Bad Dog

White gangsters or misunderstood jocks? The Devil Dogs beat their victims -- and the system.

Although the Crips were arrested for rape and the Devil Dogs for aggravated assault, both groups of young men were guilty of horrifying violence.

But six Crips were sent to prison with sentences totaling more than 36 years, while the identical number of Devil Dogs received a combined six years.

On April 25, the Youth Law Center reported that in America black youths are six times more likely to end up behind bars than their white counterparts. Based on research by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the media announcement noted that in Arizona's two most populous counties, Maricopa and Pima, 3,022 juveniles were incarcerated in 1997, but only 244 were white.

The Youth Law Center analysis is the sort of one-day event in your morning newspaper that is all too easy to skip, telling us -- stop me if you've heard this before -- that our prisons are stocked with people of color.

The study, "And Justice for Some," noted that minorities suffer longer sentences than whites for the same violence. No explanation was offered for the discrepancy; we were meant to conclude the obvious.

The sentencing of the Devil Dogs and the Park South Crips puts flesh upon the report's bare bones.

The allegation of racism in the Crips case by the NAACP's Reverend Oscar Tillman was as predictable as the migration of Canada geese. In defending the black teenagers by saying the victim gave consent, Reverend Tillman argued that the Crips had engaged in a gangbang, not a gang rape, a difference, however critical legally, that was so repugnant it closed the door on any discussion of race.

Cheri Jarvis more easily illustrates the color of justice.

In explaining the yawning gap between the sentences of the Crips and the Devil Dogs, attorneys were quick to point out that the penalties for rape are harsh and mandatory, which is true enough, but which is also a legal distinction worthy only of lawyers.

The truth is that the county attorney's office went after the Crips with hammer and tongs. Prosecutors charged that the Crips committed the rape in furtherance of the gang's goal of intimidating the neighborhood. The original prosecutor, Laura Reckart, even left the case and the office because she thought her bosses lacked the zeal necessary to put the rapists away for significant terms. As a private citizen, she attended the trial on a daily basis adorned in a variety of red outfits, a deliberate taunt of the incarcerated Crips who wear blue with a fetish and are moved to paroxysms of emotion, remarkably enough, by the adopted crimson color of their ancient rivals, the Bloods. Despite the elements of grand opera, the trial ground forward without incident. If no one throbbed with Reckart's passion, the prosecutors who picked up the case were earnestly efficient: Carl Lee Blackman -- nine years; Darrion Jamal Hartly -- eight years; Taron Lamar Auzene -- seven years; Jermaine B. Johnson -- six years; Daniel Alfonso Robinson -- five and a quarter years; and Darnell Jackson -- one year. (Other Crips received lesser sentences.)

Even the lighter sentences the Crips might have negotiated in a plea agreement cannot mask the differences in the attitude of the prosecutors in these two cases.

Had the county attorney wished, he could have taken a much more hard-nosed approach with the Devil Dogs.

Under the criminal code, prosecutors can file a separate felony count charging participation in a criminal street gang. They did this in the Crips case, charging the blacks with committing a crime "with the intent to promote, further or assist any criminal conduct by a gang." The prosecutors did not do this with the Devil Dogs. Nor did the prosecutors seek sentencing enhancement under 13-604T as part of the plea agreement with the Gilbert hoodlums, a condition of sentencing that would have added a mandatory three years for the white gangsters.

Instead, Zettler contented himself with noting on the indictment that the counts of threatening and intimidation were gang-related, a distinction that meant next to nothing at the time of sentencing.

A fixture in the county attorney's office, Zettler left recently and is now a court commissioner who would prefer that his name not be associated with an article on the Devil Dogs, a charming level of modesty in a government official whose career has been financed with tax monies.

He does not believe the Devil Dogs got off lightly in the Jordan Jarvis case.

"Look, the kid's nose was broken, which is not earth-shattering in and of itself," said Zettler. "It's a stretch to think of them as a gang. Maybe technically. They were kind of wanna-be gang members.

"All these guys were wrestlers and football players. Bullies is what they are."

It is not useful to accuse the prosecution of racism. It is closer to reality to say that the county attorney prosecuted the Devil Dogs as if they were his own kids. They just did not fit his MTV vision of thug life.

But in order to give the suburban, white athletes every legal benefit of the doubt, Zettler ignored the evidence in the police files.

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