Last Modified: Sunday, May 12, 2013 12:49 AM
Authorities believe that Houston crime rings were feeling out Lake Charles’ burglary potential during recent forays into the area.
Officials said home burglaries in south Lake Charles on Dec. 17 and Jan. 10 were the work of a Houston gang, as were RadioShack robberies in Sulphur and Lake Charles on Jan. 24, although the gangs are not believed to be related.
Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon said the seven people indicted in the south Lake Charles burglaries are members of the 103s, which stands for 100 percent Third Ward.
The nine people indicted in the RadioShack robberies are from the Uvalde Road area of Houston, he said.
“Do I think that Houston gangs were testing the waters over here? Absolutely,” Dixon said. “I think based on what we’ve done here and that we’ve got 15 or 16 of them in jail, they’ve found out that this is not a good place to come over to. We take this seriously.”
Crime from Houston or other metropolitan areas is nothing new in the area. Dixon said most of the area’s drug trade hails from Houston.
And, as with any community along major highways, burglaries of businesses often stem from criminals using Interstate 10 as a quick way to commit crimes and get out of town.
“As far as an outside gang that deliberately came and deliberately targeted ... this is the first time I can remember it in my 11 years as chief, other than a one-shot hit,” Dixon said.
“I think you’re going to have people go not too far from where they live but far enough where they won’t be recognized,” Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier said. “You are always going to have that, but organized activity is a different matter. That’s something relatively new.”
Dixon credits community vigilance with helping solve the south Lake Charles robberies.
After the south Lake Charles robberies on Dec. 17 and Jan. 10, residents were put on alert and extra patrols sent to the neighborhoods.
On Jan. 17, a resident saw men going around ringing doorbells and called police, who stopped the vehicle.
“Because we had a detail in that area, as soon as we got the call, we were on it,” Dixon said. “Although all we could charge them with was trespassing, relatively minor charges, it gave us an opportunity to identify them and coordinate with Houston.”
The men had Googled Lake Charles golf courses and were targeting high-end residential areas, Dixon said.
The police chief said the stop led to a search of a Houston home of a relative of alleged ringleader Derrick Deshaun Brooks, 23. Weapons, cocaine, marijuana and jewelry were found, as was a pistol from a Jan. 10 Lake Charles burglary, Dixon said. The gun was found in the toilet.
Dixon said a black Toyota Tacoma was used in the Jan. 10 burglaries. A chase between Houston authorities and a black Tacoma ended with the apprehension of Brooks’ brother, Terrance Alexander Brooks, 24.
Dixon confirmed one of the men, Joe Roy Cockerham III, 19, was a college student.
“They’ll find somebody to drive who’s clean, so if they get road-stopped, they’ve got no criminal history,” Dixon said.
Agency coordination and community attentiveness also played a part in the RadioShack investigations, Dixon and Sulphur Police Chief Lewis Coats said.
On Jan. 24, at 7:40 p.m., the RadioShack on Derek Drive was held up by three masked men. Dixon said his agency then sent out a message to surrounding areas in case the robbers struck again.
Coats said Sulphur police sent an extra patrol to the area surrounding the RadioShack on Cities Service Highway.
When a Sulphur resident in the area reported suspicious activity in his backyard “we knew RadioShack was about to be robbed,” the Sulphur police chief said.
He said the robbers were in the resident’s backyard “staging up.” Sulphur police arrived at the RadioShack as it was being robbed.
An officer shot one of the men as he was exiting the building, although the robber got away. Coats said it was the first time since the early 1990s that a Sulphur police officer shot a suspect.
Coats said James Undra Cooper, 22, was arrested not far from the RadioShack and Jason Rashad Barnes, 22, was arrested by state police as he walked across the I-210 bridge.
An alert was sent to surrounding hospitals to be on the lookout for someone with a gunshot wound. Christian Domingue Earvin, 25, was arrested in Baytown, Coats said.
I don’t know that they have roots here,” Coats said. “I think they were testing the waters, finding opportunity to commit a crime.”
Authorities believe the group was part of a gang that had robbed 48 RadioShacks inside Houston city limits.
Dixon said the robbers focused on high-dollar cellphones. “This is a huge criminal enterprise,” he said.
“I think they were just probing new territory,” DeRosier said. “If they hit close to 50 electronics outlets in the Houston area, they were pushing their luck pretty hard, and I think they were just looking to expand their markets of operation and they just picked the wrong place to try and expand.”
Sheriff Tony Mancuso said a local intelligence group formed as part of the GO Group played a part in the sharing of information. The group, which doesn’t have a formal name, meets once a month “to gather information and intel on investigations we’re doing,” he said. The group comprises Calcasieu and Cameron agencies, as well as federal and state agencies.
“We’ve always done that individually internally,” Mancuso said. “We’re trying to make sure we broaden that.
“I think it’s slowed down dramatically since we’ve formed that and since we’ve made those arrests here in Calcasieu and the Houston area.”
“We’ve had very good luck with getting these guys in Sulphur and Lake Charles because of the networking together with local and federal agencies,” Coats said.
The heads of the respective departments talked tough in their hopes that outside crime rings won’t return.
“I think they were (sent a message) and I think we were very aggressive in our stance,” Mancuso said. “We did a very extensive investigation and we’ve seen a dramatic drop since that. I feel like we’re very aggressive anyway. We’re not like most places. We really do share all of our information, even more so now with this new intelligence group.”
Since Jan. 24, authorities said they have seen no more burglary activity from Houston.
“We really hit a home run,” DeRosier said. “They probed Calcasieu Parish, they got their butts fried and we haven’t heard from them since.
“Hopefully the word has spread around Harris County that Calcasieu Parish is not a very fertile and productive market for evil-doers.”