Summer of 2003
They were five in December of 2002, when the 311 Boyz sprang up from a party during Centennial High School's winter break. By May of the following year they would multiply up to, depending on whom you ask, 80, 90, possibly 100 or more. Teens for the most part, from families who could afford top-notch defense lawyers when the boys were to wreak havoc that summer, and all white.
They were a virulent gang—the type that showed up at parties, always in masses, drank without conscience, jumped from rooftops into backyard swimming pools and instigated brawls in which kids got their heads cracked with beer bottles and lawn chairs. And what made them known is that they videotaped it all.
The 311 Boyz began taping fistfights between girls with beefs to squash or boys with machismo to prove. Then they started capturing on film the beat-downs they administered to kids, the defenseless white teenagers. They were repugnant scenes in which some kids, trying to escape, almost lost their lives. Between May and June police investigated at least five mob attacks in the Summerlin area involving the 311 Boyz, blitzkriegs in which the victims said it seemed like 10, 20—100—youths collapsed on them. This was not child's play; it was terrorism.
And then the night of July 18, 2003 came to pass, and Tanner was maimed, and the party came to an end.
It had not been an atypical night, except that Stephen Hansen—or just Tanner, as his friends and family call him—had a bad presentiment about attending a party on the 9200 block of Canyon Run Drive, in a tranquil community near the JW Marriott, just off Rampart Boulevard. Moreover, some girls whom he knew (and he was known by many, for Hansen was a good-looking kid) forewarned him that there might be trouble at the party if he showed. But Hansen received a call from Jennifer Hopkins, who was the ex-girlfriend of 311 Boyz general Steven Gazlay, and she told Hansen he had nothing to worry about. It was cool.
Hansen arrived with his friends Craig LeFevre and Joseph Grill, both 18 at the time, and, like Hansen, both from Cimarron-Memorial High School. Within two minutes Hansen learned the source of his ill premonitions. That is, members of the 311 Boyz were there, and they were staring Hansen down, casting taunts toward him in hopes of eliciting a reaction. Chief among them was Steven Gazlay, of whom Hansen, a lanky and congenial kid of 17 years, had good reason to be scared.
At a similar party the previous May, Gazlay, 18, had battered a kid named Sean Quinn with a crowbar, breaking his jaw. And three days after the July 18 party, Gazlay would take a butter knife, orange from heating on a stove, and sear it against another kid's ear.
And so Hansen, who was at the party with Gazlay's ex-girlfriend, Hopkins, decided to leave. He and his two friends returned to LeFevre's Tacoma truck in which they came, and started the engine. But Gazlay blocked their way. He and two teens named Dominic Harriman and Christopher Farley sat on the truck's tailgate. Then Gazlay made a phone call. And just like that, in an instantaneous and unexplainable moment, there were, depending on whom you ask, 30 to 40 to 100 kids surrounding the truck, a battalion of youths forbidding it to leave.
Gazlay approached the driver's side window. The crowd anticipated action. And then a kid named Matthew Costello, 18, provided it, swinging into the driver's side window, punching LeFevre in the face and igniting a commotion among the enclosing kids. Beer bottles came flying at the truck, leaving the windshield coated in foam. Hansen and his friends took off, hitting a car and a kid in their panic. They were scared for their lives, they would later state.
Three cars followed them. One, a Jeep driven by Ernest Aguilar, rammed them from behind as they waited for the community gate to open. The Tacoma forged through the gate and onto Canyon Run Drive, three cars of teens pursuing them.
There was only one way out of the neighborhood, and it was through a gauntlet of teens stationed and ready with 4-pound rocks the size of softballs in their hands on the median, the sidewalks, even from out of the gutters, it seemed, LeFevre would later testify. Jeff Hart, 17, was there. Farley, 18, was there. And so was Brandon Gallion, a popular student athlete at Shadow Creek High School, just 16 years old. They all would later testify that Scott Morse, 18, was there as well.
The rocks hit with immense and circumfluent noise, like wartime gunfire, and they shattered the truck's windows. Glass flew everywhere. Hansen put his arms up, and he did not see the rock that came through the windshield, that snapped his humerus bone, that pushed his left eye and its socket into his head, that knocked him unconscious, slumped flaccid and babbling blood over his friend Grill. When Hansen came to, as the teens were speeding to Mountain View Hospital, the three cars still in pursuit, he couldn't see much. He could only feel; and he felt his left arm bone sticking out of the skin and the left side of his face missing, the warm July night cool against his raw flesh.
Easter weekend, 2006
Two grown white women had just finished shopping at the Wal-Mart on West Craig Road, in North Las Vegas, and were packing their bags into their car when they saw commotion. It was almost 1 a.m., and there was a gang of young men, 10 to 20 to 50, according to various accounts, but all black, for sure, and all swarming a Wal-Mart manager in the parking lot. The women hollered: "Stop it!" But all that did was attract an onrush toward them. Jamar Rice, 17 at the time, and another young man chased the women down. One tried to call the police on her cell phone, but she was smacked, tossed to the ground, and robbed of her purse.
The group took off, leaving the women distraught and the Wal-Mart manager bruised and bloodied on the ground, and then they would continue on a two-day crime spree of at least five events whose victims were all white and whose incandescence shook the city right down to its vital organs.
It was now officially Saturday, April 15, 2006: one day before Easter. It had all begun a few hours before, on Friday night, at a party in northwest Las Vegas, just east of Summerlin (but a world away with regard to demographics), where many of the assailants congregated and drank without reservation.
On the south end of the Strip, MGM employee Richard Markwell Jr. was working the graveyard shift. He was 23 years old, a pitching coach for the Basic High School baseball team, himself a former college player.
He neither knew nor recognized the pack of young black teens walking his way at half past two—not even Daryle Williams, a standout high school basketball player in the Valley who had less than an hour earlier driven his Ford Thunderbird to the Strip, where several of those young men from the Wal-Mart incident, Williams included, met with other young men, and even a few females.
Sitting in his landscaper's cart at the edge of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Markwell waited for the teens to pass. They did not. Instead, Dexter Smith, 17, grabbed his two-way radio. Markwell resisted. And then, without warning, he was socked in the face. Rice had hit him. And Rice kept on hitting him, at least 20 consecutive times, until the others joined and Markwell went to the ground, seeking refuge in the fetal position. Guys like As'Ryen Brown and Avery Slocome and Demarcus Smith, Dexter's older brother, conspired, kicking and punching and whipping Markwell with their belts. They stole his cell phone. Then they were gone. Markwell lay on the ground with a broken jaw and incurable damage to his shoulder. Security cameras at the MGM caught it all on tape.
Which is why Williams' part in the melee is unequivocal. As soon as the violence sparked, Williams took off running, back toward his Thunderbird. He ran straight into an MGM security guard, whom Williams feared would call the police, and so punched in the face, and then he continued running.
Dexter Smith went in the opposite direction, police say. According to authorities, he, a half-hour later, assaulted and robbed a tourist outside a nearby Travelodge hotel.
The next day, many from that gang besieged the Green Valley Grocery at 7951 Vegas Drive, and with great impertinence but without force they stole booze and candy. Matthew McCrary, a 17-year-old, was there, and he did a little dance as he exited the convenient store. Demarcus Smith was there, too, as was Jamar Rice. But Williams was nowhere to be found, not during the ransacking nor during the attack and robbery of a man at the store's gas pumps soon afterward, even though the Green Valley Grocery was not far from where Williams lived.
It was also near Pioneer Park, where, at three in the morning, a few friends were collecting the remnants of their Lent celebration under the warm vernal sky. It was two men and a woman, and when the pack of pugnacious young black men approached they knew they were outnumbered. And so they didn't pose any contention, says one of the three, Matthew Davis. Not until one of the young black men punched the woman. Then it was a matter of honor. Yet one of them had a gun, and he pointed it at Davis, who turned and ran, but not fast enough. For in the end he would take a non-mortal bullet to the back.
Soon thereafter police matched two bullet shells retrieved from Pioneer Park to a gun found in the apartment of Ray Johnson, a cousin of Jamar Rice.
After seven of the major eight accused in the Easter weekend crime spree case had been apprehended, and their respective mug shots had been publicized by the media, District Attorney David Roger came out and pledged to throw the book at the culprits.
And his office did. In May of 2006, county prosecutors charged Matthew McCrary and Ray Johnson with the attempted murder of Matthew Davis, among other, lesser crimes. Their bails were each set above $400,000.
In December they stood trial. Johnson was acquitted of all charges. McCrary, on the other hand, was convicted of attempted murder, seven felonies involving burglary and robbery, and conspiracy, a gross misdemeanor. He was condemned to 12 to 40 years in state prison.
Jamar Rice, 18 now, was held in the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) until his February 2007 trial, at which time a jury found him guilty of nine felonies and two gross misdemeanors stemming from his involvement in three of the Easter weekend incidents. Rice, who had no prior record, may receive a sentence that exceeds 20 years in state prison when he goes back to district court for sentencing next month.
Like many of his peers, Demarcus Smith could not afford the bail set upon his arrest—$350,000—and he remained in CCDC until he, having participated in four Easter weekend crimes to which he pleaded guilty, was sentenced to four to 20 years in state prison. His brother, Dexter, who like Demarcus had had a clean record, pleaded innocent to any involvement and awaits trial.
Daryle Williams: He had his bail reduced from $225,000 to $5,000 (an amount his family could muster) when he entered a deal with the DA in which he'd plead guilty to felony battery causing substantial bodily harm in exchange for probation and four months of jail time at CCDC, to be served during weekends. His lawyer, Jonathan MacArthur, said Williams acquiesced to the deal "because he was afraid what an angry public would do if he tried to litigate."
The first to turn himself in, and the state's chief witness against Rice and Smith, As'Ryen Brown received probation. It was his first criminal offense.
Avery Slocome, who remained in CCDC under a $125,000 bail until December, pleaded guilty to felony battery causing substantial bodily harm. District Judge Elizabeth Halverson, a novice on the bench who has presided over all the young men's sentencing hearings (save for McCrary's), sent Slocome to state prison for two to five years.
Slocome's mother, Vanessa Brooks, was incensed by her son's sentencing. Her son just imprisoned, she said, without restraint: "All our boys are going to prison because they're f--kin' black."
Roger has addressed this issue. He has said, in a public statement, that, "We base our decision on how to handle a case upon facts, not upon [one's] status in the community."
And moreover, he has said: "I grew up here in Las Vegas and I can't remember a time when a mob of young men engaged in such a crime spree."
Outside Judge Halverson's courtroom, Brooks said:
"What about the 311 Boyz?"
More than a year after the 311 Boyz transmogrified Stephen Tanner Hansen's face, five members of the gang, Steven Gazlay, Jeff Hart, Matt Costello, Christopher Farley and Brandon Gallion, stood before District Judge Michael Cherry, with their fates still undermined.
In all there had been eight implicated in the assault: Scott Morse, who pleaded innocent and was acquitted of all charges (including attempted murder) by a jury; Ernest Aguilar, who pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property for ramming his Jeep into Craig LeFevre's and was let go with three years of probation; Dominic Harriman, who entered a no contest plea to the gross misdemeanor of conspiracy to commit coercion and was fined and told to stay out of trouble for two years (which he has failed to do); and the five boys who faced Judge Cherry on August 6, 2004.
Cherry was an experienced judge, on the verge of campaigning for a seat on the Nevada Supreme Court, and he understood the fate of the five boys whose case had endured intense public scrutiny had been left to his discretion. For the county's Parole and Probation department, after investigating the suburban gang's tempestuous summer, recommended two to 10 years of jail for all the defendants, save for Gazlay, whom they thought should receive two 10-year sentences for his roles in multiple incidents. The DA's office, however, did not call for any jail time outside of the brief stints the boys had served while awaiting to post bail, which at $40,000 had been very doable for their parents. Which is to say: David Roger's office would have had no qualms with letting the boys go with mere probation and house arrest—not a single individual serving prison time for the maiming of Hansen.
In fact, at the outset of the case, it was Roger himself who had told the public to be slow to judge. He said it was too early to come to any conclusions, because no one had yet been tried, convicted or sentenced.
But Cherry wasn't so lenient. He sought middle ground. All the boys had entered an Alford plea deal with the state, in which they did not admit guilt, but rather, acknowledged the evidence stacked against them might be too much to overcome; and, with the exception of one, Cherry gave them a year in the Clark County Detention Center for the conspiracy and assault on Tanner Hansen, causing substantial bodily harm. Brandon Gallion was given five years of probation and one year of house arrest (which included his punishment for pummeling an innocent kid on one of the infamous 311 Boyz videos) because Judge Cherry believed he, the youngest of the group, was the least culpable.
Three months later, Judge Cherry permitted Costello's release from jail, ordering him to serve the remainder of his sentence at home. Gazlay, who had been convicted of battery with use of a deadly weapon for his attack on Sean Quinn and was waiting for sentencing at the time of the Hansen case, had negotiated a lopsided deal with the DA: in exchange for his Alford plea with regard to Hansen, his conviction for beating Quinn was retracted, and his forthcoming case against the boy whom he had seared with a hot butter knife was dismissed. And so he served no additional jail time for either case.
"It's like another rock hit Tanner," Hansen's mother has stated in public, referring to his assailants' respective punishments.
To me, the parallels in the stories of the 311 Boyz and the gang of teens responsible for last year's Easter weekend crime spree are inescapable: Identical ages, the same number of major culprits, comparable mob tactics, in multiple violent incidents, similar degree of destruction, and, of course, both groups were caught on film.
Likewise, the differences are just as overt: one gang is white, the other black; one has money, the other does not; one faced a high bail of $40,000, the other, of $450,000; one received lengthy sentences in prison, the other short stints in the detention center.
The biggest difference, according to Daryle Williams' first attorney, is that one of the groups committed a crime at the MGM Grand, which feeds off its own public image and which contributed $30,000 to DA Roger's last political campaign.
"Any time you mess with the economic viability of this city, they are going to go hardcore," lawyer Brian Bloomfield has said. "If it had happened down by the Carey Arms apartments, this probably would have been swept under the rug."
Yet, none of the differences is shocking. Only the fool is blind to prevailing inequalities. Rather, to me, the intriguing thing is the parallels in despite of the differences. Or, to be more specific: How did both groups of teens, from such different backgrounds, come to commit such similar atrocities?
During the sentence hearing for Avery Slocome and Demarcus Smith, the victim of their attack at the MGM, Richard Markwell Jr., went on record stating that amiss and neglectful parents are the problem. If parents had an eye on their kids, he said, they wouldn't be off in the city running wild.
Which, no doubt, is a tenable point. The parents of the teen who threw the party at which Hansen's misfortune began were on vacation during the time of the party and thus were not present to maintain order at the house. Jamar Rice lost his parents before he was six years old, his lawyer told the court during his trial, and since then he has sought for alternatives in the streets.
But that does not explain Steven Gazlay, whose mother was an immovable presence at his trials, and a loud vocal supporter even during quiet court sessions. Nor does it explain the Smiths, who said this of their two implicated sons, Dexter and Demarcus:
"They know better; they were raised better than that."
The Review-Journal sought to tackle this same question during its coverage and analysis of the 311 Boyz events. They retained experts in the field of gang dynamics and asked them, upon reviewing the 311 Boyz case, what kind of conclusions they had come to. One expert said it was a plain and popular matter of "ethnic envy." That white kids see glorified on television the gangster lifestyle usually espoused by ethnic minorities, and so desire it.
The 311 Boyz, however, initiated with racial overtones—"Eleventh letter of the alphabet times three," Gallion told police, decoding the group's name—and they have maintained from the beginning that they are nothing more than a party crew.
What about drugs? many asked in the wake of each rampage. While it's true that several of the 311 Boyz confessed to their drunkenness during the Hansen incident, and friends of the teens from the Easter weekend events said the crime spree fermented at a house party in which everyone was heavily drinking, no police or court reports from either case reveal drugs to have played any part in these two episodes, which in all certainty have inscribed their respective places in Las Vegas' collective memory.
I recall once speaking to Detective Dean O'Kelley, from Metro's homicide unit, for a past, separate story, and he told me that whenever an act of brutal violence occurs, the first two things the public wants to know is, Did it occur near my neighborhood? and then, What was wrong with the culprit?
"The reason," O'Kelley says, according to my notes, "is that people want to be assured of distance—that they're not in danger of being a victim, and that they're not in danger of being like the culprit."
And that, I believe, was the startling thing about the story of the white 311 Boyz, especially when juxtaposed and compared to the story of the black teens from the Easter weekend crime spree. Together, they all but eliminated for the public in spectrum that distance (in both senses of the term) which detective O'Kelley speaks of. Which, no doubt, is a very frightening thought.