A 19-year-old pled guilty Tuesday in 26th Judicial District Court to a charge of Criminal Street Gangs and Patterns of Criminal Street Gang Activity – a newly-revised state law. Latavion Thomas is the first of the “TTS” or “Trained to Step” street gang to plead guilty and be sentenced.
Thomas received 20 years at hard labor with all but eight years suspended. He will be placed on an additional three years of active supervised probation upon his release. This case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Jimbo Yocom.
“This is the first case from ‘Operation Save Our Streets’ where Minden Police and other agencies arrested around 26 gang members,” Yocom said. “The statute has never been used to dismantle a street gang, so we’re paving the way.”
This was a multi-agency round-up of gang members responsible for much of the violence in Minden and Webster Parish. During the round-up, authorities seized multiple guns, narcotics and thousands of dollars.
“We have an amazing team working with both our office and the Minden Police Department,” Yocom said. “Countless man hours have gone into investigating and combatting these street gangs. We will do everything we can to continue to fight the spread of violence throughout our community and will vigorously prosecute any gang member involved in criminal activity.”
“TTS” is defined as an ongoing formal and informal organization, association and group of three or more persons which has as one of its primary activities the commission of specific felonies, Illegal Use of Weapons, Aggravated Criminal Damage to Property, Attempted Second Degree Murder, Assault by Drive-By Shooting, Attempted Armed Robbery with Firearm, and distribution or possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances. These are all factors considered when charging each of these gang members.
Thomas had previous encounters with law enforcement that should have deterred him from this criminal gang activity. He was scheduled to go on trial a little more than a week ago. The district attorney’s office offered Thomas a deal similar to his latest plea agreement. At the time, he refused it.
“I am extremely proud of the Minden Police Department and all the agencies involved in this operation,” said District Attorney Schuyler Marvin. “This was a very complex case to put together. They put in the work and did not give up until these criminals were off our streets. We will continue to make sure that each of these gang members is brought to justice.”
The Revised Statute under which the case would’ve been tried reads as follows:
A. Any person who intentionally directs, participates, conducts, furthers, or assists in the commission of a pattern of criminal gang activity as defined shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than one-half of the maximum term of imprisonment provided for an underlying offense committed in a pattern of criminal gang activity and may be fined an amount not to exceed ten thousand dollars. Any sentence of imprisonment imposed pursuant to this Section shall be in addition and consecutive to any sentence imposed for an underlying offense committed in the pattern of criminal gang activity.
B. Any person who is convicted of a felony or an attempted felony which is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the intent to promote, further, or assist in the affairs of a criminal gang, shall, upon conviction of that felony, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which he or she has been convicted, be imprisoned for not less than one year nor more than one-half of the maximum term of imprisonment provided for that offense.
C. Any person who is convicted of an offense other than a felony which is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct or enterprise by gang members, shall, in addition and consecutive to the penalty provided for that offense, be imprisoned for an additional period of six months.
D. The court may elect to suspend all or a part of any additional mandatory punishment or enhanced punishment provided for in this Chapter only in an unusual case where the interests of justice would best be served, and if the court specifies on the record and enters into the minutes the circumstances and reasons that the interests of justice would best be served by that suspension of punishment.
The punishment section of the statute also states that any person over the age of seventeen who violates the provisions of this Section by knowingly soliciting, recruiting, enabling, encouraging, or otherwise causing a child under the age of seventeen to become a member of a criminal street gang, when there is a difference in age of at least three years between the solicitor and the person being solicited, shall be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not more than four years, fined not more than ten thousand dollars, or both. Lack of knowledge of the child’s age shall not be a defense.