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Some anti-gang workers tempted into old lifestyle

Arrest of Marlo 'Bow Wow' Jones in alleged attack on rapper highlights the challenges of working with youths.

January 13, 2009|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

Marlo "Bow Wow" Jones was a well-known gang intervention worker in South Los Angeles. Last March, the former member of the Grape Street Crips was working on a gang reduction effort with USC football Coach Pete Carroll.

Connie Rice, the prominent civil rights attorney, called Jones a charismatic figure who could bring rival gang sects together.

Police officers who worked with Jones said he helped prevent retaliatory shootings.

But on Saturday, Jones was arrested on charges of robbing and beating a member of the rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony at the Universal City Hilton hotel.

His arrest has again shaken the world of gang intervention, which relies on former gang members to help police prevent violence and get gang members out of the life.

Jones is the latest of several well-known gang intervention workers to be accused of falling back. And some believe his case underscores the need for changes in the city's gang strategy.

Rice, who wrote a lengthy report on Los Angeles' anti-gang strategy last year, said Jones' arrest raises a key question: how to keep former gang members from slipping back into gangs.

"He was very useful and made himself a go-to person," Rice said.

"He was not a professional. He didn't have the value system of a professional and the dedication of a professional," Rice said.

The Rev. Jeff Carr, who oversees the mayor's anti-gang programs, said Jones' arrest is resonating.

"They are devastated and worried that their comments will be characterized in the frame of this individual," Carr said. "But that's not the lesson that should be learned."

Rice and Carr believe officials need to do more to monitor gang intervention programs, including criminal background checks and drug testing.

At the same time, there is a need to build more professionalism by giving gang interventionists a salary, healthcare benefits and training, they said.

"This is a more high-risk enterprise than most. It's the reality of the business," Rice said.

"We are trying to create a profession here. The [anti-gang] groups are going to stumble. The agencies are going to stumble. This is an experiment," she said.

Jones worked for Unity One, a nonprofit anti-gang group based in southern Los Angeles. The group was a subcontractor for the larger Toberman Neighborhood Center.

"We want people to know about the good, not just the bad," said Gloria Lockhart, chief executive officer of Toberman Neighborhood Center. "You need to remember the young men who are out there at 2 a.m. after a shooting saving lives by preventing another shooting."

But she said her group won't tolerate any criminal behavior. "If you derail, you aren't going to be here," she said.

Jones had served seven years in state prison after being convicted of robbery and narcotics charges.

Even after he became a gang intervention officer, he continued to have trouble with the law.

In October, he pleaded no contest to felony spousal abuse and was placed on five years' probation, according to police and prosecutors. It is unclear, however, whether his colleagues or employees in the gang intervention community knew about the plea.

Jones was known to ride with Coach Carroll as he made inroads into the toughest parts of the city with his A Better LA charity, which helps fund Unity One.

Last April, it was Jones who provided the escort in a beat-up car as Carroll and a sports columnist for The Times accompanied them into Watts.

"Hey man, you're doing great, keep it going," Carroll told Jones.

"Coach, thanks," Jones replied. "It's been tough lately . . . we're holding on."

(Carroll said he was aware of the situation but declined to comment at this time.)

On Jan. 5, Byron McCane, also known as Bizzy Bone, had returned to his room at the Universal City Hilton, where he was confronted by several men who beat and choked him before taking his jewelry, police said. LAPD officials said they are seeking other suspects.

Jones was arrested at 8:50 a.m. Saturday in South Los Angeles and is being held on $1.1-million bail at Parker Center Jail downtown. Jones could not be reached for comment.

He is far from being the first gang intervention worker to face new accusations.

Last summer, Mario Corona, once a top official with the Communities in Schools group that helped ex-gang members secure jobs, was sentenced to 32 months in prison for alleged drug violations.

Last year, Hector "Big Weasel" Marroquin, the director of the anti-gang organization No Guns, which the city of Los Angeles once paid $1.5 million to steer Latino youths away from lives of crime, pleaded guilty to illegally selling assault weapons to federal undercover officers and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who in the early 1980s oversaw the city's role in the countywide gang program for Mayor Tom Bradley, said success in gang intervention always means walking a tightrope.

"If you lean too much one way, you aren't trusted by the people you work with," Alarcon said. "If you lean the other way, you run afoul of the law. There's a very difficult balance."

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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