Seventeen people have been charged in north Mississippi as a part of a major operation targeting suspected gang members called “Operation Bite Back,” officials said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Don Alway announced the offensive early Tuesday morning, The Clarion-Ledger reports.
Officials say the operation focuses on Panola County and is a byproduct of the deep investigation that has come through the probe into the death of Jessica Chambers, a 19-year-old woman burned alive on Dec. 6, 2014, in Courtland.
Just after 8 p.m., Chambers was doused with gasoline and set on fire in her car next to the gate to private land on Herron Road. She got out of the car and was found on the road with burns over most of her body. She died hours later at a hospital in Memphis.
Panola County Sheriff Dennis Darby said Tuesday’s arrests are not directly related to Chambers’ death but to information gathered as authorities have interviewed more than 150 people and sorted through more than 20,000 phone records trying to find her killer.
FBI spokesman Jason Pack said as the FBI assisted state and local investigators, suspected illegal activity came to light and resulted in the indictments and arrests Tuesday morning. The indictments in both the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi and Mississippi’s 17th Circuit Court District charge the 17 suspects on a variety of violations ranging from child endangerment, possession of stolen firearms, narcotics sales and felon in possession of a firearm to possession of counterfeit currency.
District Attorney John Champion said the roundup started around 4 a.m. in Oxford. FBI agents targeted suspected members of the Black Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Sipp Mob street gangs after gathering intelligence on their suspected criminal activity from local law enforcement and community members weary of the violence in their neighborhoods.
SWAT teams from the Mississippi Highway Patrol and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics joined three FBI SWAT teams to make the arrests, Pack said. He said some of the suspects were picked up by local authorities on federal writs, six were previously indicted on state charges stemming from the operation and the remaining nine were picked up Tuesday morning. Some have since bonded out.
Alway said the suspects have been indicted on a variety of state and federal charges, and officials expect that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s taken eight or nine months, if not a little longer, to get to this point,” Champion said. “And this is not over by any stretch of the imagination.”
Champion said authorities are now in “proactive stage.”
“We’re going to start being very proactive toward the drug and gun problems in the communities,” he said. “The community needs to know that when we ID those doing drugs and other crimes in the community, we’re going after them.”
Darby has alluded to the Chambers case leading to other major case breaks.
“This is some part of it, it’s the state, feds and us working on this stuff,” Darby said. “We’ve told them and told them that this was coming. We’re not playing with them anymore.”
“Many cities across the country have success pooling resources with federal and state agencies to fight and control gangs and gang-related violence,” said Alway. “It’s our intent that this operation will be the start of that here in Panola and surrounding counties”.
A team of investigators from the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the U.S. attorney’s office are still digging into Chambers’ death. A marked lack of street chatter has made the case a tough one to crack, authorities have said, causing much of the investigation to hinge on data collection.
Those charged are:
— Lyndon Mosely Jr., 24, distribution of crack cocaine
— Edward House, 39, distribution of powder cocaine and distribution of crack cocaine
— Joshua Cannon, 25, cocaine possession
— Anand Vijay Shegog, 39, sale of a controlled substance
— Mondarious Armstead, 23, public drunk; receiving stolen property; possession, sale, transfer of stole firearm
— Gregory B. Andrews, 22, distribution of powder cocaine (x2)
— D’lirian Case, 18, attempt to pass counterfeit and passing counterfeit
— Janicholas Vankeith Scott, 34, sale of cocaine
— James Mosely Jr., 26, robbery, sale of cocaine, presenting false cocaine in state
— George Todd, 23, attempt to pass counterfeit
— Dedrick Ivery, 39, possession of controlled substance; child abuse; firearm enhancement; felon in possession of firearm in proximity to school/church
— Antonio Johnson, 28, possession controlled substance with intent
— Xavier Hooks, 25, possession gun by felon; possession of a stolen gun
— Kevin Windfield, 37, sale of controlled substance
— Elgin Lamar, 38, possession of controlled substance (x2); possession of controlled substance with intent, child endangerment (x2)
— Deon Smith, 20, passing counterfeit
— Stanley Coleman, 40, sale of cocaine (x4)
According to MDOC records, Gregory Andrews and Janicholas Scott were both on parole for previous drug charges. The Clarion-Ledger has reached out to MDOC to see whether any of the others have records with the state.