NewsLocal News

Actions

'Social media is the new graffiti': Indicted 'Laflexico' gang members communicated, coordinated online

Cleveland police
Posted at 11:23 AM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 18:39:23-04

CLEVELAND — More than a half dozen alleged members of the "Laflexico" gang, which have been implicated in two brazen shootouts on the west side, have been indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury, the prosecutor's office said Friday. The alleged gang members are also accused of weapons charges and drug trafficking of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl, officials said.

The Cleveland Police Department's Gang Unit conducted the long-term investigation alongside the 2nd District Detective's Bureau and the FBI as part of the Operation Legend Task Force, an anti-violent crime initiative started under former President Donald Trump.

Antonio Rodriguez, 18; Demerio Sancheze Lewis Watkins, 20; Donald Haley III, 20; Jorge Gonzalez, 23; Oscar Pruitt Jr., 23; Kato Laws, 24; Juan Fontanez, 26, and Timothy Looby, 26, have been charged with participating in a criminal gang and committing numerous crimes between December 2019 and March 2021. The indictment includes more than 50 charges in total.

Each individual has been indicted on multiple charges that include:

  • Participating in a criminal gang
  • Felonious assault
  • Improperly discharging into a habitation
  • Discharge of a firearm on or near prohibited premises
  • Improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle
  • Having weapons under disability
  • Carrying a concealed weapon
  • Trafficking
  • Drug possession
  • Possessing criminal tools
  • Tampering with evidence
  • Failure to comply
  • Receiving stolen property

Seven of the eight suspects have been arrested as of late Friday afternoon as authorities continue to try to locate Demerio Sancheze Lewis Watkins.

Ryan Bokoch, the assistant prosecuting attorney in the crime and strategies unit at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, said in an interview Friday morning that the Laflexico gang members are responsible for two brazen, broad daylight shootings that narrowly avoided causing collateral damage.

"There are a couple of incidents where we know for a fact that those triggers were pulled during broad daylight," Bokoch said. "[They were in] residential areas in which anybody can be the ultimate target of one of those bullets. Going after those cases and those people that are out in the community pulling the trigger behind those guns is going to make the community safer. It's a small percentage of people that are creating a large percentage of violent crimes. That's exactly what our unit goes after."

It is alleged that the suspects were involved in a shootout near West 31st Street and Clark Avenue in April 2020. During that incident, authorities said dozens of shots were fired, striking multiple homes in the area. Many of the homes were occupied by children at the time, prosecutors said. Many of which were occupied by children, prosecutors said.

On Nov. 12, 2020, the individuals were allegedly involved in another shooting near West 6th Street and Marquardt Avenue in Cleveland.

According to the unsealed indictment, the Laflexico gang primarily operated out of the Tremont Point Apartments near West 7th and Marquardt Ave. The gang also operates in the area of West 112th Street and Lorain Avenue in addition to West 90th Street and Madison Avenue.

The indictment also states that the Laflexico gang has rebranded itself over the years but has been associated with several other historical gangs operating on the city's west side. Some of Laflexico's members are also broadly affiliated with Cleveland's notorious Heartless Felons gang, the indictment states.

According to the indictment, Laflexico gang members would use social media, specifically Instagram, as their primary source of communication. Both in public posts and private messages, members would pay tribute to members that have been convicted or killed as well as reference past gangs in Cleveland that police have previously dismantled, including Madison Madhouse, #900, and Westside Mafia. Additionally, gang members would post music videos on YouTube and flaunt large sums of money and numerous weapons.

"As one sergeant that I work with quite often will say that social media is the new graffiti. It's the way they tag things and let people know it's their area and their space," Bokoch said. "When there's a gang beef going on, a feud, anything like that, you will see that play out in the music videos as one group is then bragging at the other group. Much of it is open source, and it's because they are bragging. They want the other side or whomever their rivals with to know that they are bragging about it. They want other people to know that they have guns and that they are not afraid of whomever they're beefing with in any given case."

Authorities said they also recovered several weapons, cash and drugs over the course of the investigation. Bokoch said hopefully with these indictments the areas that the alleged gang members operated in will be safer places.

"You may take it for granted, depending on where you live, to not hear gunshots in your neighborhood and how shocking it may be for people to hear gunshots. Too often it's commonplace in our city and our communities where it is a day to day occurrence," Bokoch said. "For those people that live in those communities and have to deal with that violence, they're very appreciative."

Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.

You can also catch News 5 Cleveland on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live and more. We're also on Amazon Alexa devices. Learn more about our streaming options here.