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Law enforcement officials announced today that three reputed members of a violent West Oakland street gang have been charged in connection with a series of shootings and other crimes, including the murder of a 23-month-old boy last year. Authorities said at a news conference at the federal building in Oakland that reputed Acorn gang members Dionte Houff, 32, and Houston Nathaniel III, 23, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that they murdered Hiram Lawrence Jr. as he was being held in his father’s arms in a vacant lot in West Oakland on Nov. 28, 2011.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said her office has charged a third alleged Acorn member, 16-year-old Frederick Charles Coleman, in state court in connection with the death of Hiram and other crimes. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said the indictment alleges that the Acorn gang, which operates in and around the Acorn housing project in West Oakland, engages in crimes that include murder, attempted murder, distribution of controlled substances, robbery and the obstruction of justice.
Haag said the suspects are alleged to have assaulted and attempted to kill actual and suspected members of rival gangs. According to Haag and O’Malley, on Nov. 28, Houff, Nathaniel and Coleman shot at a group of people in the 700 block of Willow Street that they believed were rival gang members, wounding six of the people and causing the death of Hiram, who was taken off life support on Dec. 9. According to the indictment, early on Nov. 6, Nathaniel shot and maimed a teenage boy in the vicinity of 10th and Peralta streets.
The indictment alleges that later on Nov. 6, Nathaniel shot and wounded a second teenage boy in the vicinity of the Acorn project on Adeline Street. Haag said that in addition to being charged with murder, Houff, nicknamed “Birdman,” and Nathaniel, also known as “Lil No,” are charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy, attempted murder, maiming, assault with a dangerous weapon and other charges. O’Malley said Coleman, who is being prosecuted as an adult, is charged with one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder. In addition, he is charged with gang enhancement clauses that allege that he committed the crimes to benefit a criminal street gang.
Haag said, “Five children were shot as a result of the incidents listed in the indictment and one died. More people have been shot and killed since then and this has just got to stop.” O’Malley said, “People feel they are under siege and it’s time for it to stop.” She said, “Baby Hiram died mercilessly. Let’s stop the killing and stop the violence.” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the charges against the three suspects represent “a ray of hope for all the people who have lost family members due to violence.” Quan said she also hopes the arrests “will give the neighborhoods a breather from gangs and give all families in Oakland hope.” Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said the arrests of the three suspects “is one of my proudest moments as chief” because he met with Hiram and his family before the boy died and got to know them well.
“I felt a lot of pain watching this kid in a hospital bed knowing that he did not have a chance to live,” Jordan said. Jordan admitted that while the arrests will put a dent in the Acorn gang, it will be difficult to completely stop the group’s criminal activities. Four years ago, a raid called “Operation Nutcracker” that was conducted by 400 officers from 17 different law enforcement agencies resulted in the arrest of 54 reputed Acorn gang members and the successful prosecution of many of them. Then-Lt. Ersie Joyner boasted at a June 17, 2008, news conference that it would be “very difficult, if not impossible” for the gang to regain its former power.
Jordan conceded today that, “We didn’t get everyone at that time because some gang members didn’t commit crimes during the raid so we couldn’t arrest them.” Referring to Acorn’s territory in West Oakland, Jordan said the gang “is still festering and smoldering in that area.”
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