Devil Dogs left scars on Gilbert

Gang also forced town to make changes

The Arizona Republic/December 31, 2000
By Edythe Jensen

In 1999, a gang of violent, teenage, White supremacists called the Devil Dogs teeth into Gilbert and left scars. Boys with fat allowances and vocabularies of hate attacked strangers with their fists. Several landed jail sentences this year; many more were captured on film and videotape yelling racial slurs and flashing White power hand signs.

Shocked by the incidents and by allegations of bigotry in this predominantly White, upper-middle-class suburb, town and school leaders are rewriting the rules for acceptable behavior.

Some say the push for diversity is healing the wounds inflicted by the Devil Dogs. Others argue that recovery has been slowed by the community's continued unwillingness to talk openly about how a gang of hate-inspired youths could have festered in its neighborhoods for so many years.

"Devil Dogs" was the latest incarnation of a gang that had festered in the city for nearly seven years. Police and court records show that a White supremacist gang that had begun at Highland High School had been under investigation since 1993. Members changed, as did the group's name in any given year.

This year, at Mayor Cynthia Dunham's direction, Gilbert adopted a character education program and is forming a diversity task force. Dozens of residents are flocking to bimonthly meetings to tell personal stories and encourage change. One of them is Larry Lee.

An African-American who has lived in Gilbert since 1989, Lee said he was warned about the group in 1992 and then listened for years to people who didn't believe it existed.

"It bothered me," Lee said of that denial. "I could have been one of their victims." A new era of tolerance With school district employee Chris Ybarra, Lee helped direct a residents group that wrote the schools' first policy against racial harassment. In January, Lee will begin work on a policy against religious harassment.

Lee has gotten to know Cheri Jarvis, a Mesa mother of one of the Devil Dogs' victims who attends nearly all the diversity sessions.

Her son Jordan Jarvis, 19, who is White, was disfigured in a gang attack more than a year ago and has had to undergo several facial plastic surgeries.

Cheri said the lives of everyone in her family have been changed by the ordeal, and she is committed to promoting tolerance and change in Gilbert.

"People have told me to quit. 'You're White,' they'd say," Cheri said. "They don't understand. I think Jordan was assaulted because there just didn't happen to be a Black person around."

Police reports show the gang members yelled racial slurs while they attacked Jordan, who declined to be interviewed. Gang members busted In February, police in Gilbert, Mesa and Phoenix connected the Devil Dogs to former Mafia hit man Sammy "The Bull" Gravano and a ring that trafficked in the designer drug called Ecstasy.

Gravano, who is in jail awaiting trial, and more than 35 other people were arrested.

Former Gilbert gang Detective Mike Sanchez said not all of Gilbert wanted to shed light on the gang, even after the Gravano arrests, and many still try to hush any mention of the gang that embarrassed the town.

"There is still a Gilbert mystique, a false sense of security," he said. "People think they'll be safer if they move to the suburbs, but there's really no utopia. Look what happened in Columbine. . . . And there was a home invasion in Ahwatukee."

Town Councilman Mike Evans said he was once told to keep quiet about the Devil Dogs "because it would hurt economic development." He didn't, and he said he is now suffering political fallout. School Superintendent Walter Delecki and several municipal officials circulated nomination petitions for Evans' opponents in the March 2001 election. "That doesn't surprise me," Evans said.

Sanchez, who quit the Police Department this year to take a job at an auto dealership, likened the community's attitude toward the Devil Dogs to a family's treatment of an alcoholic uncle.

"People don't want to talk about it, and that's wrong," he said. "Until this matters to most of the 100,000 people who live here, nothing's going to change." Out of the pound Four of the Devil Dogs arrested in 1999 completed jail sentences this year and are under intense probation supervision; three remain behind bars, and one is facing new criminal charges in Yavapai County.

All have been banned from returning to Gilbert high schools, where most earned good grades and played prep sports. But Sanchez said their assaults on strangers would have merited stiffer sentences had they been Black or Hispanic gang members.

"This was their winning lottery ticket," he said of their sentences. "What they do with it is up to them."

Gael Parks, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Probation Department, said the four released appear to be doing well, especially Philip Jason Lee, 18, who returned to his Gilbert home, graduated from an alternative high school and is completing community service. Lee declined to be interviewed.

Matthew Torres and Barry Nutter, both 18, and Glenn Cribbin Jr., 20, are also on probation. Parks declined to release their addresses or phone numbers but said they are in such an intensive program that they maintain daily contact with probation officers.

Micheal Spears, 18, and Kenneth Couturier, 17, are completing one-year jail terms; Kevin Papa, 18, is in prison in Tucson. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, his earliest release date is May 15, 2002. Papa's older brother, Mike, was arrested with Gravano.

Chad Anderson, 18, is facing burglary charges in Yavapai County. Gilbert police spokesman Ken Fixel said it may be naïve to think any police force can eradicate gangs. But school and police officials are working together to stem their activity, he said.

"When you look at our numbers, for the population we have and the types of gangs we have, it's pretty impressive," Fixel said. "And the work of our gang detectives has certainly helped, too."

Vernon Giscombe, student body president at Highland High School, which most of the convicted Devil Dogs attended, said a few criminals have given the school an undeserved bad reputation.

"Highland got a lot of publicity it shouldn't have; now people jump to the conclusion that it's a bad school," he said. "It was a great school before, and it's a great school now."

The School Board implemented new policies against racial harassment and discrimination in the fall.

Since September, 14 racial harassment complaints have been filed in seven schools, including Highland, according to district records requested by The Republic. School officials refused to release details of how those complaints were handled.

The mayor said her push for tolerance stems more from the community's growing, changing population than from gang reports. According to census reports, Gilbert is the fastest growing municipality in the nation and is home to about 110,000.

"Gilbert is not the town it was 10 or 20 years ago," Dunham said. "We have different races, ethnicities, different religions sharing the same geographic space on this planet, and there is tremendous value in those differences."

Terry Burchett, a Gilbert police detective who had been investigating the Devil Dogs and their predecessors for nearly a decade and was credited with the arrests, was named one of the town's top 10 employees this year. She did not return telephone messages left at her office.

A write-up in the town newsletter announcing her award said Burchett had an "incredible year" with "numerous high profile cases."

No mention was made of the Devil Dogs.

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