Gang members sentenced in Roanoke federal court
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Three members of a street gang responsible for two Roanoke murders have been sentenced to decades in prison. A fourth awaits sentencing.
Tuesday morning, law enforcement officials and relatives of the victims spoke out about gang activity in Roanoke, the community’s response and the message they hope these prosecutions will send.
The cases involve members of the Rollin’ 30s Crips, a criminal street gang that was operating in Roanoke. The charges stem from the investigation of two murders - of 17-year-old Nickalas Lee in June 2017 and 23-year-old Markel Girty eight months later.
“The media will tell us that it’s gun violence. But it’s people violence. It’s murder,” said Darrell Lee, father of Nickalas Lee.
Lee stood with Amy Girty, the mother of Markel Girty, as he shared strong words about the gang activity that led to the death of his son in 2017, and about the response of school and police officials to the family’s concerns.
“Again, make no mistake, it is gang activity and it is here in Roanoke,” Lee said. “Parents - Do not accept without question the statements of school officials or police leadership concerning the lack of gang activity in Roanoke public schools.”
The news conference was called by the office of U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh, following Monday’s sentencing hearings in federal court. Three members of the Rollin’ 30s Crips received lengthy sentences.
Kavanaugh was flanked by representatives of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies who said the successful prosecutions should send a message.
“We know, as the Department of Justice and our federal, state and local partners, that prosecuting violent crimes and gun offenders alone cannot solve gun violence, anywhere or in the western District of Virginia,” Kavanaugh said. “But we hope that it will send a message to the community that the violence, and to the individuals that commit it, that the violence must stop.”
Roanoke City Public Schools released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
“The loss that Nickalas Lee’s family suffered is devastating, and our hearts continue to go out to Nickalas’ family and to everyone who knew and loved him.
Although the crimes that resulted in the sentencing this week happened in our city five years ago, we continue to take school safety seriously and, under Superintendent White’s leadership, are committed to maintaining safe learning environments for students and staff. Superintendent White came to the division in July of 2020 and throughout her time in the division has vowed to ensure that Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS) has a layered and comprehensive approach to school safety. Former Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins now serves as the Chief Operations Officer for RCPS, where safety and security fall under his leadership and remains a high priority in our division.
Over the years, RCPS has increased efforts to enhance safety measures. In 2018-2019, RCPS began training teachers and staff how to identify students who may be involved with gangs. The pandemic slowed the ability to offer this training, but RCPS understands that this training is needed now more than ever and has begun offering it again.
We know we are better able to keep our students safe when they are connected. For this reason, RCPS has hired a Youth Development and Intervention Coordinator, who will work closely with the City’s Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator. We are implementing these and other preventive measures to prevent gang affiliation and violence.
Schools are a microcosm of what is happening in the community. Everyone must work together to support our children. We encourage parents and family members to join us in being aware of changes in their children and to be involved and engaged with their students’ education.
We are one community, working toward the common goal of providing high quality instruction in safe school environments.”
A spokesperson for the Roanoke City Police Department said Chief Sam Roman has made it “abundantly clear” the department acknowledges the existence of gangs and gang activity in Roanoke.
“The Roanoke Police Department has been concentrating efforts and resources towards combating gang violence and its effects here in the City and surrounding areas. In fact, it is one of our agency’s top priorities. We take a holistic approach to fighting gang violence and organized crime, which means that we focus on prevention, mentorship, enforcement, prosecution and beyond.”
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