Harlem, as teens are recruited to take the place of older gang members and continue their bloody rivalries,” said District Attorney Vance. “These defendants are alleged to have shot a dozen people, four of whom were unintended targets – including a 12-year-old boy. While we continue to aggressively prosecute gun violence in all of its forms, we are keenly aware that prosecutions alone cannot break this cycle. Over the past four years, we’ve invested tens of millions of dollars in violence prevention in East Harlem, from Youth Opportunity Hubs to networks of Community Navigators to our first-of-its-kind Center for Trauma Innovation. But without scaling up large, sustained investments in support systems and opportunities for vulnerable populations and historically marginalized communities, the City is facing a losing battle. Tackling the pandemic’s seismic, destabilizing impacts on unemployment, homelessness, and mental health, the availability of guns from states with lax gun laws, and law enforcement’s deficit of trust, credibility, and clearance rates in communities of color requires a whole-of-government approach.”
Police Commissioner Shea said: “The arrests of these gang members were specifically targeted to remove the drivers of this gang violence from our streets. The Chico gang has carried on senseless rivalries targeting other gangs with innocent members of the community – including children – being caught in the crossfire. It has to stop. We have worked very hard in the NYPD alongside the Manhattan DA’s Office, using forfeiture money seized from drug crews and criminals to fund programs and places to offer young people choices. These have included sports programs, jobs mentoring and skills. These defendants have made choices that they showed no intention of turning back from. Now, hopefully, they will face the consequences.”
According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, the 13 defendants are members of “Chico Gang” based in NYCHA’s Wagner Houses, located in East Harlem between Second Avenue and Harlem River Drive from East 120th to East 124th Streets. Many of the defendants were enlisted by older gang members who were charged by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office in February 2019 with numerous acts of violence, including 17 shootings, in retaliation for the fatal shooting of Juwan “Chico” Tavarez inside the Jefferson Houses.
As alleged in this indictment, between November 7, 2018, and July 29, 2021, the 13 defendants conspired to possess guns to continue the older gang members’ rivalry with individuals living in the Jefferson Houses, as well as to handle violent disputes with other individuals in the East Harlem area. In total, the defendants are charged with committing 21 shootings with 12 shooting victims, as well as multiple additional weapons-related crimes. Four of the shooting victims were unintended targets, including a 12-year-old boy who was shot in the leg on December 23, 2018.
Over the course of the investigation, investigators executing court-authorized search warrants and effecting arrests recovered 14 semi-automatic pistols and three revolvers, at least five of which were originally purchased in Maine, where the defendants traveled on multiple occasions to acquire firearms.
Tackling Gun Violence in East Harlem
The Manhattan D.A.’s Office takes a comprehensive approach to combatting gun violence. The Office is committed not only to prosecuting those responsible for gun violence, but preventing young people from getting involved in gun and gang violence in the first place. The Office also recognizes the impact these prosecutions have on the family, friends, and neighbors of those charged.
The Office’s Community Partnerships and Crime Strategies Units continue to work closely with community partners in East Harlem to coordinate prevention efforts, connect with more young people in the area, and assess additional resource needs for people who live in the Wagner and Jefferson Houses and the surrounding neighborhood. The Office also works with credible messengers to connect with youth at risk of becoming involved in gun violence.
In September, the Office will host its signature“Art of Healing” festivalin East Harlem to encourage residents and community members to use creative arts as a resource to heal trauma resulting from gun violence. Details, including date and location, will be available here. The Community Partnerships and Crime Strategies Units continue to address schools and community groups around Manhattan about gun violence prevention, with presentations tailored to specific audiences. Request a presentation here. Saturday Night Lights – the Office’s signature youth violence prevention program which was recently expanded to 100 gyms citywide – operates four sites in East Harlem. Learn more and sign-up for free, world-class sports and fitness training for young people here.
The D.A.’s Office has invested considerable resources in East Harlem through its Criminal Justice Investment Initiative. In September 2020, D.A. Vance awarded $8 million to Exodus Transitional Community to create a first-of-its-kind Center for Trauma Innovation (“CTI”) located in East Harlem and serving Northern Manhattan. The CTI addresses the needs of individuals exposed to trauma by enhancing and expanding trauma-informed and trauma-specific services and resources. The Center focuses on communities of color that experience disproportionate rates of violence and have less access to trauma services. The D.A.’s Office previously awarded Exodus Transitional Community $989,000 to provide trauma-informed programming to young people ages 14-24 through its CommonUnity program.
In 2017, D.A. Vance invested $10.3 million to create a Youth Opportunity Hub in East Harlem, which brings together community-based organizations to provide comprehensive services to young people. Union Settlement coordinates services under the Youth Opportunity Hub and partners with more than two dozen local East Harlem providers to offer tailored supports and programming, including employment and workforce training, violence prevention, recreation, mental health services, legal representation, maternal and infant health services, leadership development, and benefits assistance.
Additionally, the D.A. awarded $1.3 million to the Association to Benefit Children, an East Harlem-based organization specializing in family and youth development, to provide a wide-range of individualized wraparound services and supports to youth and their families, and awarded $1.05 million to the Center for Court Innovation to create a Men’s Empowerment Program at the Harlem Community Justice Center that works to break the cycle of community and interpersonal violence impacting young men of color.
CJII likewise invested more than $7.2 million in the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to develop the Community Navigators Program, which serves East Harlem residents through a network of trained peers and social workers who act as a bridge to resources, helping individuals locate, connect, engage, and stay involved with the services they need to meet and achieve their goals.
Assistant D.A.s Timothy Duda and Pierre Griffith are handling the prosecution of the case with Assistant D.A.s Andrew Mercer and Matthew Thiman, under the supervision of Assistant D.A. Christopher Prevost (Chief of VCEU) and Executive Assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi (Chief of the Trial Division). Isabella Huber (VCEU Investigative Analyst) is assisting with the case, as did former Analysts Nicholas Blake, Michael Fernandes, Jaclyn Proctor, and Sophie Vigeland.
District Attorney Vance thanked the NYPD, including Deputy Chief Brian McGee (Commanding Officer Detective Borough Manhattan North), and the Manhattan North Violent Crimes Squad’s Captain Kurtis Rose, Sergeants John Mejia and William Dooley, and Detectives Albert Krasniqi and Fidel Santiago. D.A. Vance also thanked Detective Ben Murtiff of the Augusta (Maine) Police Department.