32 of Chattanooga's 'worst' criminals arrested in roundup

photo Chris Poole, assistant U.S. attorney, speaks at a news conference announcing the removal of 32 of the areas Most Dangerous Criminals from the streets Monday. Listening from left are Chattanooga City Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

ROUNDUPChattanooga residents charged with conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine or 5 kg or more of powder cocaine:Robert Stephon North, 34; Joe Jenkins, 40; Jumoke Johnson Jr., 20; Shannon D. Mitchell, 29; Gerald Toney, 33; Dejuan Cooper, 23; Guy L. Wilkerson Jr., 20; Rodney Harris II, 22.Frank White, 30; Valentino Harris, 28; Torrey Gilmore, 38; Reginald D. Oakley, 39; Juane Joseph, 19; Leonita Blackmon, 32; LaJeromeny Brown, 35; Kenneth Hopkins, 49.Kentarius Nealy, 20; Idriss Barr, 29; Adrian Washington, 36; Milo E. Geiger, 36; Jerry Wayne Alexander, Jr., 41; Johnny Caldwell, Jr., 44; Garry Brown, 24; Robert Siler, 27; Thaddius L. Humphrey, 32.Other Chattanooga-area residents charged are:Derrick L. Smith, 22, is charged with possession cocaine base ("crack") with intent to distribute.Donte Taylor, 27, Rahmon Christian, 21, and Tramale Johnson, 25, are charged with being convicted felons in possession firearms.Stephone L. Reed, 23, is charged with car-jacking, brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.Georgia residents charged with conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine or 5 kg or more of powder cocaine:Juanzell Jenkins, 37, Adairsville; Tommy Ryals, 34, Atlanta.

Flanked by local police, federal investigators and federal prosecutors, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke stood in the U.S. Attorney's Office here Monday and revealed a preview of the federal-local partnership he hopes will put the city's most violent criminals in prison.

"Our streets are too dangerous and today is the next step in the way we address how Chattanoogans face public safety," Berke said of an indictment charging 32 people with gun and drug crimes.

The youngest of those indicted is 19 years old. The oldest is 44. Most are in their 20s and face a decade in prison or more.

Many of the suspects have extensive criminal histories that could earn them 20 years to life in prison, if convicted. And they will serve full terms because federal court has no provision for parole.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd called the 32 suspects the "worst of the worst" Chattanooga criminals.

The common refrain from public officials at the news conference was that the stiff penalties this group faces should serve as an example of the hammer coming down on violent offenders who refuse to change course.

"We're serious about getting the bad guys off the street and making our neighborhoods safer," Chattanooga City Councilman Moses Freeman said. "If you insist on being bad you are going to have to leave town. You can either leave town and go somewhere else or leave town by going to jail."

Berke applauded the team approach among multiple agencies that led to the mass arrest.

He called the recent operation and future plans for crime-fighting an "attempt to tell the individuals in our community who are associated with violence this must end. It will end."

The investigation predates Berke's time as mayor, with some crimes charged in the conspiracy dating to 2009, but the work among the Drug Enforcement Agency, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, FBI and local police serves as a model of the High Point or Ceasefire initiative Berke has pushed since before his election in March.

The initiatives, so-called for their effectiveness in reducing violent crime in High Point, N.C., and Boston, respectively, work through a carrot-and-stick approach of offering career criminals education and jobs but hammering hard, federally-backed charges against those who continue to commit violent crimes.

Dodd said at Monday's news conference that the arrest of so many high-level drug and gun criminals should help squelch street crime in the near future.

"In the long term we tie this in with the High Point initiative. Hopefully we're going to have a couple of years where it's going to be very quiet," he said.

City Councilmen Yusuf Hakeem said at the news conference that the roundup serves as a "first test" of the new policing and prosecuting partnership that residents will have to accept.

"The community is going to have to realize or understand that it's not just about giving people the opportunity to change their lives," Hakeem said. "We have to get the bad guys off the street and some people are not going to like that, but it has to be done."

Within the next hour after the news conference, just a few blocks away in the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, batches of men in handcuffs heard their names called on federal indictments while friends and family mouthed supportive words or cried at the sight of their loved ones in chains.

Several supporters awaited news of the recently arrested but declined to comment. Most of those charged will remain in jail as they await trial.

Chris Poole, the lead federal prosecutor on the extensive case, said at the news conference that much of the work targeted drug conspiracies involving cocaine and crack cocaine and involved multiple defendants who also face felony weapons charges.

Poole declined to share specifics of pending cases but did say that possible sentences for some defendants range from 20 years to life in prison, without parole, if convicted of federal charges. This is unlike in many state-level cases where most defendants are parole eligible after serving just 30 percent of their sentence.

State-level prosecutors Neal Pinkston and Cameron Williams with the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office said at the conference that recent training and coordination will help in deciding which cases that begin with state charges can instead be taken to federal court.

Police did not have details of how many of the 32 people indicted were in custody as of late Monday. More arraignments are scheduled in federal court throughout the week.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.