They were pals, exceptional athletes and good-looking. At Lakewood High School, a well-tended campus with a "Father Knows Best" freshness about it, they were the BMOC--Big Men on Campus.
And, undeniably, they had a way with young women.
"We got all the girls," boasted Dana Belman, 20, a former varsity football linebacker who initiated the clique three years ago, when it consisted of 14 teen-agers who played basketball after school and wore San Antonio Spurs caps. They enjoyed going to football games and parties and tabulating their sexual exploits.
"We'd be at a party and people would say, 'Ah, there's the Spur Posse,' " Belman recalled. "Everybody looked up to us."
Not so now. With the arrest on Thursday of eight members--who face a total of 17 felony counts of rape, unlawful intercourse and related charges--the Spur Posse has come under sudden and harsh scrutiny in this community northeast of Long Beach.
According to Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators, the gang victimized a number of young women, using persuasion and threats to gain "points" in their long-running game of conquests. So far this month, seven girls--the youngest now 11 years old--have come forward with allegations about sexual encounters that occurred over a span of five months late last year, authorities said.
The case has caused the town to be deluged with camera crews and has flooded investigators with anonymous tips and reports of additional alleged victims. "There is no question in my mind . . . there will be additional arrests," Sheriff's Detective Doug Blaydes said Friday.
In the face of the mounting pressure, members and friends of the Spur Posse defend the teen-agers as a nonviolent group devoted to good times and dating. Sex? Sure, and there is plenty of it, they say. A number of members, including some who have graduated, spoke freely about the clique's moral codes and denied that girls are pressured into having sex. But they acknowledged that the names of willing girls are shared.
Cumulative points are a source of friendly competition among members, something discussed at parties or after free-spirited vacations, said Belman, whose younger brother, Kris, 18, was the only adult arrested in Thursday's raid.
"If somebody has 60 points, somebody else wants to catch up," Dana Belman, living at home after graduating from the high school, said matter-of-factly. "But it ain't rape. You'd even count your own girlfriend as a point."
Belman said members liked to use the uniform numbers of sports stars to chronicle their encounters. "We'd come back from Vegas and say, 'I'm 44 now. I'm Reggie Jackson,' " he said. "That's how we did it."
Billy Shehan, 19, another original member of the Spurs, claimed to be the top point scorer with 66 sexual encounters. But he said he never forced himself on a girl. As did several other Spurs, Shehan argued that the group is being vilified by girls who willingly agreed to have sex, only to deny it once their parents found out.
"They're trying to protect their reputations," he said. "We're not lying; we're telling people how many points we had." As he spoke, with his arm around a Lakewood High School cheerleader, Shehan noted that his point total might be substantially higher if he were still dating other girls.
"For eight months, I've been loyal," he said. "Imagine what I'd be now if I didn't have a girlfriend for the last eight months."
Several members said the investigation, which began March 3, may have been triggered by a girl who willingly slept with many of the Spurs, became pregnant by one of them, then had an abortion.
When asked about the subject, sheriff's investigator Blaydes pointed out that sex with minors is a felony even if the girl consents. The seven alleged victims range in age from 11 to 16.
"I would invite any one of (the gang members) to sit down in front of this 11-year-old girl, who was crying her eyes out, and tell her why the posse did what it did," Blaydes said.
Although he declined to discuss the details of individual cases, Blaydes noted that one girl has talked of being forcibly raped, and at least two others said they were threatened with retaliation if they did not agree to sex.
Julie Dodge, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Agency in Long Beach, said federal statistics indicate that fewer than 2% of the women who make rape charges turn out to be lying. And in the case of a teen-age girl, the peer pressure to keep quiet about an assault is often far stronger than the pressures to speak up.
"When you talk about accusing a group of popular guys of raping you, you're just about nixing your hopes of any social acclaim in high school," Dodge said, adding: "Whether or not there were any rapes (in the case of the Spurs) is yet to be seen.