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'Banks Town Mafia' gang bust shows how guns in Baton Rouge are getting deadlier, sheriff says

The Advocate - 4/7/2022

Apr. 7—When 10 law enforcement agencies executed a sweeping bust Wednesday on members of an alleged Baton Rouge gang, they found a device tied to a rise in deadly gun encounters across the country: an apparatus called a "Glock Switch" that turns pistols into what officials describe as dangerous, fully automatic weapons.

Accused of distributing drugs and owning illegal guns, the suspects are part of a crew called the Banks Town Mafia, which East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux blamed for recent violent clashes with members of another group from the Zion City neighborhood.

A months-long probe culminated Wednesday with police, sheriff's deputies and agents from two federal agencies raiding 10 locations in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes.

The busts collectively yielded 40 allegations against Banks Town Mafia members — including that 19-year-old suspect Keondre Young fired at officers before his arrest. Officials said they recovered a laundry list of contraband: $55,000 in cash, several kinds of drugs and 18 guns, including two AR-15 rifles and high-capacity magazines.

The locations officials raided Wednesday, relying at some sites on air support from National Guard helicopters, were used to "distribute and store narcotics, illicit proceeds, and illegal firearms," Gautreaux told reporters.

Among the guns recovered was the so-called "Glock switch." Also called an "auto sear," the apparatus converts semi-automatic pistols — small caliber guns that fire a single bullet each time their trigger is pulled — into rapid-fire submachine guns capable of unleashing a spray of rounds with each trigger squeeze.

Gautreaux said signs of the devices have emerged during investigations of some recent shootings in Baton Rouge. In one case, bystanders reported hearing the "pop-pop-pop" of automatic weapons fire. But deputies investigating the shooting recovered only pistol casings from the scene, Gautreaux said.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III has also reported seeing a growing number of the devices, a trend he called "troubling." The district attorney said he's weighing charging the arrestees under a state law penalizing criminal street gang activity.

Federal law deems most fully-automatic weapons illegal.

But loopholes have existed over the years, like the "bump-stock" device used by the mass-shooter at a Las Vegas concert in 2017. (Those devices were later banned, but multiple lawsuits are challenging that moratorium).

The "Glock switch" recovered by law enforcement in Baton Rouge this week is an increasingly common way to create fully automatic weapons, according to a report by Vice News and The Trace, a media outlet covering gun violence. The publications found that federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized 1,500 weapons modified with auto sears in 2021 — a huge increase from 2020, when only 300 were recovered.

A mass shooting Sunday in Sacramento, California, was carried out with a pistol converted to a fully automatic weapon, officials said.

In Louisiana's capital, the discovery of the auto sear in the Banks Town Mafia bust comes amid a two-year surge in deadly gun violence that officials have struggled to quell.

On Wednesday alone, two people were shot dead in the city, including a man killed in broad daylight on Willow Street. Following an eight-day lull in homicides, it marked the city-parish's 31st killing of the year, according to a database maintained by The Advocate. The newspaper tracks intentional and unjustified killings in East Baton Rouge per FBI crime reporting rules, incidents that fit the legal definitions of murder and manslaughter. The data is preliminary and could change if some cases are later ruled accidental or justified, and vice versa.

Wednesday's arrests were the latest in the city-parish involving members of alleged group or gang-related crimes. Others, like members of the "Block Boyz" gang from Shreveport, have also faced charges under the same street gang statute Moore hopes to bring against the Banks Town group.

In the face of escalating bloodshed, arresting people for illegal guns is an important part of the city-parish's efforts to curb gun violence, Gautreaux said.

The investigation lasted seven months and involved agents from the sheriff's office, Baton Rouge Police Department, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration'sSpecial Response Team, Louisiana State Police's SWAT unit, the Zachary Police Department, ATF, National Guard air support and ICE, Gautreaux said.

Narcotics recovered in the investigation included fentanyl, cocaine and oxycodone, the sheriff said.

Six of the eight people arrested were booked on allegations of criminal street gang activity, plus varying narcotics and gun charges. Some were out on previous bonds at the time of their arrests, and Moore has requested holds on their bonds, he said.

Those arrested are:

Charleston "China Black" Street, 25

Murphy Young, 37

Louis Clark, 48

Keondre "Trouble" Young, 20

Trumoney Harris, 20

Daniel Perkins, 18

Horace Wells, 33

Keyan Cloud, 30


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