Tuesday, April 16, 2024

DA’s office added a prosecutor to exclusively go after violent gang members

District Attorney Ben David gives a statement to reporters in front of his office’s homicide memorial wall. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A grant has given District Attorney Ben David’s office a new prosecutor position to combat gang violence, and he believes it is the first of its kind in the state

Funded by a $117,000 grant from New Hanover County, the current fiscal year budget originally included $107,000 to pay for the position, but the county board of commissioners approved a $10,000 increase Oct. 3 at the request of David’s office. The county pays the administrative office, which then reimburses the DA’s office.

READ MORE: Three arrested for first-degree murder in double homicide at TRU Colors COO’s home

County Manager Chris Coudriet pitched the grant to the board during its June 6 meeting as a continuation of the work the board has done to address violence “in the past half year or so,” referencing the creation of Port City United.

David told Port City Daily the goal is to tamp down on local gun crime and go after people his office considers public threats. He said the move is not related to any specific case or change in violent crime — in fact, the WPD reported violent crime was down by 17% compared to the year prior — rather because David believes the office can “do better.” 

He also pointed to the area’s history of gang violence as problematic.

In Wilmington Police Department’s annual crime report, it noted in 2021 five of the 15 homicides in the city were gang-related. In July of that year three people were killed in five days in shooting incidents. One victim, Koredreese Tyson, was a validated local gang member and an employee of the now-defunct TRU Colors Brewing.

In August Tequan Crews was convicted in the 2020 murder of teenager Ethon Douglas, after a shooting on Carolina Beach Road. The police department tied the case to rival gang factions.

The same month another validated gang member, Nahledge Vaughn, was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison after throwing a loaded handgun into the secure parking lot for judges at the New Hanover County Courthouse while fleeing from police.

David drew a comparison between the type of gang cases his office is trying to build to the prosecution of prohibition-era gangster Al Capone. Capone was implicated in more than a dozen murders, but prosecutors could never prove his connection to them. He was eventually imprisoned on tax evasion convictions.

“A lot of these cases are drug cases we’re taking in and maximizing what we can do with them,” David said. “ “But we’re going after people who we perceive to be very violent.”

Assistant District Attorney Brad Matthews is moving into the dedicated role of prosecuting gang-related crimes after overseeing felony drug cases for six years. He moved off the office’s drug team earlier in the month and will now focus on any crime involving gang members, including weapons, assault, murder, drugs or other activities tied to gangs.

David said the new position works closely with the Safe Streets Task Force, a collaborative effort among the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, the Wilmington Police Department and the FBI, to combat gang violence.

Matthews will continue to work through the 400 narcotics cases currently on his plate as he shifts his focus entirely to gangs.

“What this grant is allowing us to do is have much greater communication between the state and federal agencies that are all working on this issue together,” David said.

He declined to comment further about ongoing cases or the investigation tactics his staff is using because it could compromise the work. Matthews currently has more than seven pending homicide cases involving gang members on his plate.

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