3 charged in Oakland shooting that killed infant

AP News
Posted: Jul 20, 2012 7:21 PM
3 charged in Oakland shooting that killed infant

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Three members of an infamous Oakland street gang are facing charges for their alleged roles in a shooting during the filming of rap video that left a toddler dead, authorities said Friday.

Dionte Houff, 32, and Houston Nathaniel III, 23, supposed members of the Acorn Gang, were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on more than two-dozen federal crimes including murder, assault, weapons violations and racketeering charges, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag announced in Oakland.

A third alleged gang member, Frederick Coleman, 16, is facing similar charges in state court, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said Friday. The teenager will be charged as an adult.

Investigators believe that Coleman fired the shot that killed 1-year-old Hiram Lawrence, Jr., who was shot in the head while he was in his father's arms as the video was being produced outside a west Oakland liquor store in November.

The indictment resulted from an ongoing multiagency crackdown on violent criminals by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Oakland Police dubbed "Operation Gideon." The federal-local partnership began about two years ago but intensified after the deaths of the toddler and two other little boys who were among the Oakland's 110 homicides last year, authorities said.

"This is a team that has really emerged over these past several months," Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Friday about the collaboration. "You will see us, you will see results."

The three alleged Acorn gang members are accused of opening fire on members of a longtime rival gang, "The Little Bottoms," on Nov. 28, according to the indictment. A surveillance camera at outside the liquor captured parts of the shooting, showing three people wearing hooded sweatshirts firing from around the corner from the store.

The shooting was apparently in retaliation for a previous dispute at a bowling alley between the gangs, law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation said. Surrounded by family members, community leaders and clergy from across the city, Little Hiram was taken off life support 11 days later.

"Baby Hiram died mercilessly," O'Malley said Friday.

Six others were wounded, including Hiram's father, who was shot in the hand.

"He doesn't deserve this," Hiram Lawrence, Sr., said two days before his son was declared dead on Dec. 9. "I was running around with the wrong people. It's not my fault. It's not my son's fault."

Haag said that the toddler's family expressed their gratitude and thankful when she and O'Malley notified them about the criminal charges on Friday.

Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said Friday he believes that the three gang members and a fourth also in custody are the only ones involved with the shooting. Jordan reiterated that he and police brass had implored Quan to seek federal help for the beleaguered department as Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also got involved in meetings with federal law enforcement leaders in Washington, D.C.

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"This didn't come at a cheap price," Jordan said. "They understand in order for us to have an effect on crime in Oakland, we need resources, financially and personnel necessary to solve these crimes."

Jordan said Hiram's death was both heartbreaking and rewarding because while the shooting involved a child, investigators remained dogged to track down the alleged suspects.

"This is one of probably one of my proudest moments as a chief," Jordan said. "I went to the hospital to visit Hiram when he was alive and, I felt a lot of pain to see someone who never had a chance to live."

ATF Acting Director B. Todd Jones said the agency's work in Oakland isn't done.

"The experiences that you have here with gang violence, with youth violence, aren't isolated to Oakland, unfortunately. It is a phenomenon that we see across the country," Jones said. "It knows no color, it knows no boundaries and it is a horrendous experience."