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From a Gated Community to a Gated Cell

Police link a group of teenagers from an upscale Las Vegas neighborhood to nine violent incidents.

September 28, 2003|Christina Almeida | Associated Press Writer

LAS VEGAS — Sixteen-year-old Christopher Morgan lived in a gated community with tennis courts and a golf course. He went to a good school in a safe part of town. His mother made Sunday dinner every week for him and his friends.

But Morgan turned his back on it all. Police say he was one of the 311 Boyz, a violent youth gang that swung their fists instead of tennis rackets and 5-irons. Police say the group carried out several beatings this summer that left one teen with titanium plates in his face, another with a broken jaw and a community wondering why.

Unlike most gangs, police say the 311 Boyz came from middle- to upper-class homes. Most were white. Many were students at Centennial High School, a campus tucked away in an affluent section of northwest Las Vegas.

They are good boys gone bad, some say.

"They had every single opportunity," said Morgan's mother, Seaneen DeFoor. "It offends me to the core. That's not how he was raised."

Morgan pleaded guilty this month to beating a teen with brass knuckles and was sentenced to a youth correctional facility until early next year.

He had been in trouble before, caught driving a stolen car and under the influence of drugs, but DeFoor, 38, thought that her son was on track when he took up with a new group of kids.

Then a police officer came to her door, telling her that Morgan was a gang member and that the gang may have taken its name, 311 Boyz, from the Ku Klux Klan. K is the 11th letter of the alphabet.

"That he could be part of a racial gang, that floored me," said DeFoor, a cocktail waitress at a downtown hotel-casino.

Police say the gang's symbol was the iron cross, a military honor and one of the most recognizable images of Nazi Germany. DeFoor said she didn't even know her son had a tattoo, let alone an iron cross on his back.

Videos recorded by the teenagers show them laughing, joking, flashing their iron cross tattoos and yelling "311 Boyz" before fighting other teens. Police are investigating how the gang formed, but have identified about 40 members and associates, and at least nine violent incidents.

"It sickened me," Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Laurent said after watching the videos, which have aired on local and national television. "I drove home disturbed.... I was concerned for my children. How do you send them to school after seeing that?"

The group first made headlines after a hot July night when three teens in a pickup sped wildly through an upscale neighborhood in a mad dash to escape a group of 311 Boyz and get to a hospital. One of them lay bleeding, howling in pain from a broken arm and a shattered face after a softball-sized rock crashed through the truck's windshield.

Nine teens were indicted in the rock attack. They face multiple charges, including attempted murder and battery with the use of a deadly weapon. For just the three counts of attempted murder, each faces a maximum of 60 years in prison if convicted.

Some of the teens' lawyers deny that the group was a gang. They say a party got out of hand, that the teens who threw rocks were just angry because one of their friends had been struck by the pickup.

Gabriel Grasso, a lawyer who represents 16-year-old Brandon Gallion, said the group was a party crew.

"He's not a street kid. He's never been in trouble," Grasso said. He described Gallion as a regular high school kid from a working-class family, and said KKK allegations are ridiculous.

The group took its name from a rock band, Grasso and other lawyers said, and the iron cross is a popular insignia among skateboarders and motocross riders.

"These kids wouldn't know the first thing about the Klan," Grasso said.

Besides Gallion, those charged as adults in the rock attack are his twin brother Anthony; Christopher Farley, 18; Steven Gazley, 18; Dominic Harriman, 19; Jeff Hart, 17; Scott Morse, 18; Ernest Bradley Aguilar, 17, and Matthew Costello, 17.

Gazley has been indicted in two other attacks, one involving a crowbar and the other in which a red-hot butter knife was pressed against another teen's ear.

Juvenile court charges stemming from a separate videotaped beating were lodged against six other suspected 311 Boyz, including Hart and Brandon Gallion.

"They had good parents who provided them with all of the benefits of an upper-class lifestyle," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan VanBoskerck. "These kids had all the blessings our society has to offer, and this is how they thank the community."

Gazley's lawyer, James "Bucky" Buchanan, has said transcripts from grand jury proceedings reveal weaknesses in the prosecutor's case.

"It's a transcript filled with innuendo and hearsay," he said. "They can't make all these charges stick to all these people."

At Centennial High School, some students expressed frustration that their classmates were charged.

Teri Dahl, 16, has hung out with the 311 Boyz.

"There's fights going on all over the place," she said. "I don't think these boys should be wasting away in prison for, like, the next 45 years.... We're not spoiled kids; we're just normal kids who got caught up in something stupid."

Irving Spergel, University of Chicago sociology professor and author of "The Youth Gang Problem: A Community Approach," said it's rare to have gangs in affluent areas, although the 311 Boyz are not the first.

"They're just a bunch of kooky kids that got out of control," he said. "These kids have to achieve something they're apparently not achieving in other areas of their existence."

DeFoor reflects on what could have been done differently.

"I begged the court to help me with him," she said.

"Where were the parents? Guess what? I was here the whole time," she said. "He was taught right from wrong. He was taught that at a very early age. But consequences didn't matter to him."

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