HAMLET — Three teens were detained Tuesday night after police say they found them with drugs and a gun.
An officer with the Hamlet Police Department had gone to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store to provide an escort to the bank when he smelled the odor of marijuana, according to Detective Capt. Randy Dover.
Following his nose, Dover said the officer discovered a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds: the older two each allegedly had pot; the younger allegedly in possession of a .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
One of the 16-year-olds was charged with a felony count of possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana; the other with a misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana. Dover said the younger teen will be charged once juvenile services is involved.
Police would not release the defendants’ names because of their ages. All defendants facing criminal charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
However, Dover said all three were wearing colors associated the Crips street gang.
Last summer, Dover was one of the first officers in Richmond County to suggest legitimate gang activity in Richmond County, following a rash of shootings and other violent crimes.
He said Wednesday that there were validated gang members in Hamlet associated with three nationwide gangs, including three sets of the Crips, Bloods and Folk Nation.
Investigators are still investigating last week’s shooting death of 20-year-old Tierrell Martin and have been conducting interviews “non-stop,” according to Dover, who said that Martin was associated with one of the sets of Crips.
Martin was killed outside the Circle B convenience store on the corner of N.C. 177 and Earle Franklin Drive just after midnight June 28. Dover said seven shots were fired, but Martin was only struck once and died at the scene.
Richmond County Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. in December announced the formation of a gang task force, made up of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Rockingham and Hamlet police departments, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Richmond County Schools and the system’s Special Police, District Attorney Reese Saunders’ office and the office of Ripley Rand, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to look into these types of activities,” he said, “but that’s the reality.”
One main component to detect gangs is that there has to be organization, and Clemmons said the tagging of buildings and wearing of gang colors is evidence of that.
He added that these aren’t just “wannabes or pretenders,” several individuals have been identified as gang members.
During a public workshop in June 2016, Brian Taylor said there were between 40 and 50 validated gang members in the county at any given time.
“People think that gangs are an urban problem,” Taylor said during the workshop. “They are an everywhere problem. It’s here. It’s in our community.”
Investigators say there had been 11 gang-related incidents in the county between April 1 and Dec. 9 of 2016.
The sheriff added that its going to take more than just the justice community to tackle the problem, urging parents, teachers, pastors and other community members to step up and take a role.
“It’s going to involve all of us in Richmond County,” he said.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.