- Yes 79%
- No 21%
212 total votes.
Instead of seeking help the morning a bullet shot through his girlfriend’s house, Quanan Hutchinson said he grabbed his own gun and went outside.
“I wonder how things would have been different if I hadn’t even been there,” Mr. Hutchinson said as he sat in a conference room at the Silverdale Detention Center where he has been incarcerated for two years. “I (have) never seen myself as a harmful person. I never was raised like that.”
Trouble started on a summer evening in 2006. It was especially hot, and people were trying to stay cool in the Emma Wheeler public housing project on Chattanooga’s Southside.
The peace ended when 26-year-old Adrian Patton rammed his truck into a house on 48th Street.
He had been shot six times in broad daylight, and prosecutors would later claim he died as payback for apparently firing shots into the home of someone associated with members of the Skyline Bloods Gang.
A feeling of “war” instantly filled the air after Mr. Patton’s death, Mr. Hutchinson recalled calmly.
“It’s like, we (the United States) got our army, and Russia has their army. When something happens to someone, they bring their troopers out,” Mr. Hutchinson explained, leaning forward in his chair as he struggled to make sense of his actions two years later.
The killing of Jermaine Southers on June 16 in East Lake Courts — for which Mr. Hutchinson initially was charged with first-degree murder — would go down in news accounts as “gang retaliation” in response to Mr. Patton’s death.
It also would hurl Mr. Hutchinson, the 20-year-old former member of the Gangster Disciples gang, into the media spotlight and set in motion a major shift in the way Chattanooga law enforcement deals with gang violence.
“He may be sorry and remorseful,” said Mr. Southers’ aunt, Glenda Jones. “That still doesn’t take away the fact he participated in taking a life. The family is angry.”
Now 22, Mr. Hutchinson wore bright white sneakers, shackles around his ankles and a dull tan jumpsuit as he sat in a large room inside Silverdale.
In a room decorated with just a table and four chairs, he often turned his head to his attorney, uncertainty in his eyes, as if searching for permission to keep talking.
“People were just mad. They weren’t thinking,” Mr. Hutchinson said of those three tension-filled days when the two young black men died.
When Mr. Hutchinson left his girlfriend’s apartment shortly before Mr. Southers’ death that morning, he said a man named Norman Ricks, a member of a rival gang, ordered him to “pick off” the victim. Mr. Hutchinson insisted he didn’t know who the target was at that point.
“I went around (the house), shot two times in the air to make it look like I did something,” he said. “If I woulda went around there and (done) nothing, there’s no telling what (Mr. Ricks) was going to do to me.”
Forensic evidence eventually would prove that the two bullets Mr. Hutchinson fired never hit Mr. Southers.
Mr. Hutchinson has since pleaded guilty to facilitation of second-degree murder. He will be sentenced Sept. 22.
He faces eight to 12 years in prison, and prosecutors now are pursuing a first-degree murder charge against Mr. Ricks, the man they claim fired the fatal shots.
“This sickens my heart,” said Cynthia Hill, Mr. Hutchinson’s mother. “I’m scared for him to go to prison, but God put him in a place where he might be able to get his life back.”
Awaiting his sentence, Mr. Hutchinson’s hair is shaved short, his voice soft.
He is small and fit with the baby face of a teenager who looks like he should be in school, not a young adult with numerous misdemeanors on his record or the father of twin daughters who will turn 3 in November. The toddlers have visited him several times while in jail.
“I’m trying to get to them before they get older, start asking me crazy questions,” he said with a nervous smile.
He also said he wants to experience the “good life” some day — what he described as being the head of a household, making a legitimate living and having real responsibilities.
But there are tattoos still on his arms, the markings of his former gang life that he said he’s still trying to blot out.
One tattoo on his upper right chest is a heart with his mother’s name, “Cynthia,” across the top.
While in Silverdale, he said he had it done to cover up another tattoo that displayed the letters “GD” for Gangster Disciples.
“I felt being in a gang was popular at the time,” Mr. Hutchinson said of his membership that started at about 15. “But when I turned around, it was like a nightmare.”
Searching for safety?
Mr. Hutchinson’s candor at Silverdale that afternoon is rare because legitimate gang members almost never talk about their associations. They usually are unwilling to acknowledge such associations even exist.
And the word “nightmare” certainly is never used since being in a gang is generally believed to be a safe haven for a young person seeking acceptance on the streets.
Moving from home to home in North Chattanooga and then settling on 19th Street, Mr. Hutchinson said, being in a gang was necessary.
“You place yourself as a target if you’re not in a gang,” he said. “It really isn’t safe out there.”
Mr. Hutchinson’s experience illustrates what is often a reality — abandonment by those he thought would help him.
“They wanted to nail (Mr. Hutchinson) to the cross for murder,” said his defense attorney Robin Flores. “We had discussed that, how all these gang-member buddies turned their backs on him and left him swinging.”
no model citizen
Still, Mr. Hutchinson never has been a model citizen.
He was in jail at least 10 times as a young adult, he estimated, but always for misdemeanors and never for more than 15 days at a time.
According to court records, he is still awaiting the resolution of two other felony charges involving possession of crack cocaine and driving with a suspended or revoked license.
At one point when he was 17, Mr. Hutchinson said, his mother sent him to live with his aunt in Courtland, a small town in Alabama, so he could “start fresh.” He went there to have a chance at finishing school as well, since he had been expelled from three Chattanooga high schools after an endless series of suspensions.
“He wanted to go to college,” Ms. Hill said.
But when one of his older brothers suddenly died in a drowning accident, Mr. Hutchinson said he had to move back to Chattanooga to help his mother. He would never go to high school again, and a brief attempt to get his GED failed when he chose to drop out of the program.
Mr. Hutchinson drifted back into the streets and became a cocaine dealer by 18. He already was a bona-fide gang member, he said, but is reluctant to give the details of how his life ultimately got to that point.
Mr. Hutchinson said he wants to apologize to Mr. Southers’ family at his sentencing hearing, but is well aware of the permanent toll his decision to be in a gang had taken.
“In the longer run, gangs destroyed me.”