Bad Dog

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

Listening to the prosecutor soft-pedal the Devil Dogs, it was difficult not to think of Tim Hughes, a six-foot-tall string bean of a teenager who clocked in at 150 pounds when he was stomped by a squad of "bullies" that included Devil Dogs Barry Nutter, Kevin Papa and Glen Cribbin.

On November 13, 1998, a brawl erupted at the East Valley Taco Bell where the Devil Dogs hung out. After being kicked in the head numerous times while he was held on the ground, Hughes was taken to Chandler Regional Hospital by his mother, Raina.

Hughes puked, then collapsed in the emergency room and remained unconscious. Dr. Matthew Wilks reported that the young man had a depressed skull fracture resulting in fragments of bone damaging the surface of his brain.

Flown to Good Samaritan Hospital where brain surgeons awaited the helicopter, Hughes was rushed into the operating room.

Detective Kerry Hogan caught up with the boy's mother as the surgery concluded.

"The nurse sounded as if she was preparing Raina for the worst," Hogan said. "I overheard the nurse explain . . . that there was nothing more they could do . . . . Raina immediately broke down crying."

Hogan called police supervisors and requested that grief counselors be dispatched quickly to the hospital to comfort the family.

Following a second operation on his brain, Hughes miraculously pulled through.

Because so many students were involved in the Taco Bell brawl, authorities were unable to determine whose Doc Marten boots nearly ended Tim's life. And while no one was ever prosecuted for the stomping, the police reports and the role of Papa, Cribbin and Nutter in the near fatality were no secret to the prosecutor when the same three were indicted in the Jarvis beating.

Gilbert's police files, in fact, offer a wealth of Devil Dog history.

Nonetheless, Zettler downplayed the savage mauling of Jarvis, claiming the Devil Dogs were just "jerks" who happened to punch out Jarvis "on the spur of the moment."

Zettler's low-key interpretation of the Devil Dogs' track record of senseless viciousness glosses over the numerous detailed investigations of the gang by Gilbert Detective Terry Burchett.

During interviews with Burchett, the Devil Dogs bragged repeatedly about jumping people on a weekly basis, particularly at concerts. They purposely set out to pick fights and gloated about how little the authorities knew about the beatings. This wasn't news to Zettler.

When the county attorney went after the Devil Dogs for the attack on Jarvis, part of the indictment included yet another assault at the Taco Bell where nine members of the gang, with no provocation, jumped two young men.

After watching an Ultimate Fighting Championship on television at Papa's house, the Devil Dogs got drunk and, as they told the police, spent the rest of the night looking to stomp someone, anyone. Opening the attack by calling two strangers "homos" and "pussies," the nine Devil Dogs punched their two victims and put them in choke holds as others put the boot to the hapless pair. Throughout the assault, the assailants screamed "Devil Dogs" and "White Power" and, in fever pitch, barked the gang's signature yelp of terror.

The Devil Dogs' campaign of brutality might have been random -- in the sense that any weak or smaller individual who happened upon their turf was a target -- but it was hardly, as Zettler asserts, "spur of the moment." In their own words, the Devil Dogs were continuously and omnivorously violent.

Asked how often the Devil Dogs fought, Papa told the police: "About every weekend."

Defendant Michael Spears told the authorities they beat someone "two or three times a week."

Zettler summed up his position by claiming that he wasn't even sure the Devil Dogs met any of the state's guidelines for gang designation.

Zettler's attempt to couch his tepid prosecution of the Devil Dogs in the notion that these thugs did not measure up to some government chart -- as if a gang's criminal heat were a simple matter of gauging its Fahrenheit or Celsius reading -- is astonishing. Even if such a view of the Devil Dogs were true -- and it plainly is not -- Zettler is abandoning his responsibility, not to mention common sense, when he cites a bureaucratic index as his excuse for not fixing the Devil Dogs as gangsters in his, and the court's, mind.

The facts hardly seem the sort that might divide the room.

Under the state's gang guidelines there are seven criteria: "Self-proclamation" -- the Devil Dogs identify themselves in police reports as a gang; "Witness testimony or official statements" -- the Devil Dogs are identified as a gang by friends, schoolmates, victims and Gilbert police officers; "Written or electronic correspondence" -- the authorities seized incriminating videotapes of the Devil Dogs as well as notebooks with the gang's insignia; "Paraphernalia or photos" -- the Devil Dogs took prom photos of each other flashing signs as well as pictures of each other with their parents' guns, and the prints ended up in an evidence locker; "Tattoos" -- the Devil Dogs eschewed traditional gang inking; "Clothing or colors" -- while the Devil Dogs had little truck with the hip-hop fashion of many thugs, they did affect, oddly enough, shoelaces as a signifier; "Any indicia of street gang membership" -- a sweeping generalization meant to ensure the triumph of the obvious if a prosecutor does not see any of the first six items on the list.

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