Recent Gangster Disciple arrests
* March 25 -- Darrell Armour, 25 - Possession of crack cocaine for resale, possession of marijuana for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia * March 26 -- O'Shae Smith, 20 - Attempted first-degree murder, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault * April 5 -- Jamichael Smith, 22 - Possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony, two counts possession of a controlled substance * April 6 -- Antonio Watkins, 21 - Possession of cocaine for resale, possession of marijuana for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia, retaliation against a judge, juror or officer Source: Hamilton County Sessions Court records
Chattanooga police arrested a high-ranking member of the Gangster Disciples on Sunday after officers raided a home and vehicle and discovered stolen handguns, cocaine, marijuana and a police badge inside.
Antonio Watkins, 21, is at least the fourth Gangster Disciple to face felony charges in the last two weeks as police execute a crackdown on the gang as part of the city's Violence Reduction Initiative. The initiative aims to reduce gang-related gun violence in Chattanooga by offering offenders who want help a way out while also coming down hard on offenders who keep shooting.
One of the people in the house police raided Sunday night was Dennis Clark, who worked as the marketing director for Hope for the Inner City -- the organization spearheading the support side of VRI -- between October 2014 and January. Clark was not arrested, although two of his relatives were.
An anonymous person initially called police to the house at 2004 Curtis St. for a noise complaint, and told police "the dope boys were back," according to the affidavit police filed.
The house is known to be a spot where Gangster Disciples congregate, police say. In the last two years, police have responded to the house 36 different times and have executed three search warrants on the residence.
This time, officers arrived to find a gold Honda CRV that matched the description of a vehicle used in a recent shooting. Officers saw several bags of marijuana inside the vehicle, which gave them probable cause to search the car. They then found a large bag of white powder in the center console.
Police determined that Watkins used the car regularly and found Watkins' identification inside the car.
He was arrested and charged with two counts of drugs for resale, as well as possession of drug paraphernalia and retaliation against an officer. When he was being booked into the Hamilton County Jail, Watkins asked the arresting officer what his name was and suggested that he might put a hit out on the officer. He later claimed he was just kidding, according to the affidavit. Watkins posted a $50,000 bond and was released Monday.
Twenty-seven officers responded to the house Sunday night, police Chief Fred Fletcher said. After arresting Watkins for what officers found in the car, police also searched the house and discovered two stolen guns and a CPD officer's badge hidden inside the home.
The badge belonged to Officer Ryan Lynn. He'd reported it as lost on March 21, when he realized near the end of his shift that it was missing. Lynn had spent March 21 executing an unrelated search warrant on the same house at 2004 Curtis St.
In that search, police seized a gun and drugs and handed out several misdemeanor charges, police said. It's likely, though not certain, that Lynn lost the badge in the house on that day, said Fletcher.
He added it's not unusual for officers to damage or lose equipment while on the job.
"Officers lose and damage property on a daily basis," he said, but added that the failure to return the badge was concerning. "I'm absolutely concerned why any community member wouldn't return property that obviously belongs to someone else."
Police have not received any reports that the badge was misused, Fletcher said.
Watkins' mother, Latoya Watkins, was arrested for the stolen property after she admitted she knew about the guns, and was charged with two counts of theft. After the search, city code enforcement officers condemned the house, meaning it is uninhabitable.
Clark said he was at the home that night for a family Easter dinner and that he had no idea his relatives were keeping guns and drugs inside the house, which his grandfather owns. He was unhappy with the heavy-handed police response but said he thinks officers arrested the right people.
"The SWAT team just scared the beejeebers out of us," he said. "They had guns drawn. We were very afraid."
He contested police claims that the house is a Gangster Disciple house and said Sunday's dinner was a "wholesome family event."
City officials and Hope for the Inner City distanced themselves from Clark on Tuesday.
"Dennis Clark is not and has never been an employee of Hope for the Inner City nor has he had any involvement with VRI," Paul Green, Hope for the Inner City's executive director, wrote in a statement. "Clark ... was contracted to provide consultant services. Those services included general marketing and public relations for Hope for the Inner City which were unrelated to the VRI."
Fletcher also said he's never worked with Clark.
"He is not working with me on the Violence Reduction Initiative," he said.
Fletcher declined to comment on the ongoing VRI enforcement action against the Gangster Disciples. Under the guidelines of the VRI, an enforcement action is triggered when a gang is dubbed the most violent gang in the city or if a gang member kills someone.
In this most recent enforcement action, police also have arrested O'Shae Smith, 20, on an attempted murder charge, 22-year-old Jamichael Smith and 25-year-old Darrell Armour on felony drug charges.
Jamichael Smith and Armour were found with a combined 32 grams of cocaine and 124 grams of marijuana. Both have since posted bond and been released. O'Shae Smith remains in custody on a $495,000 bond.
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or at [email protected] with tips or story ideas.