In age of Internet, gang tagging gets high-tech
No more going out in the cold, dark night to spray paint gang graffiti. Now, gangbanging can be done from the comforts of home by discretely pushing a few buttons on a cell phone.
“They used to use graffiti, but now they do it in text messages and on MySpace,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Mike Kittilstved, a member of the Spokane Gang Enforcement Team. “They are like society, and changing with times.”
Authorities say high-tech message delivery has been happening for a few years, but it has taken Eastern Washington gang members a while to catch up. Gangs are using the Internet and cell phones to intimidate, take credit for crimes and recruit, police say.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s more common than not,” said Frank Harrill, an FBI special agent in Spokane. “We’ve seen threats wrapped up in music. The higher technology is far more detailed and modifiable than spray painting graffiti.”
The recruitment element is concerning because “it paints that lifestyle in a far more positive light than reality,” Harrill said. Gang life is often portrayed as leisurely, glamorous and rich with images of rap singers such as Snoop Dogg.
A Feb. 17 gang-related shooting in north Spokane stemmed from a message posted on a Murder 1 Crips gang member’s MySpace.com page and directed at a rival gang, the Blocc Hustler Crips, according to court documents. The message, in the form of a rap song, insulted the Blocc Hustler Crips and boasted of a shooting near Second and Washington streets in March 2007. The Blocc Hustlers were the target in that shooting.
Rashjel Cage, a self-professed Murder 1 Crip, posted the message and was convicted of riot.
Cage and his family were the targets of the Blocc Hustlers in the recent shooting at 903 W. Spofford No. 1, authorities say.
Pierre Davis, 19, is being held on $1 million bail in Spokane County Jail in connection with that shooting but denies involvement.
Davis said he no longer is a member of the Blocc Hustlers. “I ain’t done nothin’,” Davis said in a recent jailhouse interview. “I just know I’m here being falsely accused of a crime. I just wish the truth would come up.”
Investigators stand by their case against him. Davis is one of seven linked by police to the Spofford shooting. Charges against him include five counts of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
On Davis’ MySpace page, he claims affiliation to the Blocc Hustler Crips and asks that those arrested in the shooting be freed. According to information on his page, he last logged in April 9, the day he was arrested.
“The online communication is increasingly becoming the marketplace for the criminal element,” Harrill said. “The industry leaders, MySpace and YouTube, are currently predominant. But a year or two years from now, it could change significantly.”
To keep up with the criminal element, law enforcement is regularly trained on using technology as an investigative tool.
“It creates a challenge for law enforcement because we have to become equally technologically capable,” Harrill said. “But we have been able to use technology with some success to investigative data derived from online communication.”
Internet communication has been used to establish links between a defendant and victim, authorities say, or identify a piece of clothing a suspect may have been wearing while committing a crime.