LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Law enforcement leaders say much of Louisville's rising rates of violent crime can be traced back to gang members. That's why multiple agencies consider Monday morning's court case a "win" in the fight against violence.
Three of five people indicted on gang-related charges were in court, in connection with an incident from May. Jacob Bell, Virgil Jackson, Ramonto Underwood, Reginald Webster, and Demetrius Wiley were indicted on multiple charges last week, including engaging in organized crime. Wiley, Underwood, Webster and Bell pleaded not-guilty in court. Jackson was not in the courtroom for the hearing.
The charges stem from a drive-by shooting at the Manslick Foodmart back in May. An LMPD detective happened to be in a convenience store and catch the suspected criminal attempting to hide guns behind the counter.
For police, cracking down on criminal activity starts with officers out on the streets identifying suspected criminals and arresting them. In this case, eight people were locked up and 11 guns were seized from the scene.
Fast forward two months and the prosecutors got involved — charging five of those suspects in connection to the gang activity.
"It's very important because this is a problem for our whole community and especially the neighborhoods where these individuals live and operate...people can't go to the grocery, let their kids out to play without worrying about a stray bullet," Assistant Commonwealth Attorney's Elizabeth Jones Brown said.
Jones Brown leads the violent crime division in the prosecutor's office. She said much of this year's record breaking rates of violence can be tied back to one thing — internet insults.
"A lot of our murders are retaliation for slights, beefs on social media, insults... the violence is the retaliation," she said.
Jones Brown added innocent people are getting caught in the crossfire more than ever before.
"People's property gets damaged, people get hit, people get murdered and then people have to live in fear that they cant go outside their houses because this is going on," Jones Brown said.
Gang violence is also a major focus for federal agencies, including Louisville ATF.
"The people that are actually committing violent crimes — its a very, very, very small percentage and that's where ATF agents are focused," said Shawn Morrow, ATF Louisville Special Agent in Charge, in a June interview.
He says he has special agents embedded in LMPD homicide division every day so they can respond to the city's most heinous situations as they occur.
"Criminal groups and gangs do exist in Louisville, they do operate in Louisville, they are a focus of ATF and LMPD," Morrow said.
For the prosecutor, the case isn't yet a "win," but they say its a step in the right direction.
"If we can just calm down the social media wars, perhaps that will calm down the battles on the streets and that will keep the next person from being shot," Jones Brown said. "I want them to know that there are people out here working to stop it."
The defendants are expected back in court on Friday, where they will be asking for a reduction in bond. Jones Brown, the prosecutor on the case, said she doesn't want that to happen — calling it a priority to keep the suspects off the street while this case works its way through the court system.
RELATED: 'Our goal is to disrupt the shooting cycle': Inside the ATF, an agency dedicated to stopping gun violence in Louisville
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