Aug 11, 2017

"Any mention these gangs get in the media; any attention they can get; they thrive off that

In response to a reader inquiry about gangs in McKinleyville and Humboldt, I had already scheduled an interview for this afternoon with HCSO Compliance Officer Sgt. Jason Benge.

This was before the August 9 assault on Correctional Deputy Dillon Huffman by two inmates whose motive is believed to be gang related.

Sgt. Benge is the Gang Resource Intelligence Team Leader (GRIT), a Countywide group with members from various law enforcement agencies.

"I can't comment to what extent there are gang issues at Mckinleyville High," said Sgt. Benge. " They probably do have gang members."

"McKinleyville High is very proactive. I have done gang training with their staff. At the Middle School, right now there are no issues. There have been some in the past."

Similar to what Sheriff Honsal said, Sgt. Benge said he did not want to "glorify" any gang by mentioning them by name.

"Any mention these gangs get in the media; any attention they can get; they thrive off that," he said. "The gang problem is Countywide, it is not just Eureka or McKinleyville."

I am going to mention the gangs I asked Sgt. Benge about once. After this, I will not refer to them in the rest of his responses in this post. Nortenos, Surenos, 18th Street gang, Crazy White Boys and MacTown gang. All have been referenced in my court coverage and specific cases.

One gang started in juvenile hall. "A bunch of kids, all taking pysch drugs. The gang was big back in the 90s. They came back 7 or 8 years ago."

GRIT started in 2002. It was disbanded five years ago. It has recently become active. "Task Force is not an accurate name for what we do; it is information sharing."

"We are not LA PD.  We don't kick down doors."

Sgt. Benge gave me an example of a gang, people may associate with Mckinleyville, but is actually in Fortuna.

"People who used to be in prison before are now in local jails" referring to the consequences of AB 109.

When asked how the Humboldt County Correctional Facility deals with former prison and gang members trying to recruit or influence other inmates, Sgt. Benge said, "We try our best in our classification to weed people out, to segregate them from other populations."

If anyone is caught engaging in such behavior, they lose their priviliges, such as being in open dorm.

"There is gang activity in Humboldt; is it to the extent of LA or bigger cities? It is not like that in Humboldt," said Sgt. Benge.

"There has been an uptick in gang activity since 2014-2015." Since it is juveniles, specifically in Humboldt County, it is not neccessarily related to laws such as Prop 47, said Sgt. Benge.

"People say that  kids cannot be from such and such gang because they are white. Humboldt does not follow those rules."

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