MANATEE -- Local and federal investigators say they have wiped out a ruthless crime ring responsible for at least nine homicides and dozens of other crimes -- including a man gunned down in the parking lot while youth football teams were practicing last year at the 13 AV Dream Center.
Six people have been charged as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy of crimes that include homicides, drug trafficking, kidnapping and robberies in Bradenton, Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to federal officials.
Since at least 2006, local law enforcement officials say they have known the rash of crimes plaguing the community were related, according to the federal indictment unsealed Thursday.
"Law enforcement always believes that they know really who is involved but sometimes it's more difficult to make a case," Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said. "As a result of what we are doing here today, I believe our communities are safer."
U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley announced the indictments from Operation Maximum Response during a news conference at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. The six men charged are:
Nathaniel "Popo" Harris
Napoleon "Pole" Harris
Charlie "Mr. 30N32" Green
Jerry "Jerk" Green
Corey "James" Harris
Deonte "Tang" Martin.
All six suspects are in custody.
The 28-count indictment charges the suspects with crimes including conspiracy, firearms charges in connection with slayings, robberies, kidnapping as well as drug trafficking in heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, oxycodene and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
Indictment charges date as far back as 2006 and include the slayings of Joseph Evans, Calvin Barnes, Demetrius Cunningham, Christopher Jenkins and most recently of Brenton Coleman Sr.
The fatal shooting of Coleman Sr. caused a public outcry after a few hundred people witnessed his death following one of the first practices of the season for the Pee-Wee team.
"Well, the big thing was for the parents and the children themselves that were out there," said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski. "We hope ... they see that law enforcement is working for them to give closure in that case, and make their neighborhood safe so that they will cooperate more and continue to make their neighborhood safe. It's a big win for not only law enforcement but for that specific community in itself."
Three suspects, Napoleon Harris, Charlie Green and Corey Harris, were arrested Thursday morning and appeared before a federal judge for their first appearance. All three were denied bond.
After the hearing, the men were taken to a Tampa Bay area holding facility until trial, according to Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow.
All six men face mandatory life sentences with the possibility of death sentences.
"Joseph Evans has a voice, a kid who was sitting at home with his family has a voice," said Trevor Velinor, Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms acting special agent in charge. "We're going to make sure he has a voice. Calvin Barnes, a 16-year-old young man who did exactly as he was requested, he, too, now has a voice. We're going to make certain that he has a voice. The community who was at a Pee Wee ballgame enjoying the energies of kids, the hopes of tomorrow, they, too, deserve this moment and they, too, have a voice. We're going to make sure that justice prevails."
Beatrice Barnes broke down in sobs when she walked to the sheriff's office after hearing the suspects in her son's death were being charged.
Her mother, Hazel Barnes, held her as she broke down.
"It's over baby. They got him. They are facing life. They are facing the chair," Hazel Barnes said. "I told them how they left our baby on the side of the road to die."
The grief-stricken mother continued to sob as she thanked God for answering her prayers.
"They got him, that's all that counts. They are going to put him away for the rest of his life," Hazel Barnes said. "Calvin doesn't have a life anymore."
Celeste Evans, mother of Joseph Evans, also rushed to the sheriff's office when she heard the news.
"This has been really hard for me, the hardest journey I've had to take," Evans said. "There is absolutely no reason for him to be dead."
All she has ever wanted was justice for her son's death, she said. She said she urged loved ones not to retaliate and to just have faith in God and the sheriff's office.
"Justice will help me move on," Evans said. "I am stuck in a dark cloud now."
She said the only question that remains for her is why. She urges the community to come forward with information so law enforcement can stop the violence and hold those responsible accountable.
"The community needs to come together," Evans said. "Don't wait for it to hit home before you come forward."
Bentley reviewed the slayings detailed in the indictment at the press conference.
April 8, 2007: Christopher Jenkins was shot dead by Jerry Green after the two fought at Club Nitros in Palmetto, investigators say. Jerry Green was initially charged by local authorities days later, but prosecutors were forced to drop the charges when a key witness refused to testify. This was not the last time Jerry Green beat a murder charge. In 2009, he was charged in the shooting death of Alex Dawson but was later found not guilty by a jury in 2011.
Sept. 4, 2010: Joseph Evans was shot dead through the window of a home where he was playing with his daughter when Nathaniel Harris and Charlie Green mistook him for Cunningham, the indictment said.
Oct. 26, 2010: Nathaniel Harris, Napoleon Harris and Charlie Green kidnapped Calvin Barnes, 16, in order to lure Cunningham, according to the indictment. Cunningham was shot dead and because he witnessed the slaying, Calvin Barnes was shot dead as well, investigators say.
July 3, 2012: Investigators say Charlie Green and Jerry Green ambushed and murdered Ceola Lazier.
April 1, 2013: Jurado was asked to deliver one kilogram of cocaine to Napoleon Harris and Jerry Green. When he arrived, he was shot dead and the drugs were then taken, the indictment said.
Aug. 1, 2013: Brenton Coleman Sr., 39, was shot dead by Corey Harris and Deonte Martin in the parking lot outside the 13th AV Dream Center following a youth football practice, investigators said.
Although not charged separately, Jerry Green is also accused of killing Rodney Lamb and Erika Williams in Sarasota County on Sept. 2, 2008.
David Bitkower, Deputy Assistant Attorney General with the Department of Justice, who supervises gang prosecutions nationwide, was at Thursday's press conference.
"This case demonstrates a sustained effort to bring to justice exceedingly violent crime organization for years of murder, drug trafficking and other crimes here in Florida," Bitkower said. "We are well aware of the devastating impact these groups have in their communities, which is exactly why our prosecutors specialize working in partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office throughout the country to disrupt and incapacitate groups like this."
Operation Maximum Response is still ongoing and additional charges and arrests are possible.
"This isn't over, we have a lot more yet to do," Steube said.
The investigation went outside county borders with the crime ring reaching as far as Orlando, Tampa and Brandon, officials said. The cooperation of local agencies, including the sheriff's office, Bradenton, Palmetto, Sarasota and St. Petersburg police departments was instrumental in the investigation's success, officials said.
Officials ask that anyone with any information relevant to this case call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at 888-283-8477.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.