14 indicted in strike against gang violence

Fourteen suspected gang members were indicted on a range of crimes including murder and racketeering, dealing what authorities called a “tremendous blow” to a criminal enterprise that reached into three counties.

A federal grand jury returned indictments on Feb. 9 on racketeering and attempted murder charges after hearing evidence against two Colleton County gangs known as the Get Money Cowboys and the Wildboys, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week. Both groups have been linked to several assaults, drive-by shootings, home invasions, drug deals, homicides and other crimes in Colleton and surrounding counties.

“We live in a peaceful community around here, and for a long time, these individuals have been bringing a negative light,” said Colleton County sheriff’s Lt. Shane Roberts.

The indictments likely will cripple both groups, he said, as the suspects are believed to be the “lifeline” of the criminal enterprise.

The Cowboys, recognizable by the American flag bandannas often used to mask their faces, is composed primarily of young men who grew up together on the East Side of Walterboro. They have contributed to violent crime there since at least 2009, authorities said.

The indictments focused on crimes committed between October 2012 and November 2015, the Justice Department reported.

Ten of the 14 suspects were in jail when the indictments were announced Wednesday, Roberts said. The remaining suspects were arrested Tuesday, he said.

Accused Cowboys members indicted by the grand jury were:

Khiry Broughton, 25; DaShawn Trevell Brown, 23; Clyde Naquan Hampton, 23; Zaquann Ernest Hampton, 22; Matthew Rashaun Jones, 22; Christopher Sean Brown, 22; Bryant Jameek Davis, 21; William Lamont Cox, 38; and Quintin John Fishburne, 35.

The Cowboys have aligned with another violent gang known as the Wildboys, which has ties to Summerville and Walterboro, according to the Justice Department.

Suspected Wildboys indicted this month were:

Joshua Edward Manigault, 30; Brian Manigo, 24; Kelvin Mitchell, 28; Damien Robinson, 19; and Devin Brown, 21.

The Cowboys reached a plateau in growth roughly seven years ago after several of its members were thrown in jail, killed or chose to walk away from the lifestyle, authorities said. Some of the group’s older members have been known to double as rap artists, which authorities said attracted a younger crowd in recent years.

The gang of rappers was performing July 2013 at the Starlite Lounge at 243 Hudson Road outside St. George when a shootout involving the gang killed innocent bystander Sierra Denise Truesdale and wounded three others. Truesdale was at the roadside club that night celebrating her 23rd birthday.

DaShawn Brown, one of the men indicted in the federal case, was charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with Truesdale’s death. Those charges are still pending, Dorchester County court records show.

A December 2013 shootout involving two groups of men at a gas station in the Green Pond community outside Walterboro also was believed to be gang-related.

“We’ve been proactive in seeking out these individuals, and their numbers are dwindling,” Roberts said of the area’s gang activity.

This month’s indictments were the result of an investigation that lasted about 15 months, he said. Agencies involved in the probe included the Justice Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the State Law Enforcement Division, federal and state prosecutors and local law enforcement offices in Colleton, Dorchester and Charleston counties.

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe praised the joint effort, saying it was needed because the “federal system has much better and more effective laws on how to handle criminal enterprises.”

South Carolina has no racketeering statute, Pascoe said, “and it needs one.”

“It is almost impossible for a (state) prosecutor to get into a defendant’s prior bad acts” during a trial, Pascoe said. “It makes it very, very difficult to put criminals away.”

The federal racketeering statute, which targets organized crime, offers prosecutors an opportunity to explain to a jury the true depth of a gang’s activities, Pascoe said.

“(The Cowboys) crime ring is more than just Colleton County,” he said. “It goes right up (Highway 15) into St. George. It goes to Holly Hill and other areas. They’ve had a tremendous effect on our circuit.”

Pascoe said his office will continue to work with federal prosecutors to hold the group accountable.

“Hopefully,” he said, “it will send a message that you’re not going to get away with this type of criminal enterprise anymore.”

Reach Christina Elmore at 843-937-5908.