One of the more disturbing trends that has worsened during my time as a prosecutor is gang member recruitment of young children. Gangs now target children as young as ten years old. We often see this begin in Juvenile Court.
As the focus of Juvenile Court is on rehabilitation and redirection, incarceration is the exception, rather than the rule. Consequently, young children seeking approval from gang members are encouraged to commit crimes (entering unlocked automobiles, etc.), because they face less serious consequences than an adult committing the same crime.
The proceeds from these crimes either go towards enriching older gang members or improving the status of the child with the gang.
As you might imagine, the severity of the crimes only escalate — and they often culminate in violence. A common violent crime committed by gangs is armed robbery.
As its name implies, armed robbery is a crime where a person intends to commit theft and takes someone’s property by using a weapon (or something that appears to be a weapon).
Our offices tend to take a harsh stand against armed robberies, as the difference between the loss of someone’s possessions and the loss of their life is a trigger pull away. Our office saw that awful result, yet again, in the murder of a young father and devoted fiance, Jeffery Ryan Deluca.
On July 24, 2020, Mr. Deluca, was attacked in his home while his fiancee and children were present. His attackers, members and associates of the Rollings 20s Neighborhood Bloods, shot him in the back of the head. Mr. Deluca was targeted as part of a plot to commit an armed robbery.
A Spalding County jury convicted two of Mr. Deluca’s murderers, Robert Freeman III and Xavier Carter, with Felony Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery, Three Counts of Aggravated Assault, and Violation of the Criminal Street Gang Act.
The Honorable Scott Ballard sentenced these Defendants to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years for the Street Gang Act Violation.
An additional conspirator and attacker, Damarion Sinkfield, previously pleaded guilty to Felony Murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Ashton Jordan and Assistant District Attorney Holly MacDonald tried this case for the State.
Evidence at trial indicated that the armed robbery plot was tied to initiating one of the Defendants into the Rolling 20s Neighborhood Bloods.
So, what can be done to stop gangs from poisoning the children in our community and dooming them to a life of violence, death, or incarceration?
The District Attorneys’ Office is by its nature a reactive body. We can only prosecute those who have already committed crimes and try to bring peace to a victim who has already been wounded.
However, recent proposed changes to our laws regarding criminal gang activity could make recruitment of new gang members a serious crime. Proposed legislation that would impose stiff mandatory sentences with no chance for the possibility of parole for those convicted of recruiting new gang members is one way to reduce the presence and impact of gangs in our community.
This new legislation would be in addition to the prohibition against engaging in crimes to further criminal street gang activity, which my office regularly applies in prosecutions to further increase the chance that gang members are taken off the streets and away from our children.
Let us hope and pray that this legislation passes.
Our office will continue to send a strong message to gang members that this Circuit is no place to do business. Working together with law enforcement, the legislature, and the community, we can keep these gangs out of our backyard and our children safe.
[Marie Broder has served as the Griffin Judicial Circuit district attorney since 2020. She resides in Griffin.]