Atlanta Police have rounded up seven suspects in connection with a series of armed robberies that targeted hopeful car buyers from Craigslist.
The suspects, which include a mother and two sons, are accused of posting bogus car ads on the popular website, then robbing at gunpoint the buyers who showed up with cash. Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Darryl Tolleson says the suspects robbed 15 victims of more than $20,000 in cash and personal items. All four women and three men have been indicted by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office. The investigation is continuing, and police say they are working more active cases.
The suspects are Darious Harris; JuJuane Harris; Tayza Harris; Aqueelah Jannah; Jacorey Johnson; Tereka Mills; and Cameron T. Neeley.
The suspects are affiliated with two gangs: "Billy Bad Ass" and "9 Trey." APD Investigator C. Kettel says those groups fall within a Bloods gang affiliation. Kettel says the investigation indicates that gangs are considering new MOs.
"We see that a lot of gangs are looking at something that would be considered a very easy out, something quick cash, they can get rid of very quickly, and very difficult to solve for the case," says Kettel. "So we saw that the Craiglist was very big. It's an easy way to get people from outside the city of Atlanta that would not be able to identify them."
Kettel says while the victims were white, black, and Hispanic, the gang targeted mostly Hispanics, wrongly thinking that all of those victims would be too scared to report the crimes to the cops. Still, police say, there could be other victims who have been afraid to come forward, and they are encouraging any to do so now.
APD Investigator Dominique Pattillo says the crooks never had any real cars for sale. He demonstrated how the gangsters pulled pictures of actual vehicles for sale from dealer's pages, then changed the graphics to include their own contact information, with great prices on the car to lure would-be buyers.
The first robbery happened in June 2014. Then, when two more were reported in early July, Pattillo says he and his supervisors realized it was part of a pattern. All of the crimes discussed this week took place in one square city block of southwest Atlanta in Zone 4, around Hadlock Street and Stanton Road, between June and December. He says the gangsters were not afraid to get violent.
"We had one incident where one of our victims was actually struck with the weapon that was used," says Pattillo. "We had another incident where one of the victims became cautious of the area she was in and attempted to drive off. They fired around her."
Tolleson says it is a significant arrest for the department, even as there is a lot more work to be done on the case.
"It takes a while for some of these complex investigations to come to fruition," he says. "Just because we haven't gotten you yet doesn't mean we're not on your trail.
Tolleson is also urging people using Craigslist to pay attention to the personal safety tips the website itself posts. He says the tips include meeting in well-lit, public places with cameras; setting up more than one meeting with the buyer or seller, instead of showing up with cash the first time; taking a friend with you and telling others where you're going; and trusting your instincts.
"Whether you feel suspicious or not...I would mostly advise [meeting at] a police precinct," says Inv. Pattillo. "It's no problem going to a police precinct, knocking on the door, saying, 'Hey, I have a transaction I want to make on Craigslist. Can you come out and assist me?' I don't think an officer in the city would have a problem assisting somebody doing that."
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Tolleson has a message for other would-be robbers: "Don't do it."
"All we need many times is just even an anonymous tip from a victim, if they're afraid to come in," he says. "With technology that we're using today and things that are out there, we're going to catch you. You can do it if you want to, but you do it at your own peril because we will be on you, and we're going to catch you."