Violent gang members thought to be responsible for a wave of shootings in the county are “scared” and “running” after a joint law enforcement operation conducted earlier this month, the head police officer in one of the hardest-hit communities said Wednesday.
Galveston County and federal law officers announced Wednesday more than 120 people had been arrested earlier this month as part of an anti-gang operation organized after the end of a violent year.
La Marque Police Chief Kirk Jackson said the operation had an obvious benefit in his community, which had been at the epicenter of the violence.
“Even in the subculture and within the communications among the criminal element, they’re scared as well,” Jackson said. “This collaborative effort has been what this community needed, because criminals don’t recognize boundaries. They don’t stick to one city. This has been a countywide effort. They’re scared and they’re running.”
During a news conference at the Galveston Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Office announced 123 people, including 44 identified as gang members, had been arrested in Galveston as part of Operation Washout, a nationwide initiative aimed at arresting violent fugitives and gang members sought on warrants.
The local operation occurred between Jan. 5 and Jan. 15. It also led to the seizure of 32 firearms, $20,400 in cash and 18.5 kilograms of narcotics, law enforcement officials said.
The operation has helped tamp down surging gang violence in the county, which is connected to shootings in Friendswood, La Marque, Texas City and Galveston in late 2020, officials said.
“We want to make sure that the citizens of this county feel like they can come out of their house and feel safe,” Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said. “I guess this was a step in the right direction, and there might be more to come.”
The operation involved nearly 20 police agencies in the county, and the marshals office brought in staff from as far away as Iowa, officials said.
During the operation, officers tracked and arrested people who had the “greatest propensity for crime,” officials said.
The marshals office didn’t provide names of people arrested during the operation or a comprehensive list of the charges filed against people the task force arrested, a spokesman said.
Officials couldn’t say how many of the people arrested as part of the operation were still in jail.
At least one of the arrests was connected to a murder investigation, Galveston Police Department Chief Vernon Hale said.
“These operations were not about property crimes,” Hale said. “They were about violent crimes. They were about violent criminals operating throughout the county. The operation was intended to reduce that violent crime going into 2021.”
With the operation completed, local communities needed to work to address social needs that contributed to the root cause of gang violence, Hale said.
The operation included a major show of force by police agencies, with groups of officers arresting people at gunpoint.
A DAY IN THE OPERATION
The operation occurred earlier this month and ranged across Galveston County. The task force invited The Daily News and other news organizations to ride along with the marshals as they conducted their operation — on condition the details about the operation would be embargoed until the agencies made their announcement about the arrests.
Members of the task force on Jan. 9 staked out the funerals of two young Black men killed during the year-end spate of violence. The burials were scheduled to happen at Galveston’s Lakeview Cemetery within minutes of each other. Law officers alleged the two men had been members of rival gangs and that gang members were attending the funeral.
Officials said they were monitoring the funeral over fears of violence between the two groups and because at least one person on the task force’s list of suspects was expected to attend one of the funerals.
There was no violence at the cemetery. As mourners were leaving, the marshals followed a blue BMW and pulled it over after it turned on a side street and down an alley in what police said they considered to be an attempt to avoid being tailed.
Three Black men were ordered out of the car while at least a dozen officers pointed guns at them. The men were handcuffed and asked whether warrants had been issued for their arrests. Officers searched the car but found no weapons.
During the arrests, one of the men could be heard complaining about being followed and detained after his brother’s funeral.
“I’m scared,” the man said. “My brother just died and you all are tripping. You need to be going out and getting the people that killed my brother, and not messing with us.”
Officials confirmed Wednesday that none of the three men in the car had been charged with any crimes and that the suspect they had been looking for was in another vehicle.