Bad Dog

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

Cheri Jarvis raced to the emergency room, afraid.

"When I arrived at the hospital, I did not even recognize my son. He was covered in blood and his head was swollen and his nose was everywhere on his face. He had so much blood caked on his teeth and mouth that they thought at first that all of his front teeth had been knocked out."

The nightmare is one year old this week -- it began last Memorial Day weekend -- but it will not end any time soon. The horror will continue to unfold inside hospital rooms for years to come as doctors attempt to reconstruct what had once been her boy's face.

From left, Devil Dogs Kevin Papa, Kenneth Couturier, Barry Nutter and Michael Spears.
From left, Devil Dogs Kevin Papa, Kenneth Couturier, Barry Nutter and Michael Spears.
Clockwise from left, Devil Dogs Kevin Papa, Kenneth Couturier, Barry Nutter and Michael Spears.
Clockwise from left, Devil Dogs Kevin Papa, Kenneth Couturier, Barry Nutter and Michael Spears.
Jordon Jarvis was beaten by Devil Dogs
Jordon Jarvis was beaten by Devil Dogs
Members of the Park South Crips, a black gang in south Phoenix, at their trial last year for gang-raping a retarded girl
Members of the Park South Crips, a black gang in south Phoenix, at their trial last year for gang-raping a retarded girl
Reverend Oscar Tillman of the NAACP accused prosecuters of racism in the Park South Crips trial
Paolo Vescia
Reverend Oscar Tillman of the NAACP accused prosecuters of racism in the Park South Crips trial

A pack of teenage white supremacists savaged 18-year-old Jordan Jarvis on May 31, 1999, as he sat trapped in an open-air Jeep, strapped in by a seat belt, unable to defend himself or flee.

The boy's mother believes the gangbangers got off with light sentences because they are white.

The assailants are all Devil Dogs, the Valley's most publicized gang and a subset of an older outfit in Gilbert known as White Power. They are a new kind of street thug, suburban children with all of life's advantages -- one drove a Volvo -- from stable, two-parent families. The Devil Dogs are high school athletes and body builders so pumped up on the steroids they sold, used and distributed that police reports repeatedly quote victims' astonishment at the sheer size of their attackers.

When the Devil Dogs beat down Jarvis, it was a case of mistaken identity. They had the wrong guy. But the Devil Dogs always got the wrong guy because they brutalized at random. The Dogs would call some stranger a "homo" or a "nigger" just to get something going, then swing into action, actually barking like Dobermans and stomping their victim until it was over.

Twice in the year since the attack, surgeons have cut open Jordan Jarvis' face, pushing muscle and bone in a vain attempt to recapture the youthful expression of the boy in the yearbook photograph. Before the stitches heal, the doctors scan their calendars, looking to schedule the next visit.

The teenager says you cannot imagine the physical pain after a scalpel carves between your eyes.

As a result of the beating, bone spurs must be chiseled from the base of Jarvis' skull, and calcified deposits over his eye sockets must be scraped off with a file.

Eventually the doctors will take cartilage from his ears to rebuild his nose. This will permanently scar his ears, however, and while that is less traumatic, certainly, than greeting the world with the mound of flesh that sits in the middle of his face where a normal nose ought to be, the operation is only cosmetic. He will forever feel and sound as if he has a sinus condition. And Jarvis will never breathe properly again because he lost the use of his right nostril.

The prospect of having a nose again. That is what passes for hope in this boy's life.

The hoodlums who disfigured Jordan Jarvis escaped justice with a wrist slap.

Despite vivid records of juvenile brutality, racist incidents and drug consumption as well as dealing, just one member of the Devil Dog gang, Kevin Papa, is sitting in prison. And Papa pulled a two-year term only because a startled judge caught him in outrageous perjury at a sentencing hearing. Five other Devil Dogs escaped with relatively light jail sentences of six months to a year in the county lockup.

No one, including Papa, got more than the minimum.

"It was just a broken nose," explained Hugo Zettler, the prosecutor on the case.

Zettler claims the Devil Dogs were only a hyperactive group of white jocks, which is why they were not charged or sentenced under the stiffer criminal statutes thrown at street gangs.

Jarvis' mother is outraged.

"If these same crimes were committed in another part of Phoenix by a different ethnic and less affluent group, we would have no trouble punishing them," Cheri Jarvis wrote to the assorted judges who sentenced the Devil Dogs.

If these same crimes had been committed by young black men . . .

You would think that when a white woman like Cheri Jarvis demands black justice, it would end up on the evening news. But while the Devil Dogs case was a big media event, there was no coverage of her charge that the gangsters got off lightly because they are white. Instead, the press wallowed in the delicious revelations that racist skinheads had surfaced in well-to-do Gilbert.

There was another gang prosecution last year that raised allegations of racism.

The Park South Crips are black teenagers who were convicted last summer of gang-raping a mildly retarded neighborhood girl throughout a very long night.

The NAACP charged the prosecutors with racism because bail was set so high that the defendants had to sit in jail for two years awaiting their day in court. And once the Crips ended up in front of a judge, the county attorney went for their throats, throwing the full range of gang-enhancement charges at the crew.

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.

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.

The barking the Devil Dogs did while beating Jarvis and the Taco Bell victims could fit under a number of the state guidelines.

The gang-lite treatment of the Devil Dogs is all the more perplexing because these guys do not learn from their mistakes or from second chances:

· The near killing of Hughes, and the subsequent interrogation by the police, occurred at the end of 1998.

· On March 5, 1999, nine Devil Dogs jumped two young men at the Taco Bell. Arrests followed.

· On April 27, 1999, three Devil Dogs assaulted an Asian couple. As Theresa and Nhiem Nguyen paddled about a town lake in a rowboat, the three hoodlums swam out from shore. As the terrified woman screamed that she could not swim, the Devil Dogs responded by rocking the boat violently, then climbing into the dinghy and yelling "Chink," "Gook" and "Charlie" at the pair before stealing the couple's cell phone and diving back into the water. Arrests followed.

· On May 31, 1999, Jordan Jarvis was beaten.

· There have been numerous other incidents in the past two years involving the Devil Dogs, including an investigation of a significant steroid drug ring by law enforcement that placed Kevin Papa and the gang at ground central. This probe never went public as various police agencies began bumping into each other around the Devil Dogs.

· Throughout the indictment and the subsequent plea negotiations with the Devil Dogs, the Jarvises said they endured a campaign of intimidation. Their home and cars were egged; Jordan was harassed at work; and callers filled their answering machine with loud barking.

· One month before Kevin Papa was to be sentenced for the Jarvis beating, the authorities arrested his older brother, Michael, founder of White Power -- the gang that preceded the Devil Dogs. Michael Papa was accused of running an ecstasy distribution ring with Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, the Mafia hitman who murdered 19 people before testifying against John "The Dapper Don" Gotti.

Relocated to Arizona, Gravano and Michael Papa were reportedly running the largest ecstasy ring in the state, with weekly sales of $500,000. The Papas' mother, Mary Ann, was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. Also booked on drug charges was Devil Dog associate Jovan Isailovic, whose house was the site of the beating that Kevin Papa and the younger Devil Dogs administered to Jordan Jarvis.

Authorities are still examining what, if any, role the younger Devil Dogs played in the ecstasy ring.

When you look at the record, it is difficult to overcome the suspicion that nothing else except race could explain how these affluent white teenagers escaped the wrath of God. Taken one at a time, the Devil Dogs cleaned up well, presented reasonable grades and could discuss their future with expectations. One day they might grow up and go to law school if given half a chance.

Take Kevin Papa.

Handsome, personable, a kid with a terrific smile, he was a straight-A student who'd been admitted to Arizona State University.

"I feel that in whatever I do, I will be successful," he told the judge who was about to sentence him. "Incarceration for me would not suit me. I no longer hang out or are friends with those kids."

That was the good Papa speaking.

Even Zettler had to roll his eyes.

The prosecutor then played for the judge a surprise videotape showing that, rather than putting the Devil Dogs and the life of violence behind him, Papa had recently organized a "Fight Club" party in which high school boys punched the snot out of each other in the bottom of a drained pool while dozens of classmates, boys and girls, cheered the combatants on.

Because he lied, Papa was sentenced to two years instead of one.

In the end, Zettler excused the differences in the charging of the Devil Dogs versus his office's prosecution of the Park South Crips by pointing out that the victim of the Crips was, after all, raped.

This last argument, floated repeatedly by lawyers, is supposed to end all discussion, as if the person asking the question just . . . doesn't . . . get . . . it.

It is well and good that the justice system finally has a more compassionate grasp of the devastation of rape.

But rape is punished more severely today than, say, theft, because we have finally acknowledged that rape is not merely uninvited sex, but violence. Surely we can agree that a savage beating is also violent.

When Zettler argues that the injuries sustained in the rape were more grievous than the aggravated assaults, he is not talking about physical injuries -- of which Jarvis' were more severe by any measurement, medical or financial -- but rather the emotional damage.

Zettler's idea is a ditzy thought concocted with a jigger of political correctness and a soupçon of James Cagney-put-up-your-dukes nostalgia.

What happened to Jordan Jarvis, and many others, was not simply a boy's rite of passage.

We can tally the medical expenses and chart the operations, but even if you have a son of your own, you can only begin to imagine what this violence has done to Jordan Jarvis' heart.

"I am closer to accepting that when I look in the mirror, I will never see the same face I think I will see: my old one," said Jarvis.

If it is an awful thing to pass in front of a piece of reflective glass and glimpse only a stranger looking back, it is worse to know what others see.

"Someone told me I looked like I had Down syndrome when he first met me at Scottsdale Community College because my face was swollen and screwed up," Jarvis said, a reminder that a casual walk across a new school campus or a stroll into the mall must always be self-conscious.

"People do not look at me the same anymore. I feel like all I am is a crooked nose and monster head."

There is one thing more. Because Jordan Jarvis is a teenager, his is a world of male images handed to him. Much as a rape victim wrestles with unfair questions, the assault confronted Jarvis with consumptive doubts about his manliness.

"Some people look at me like, "Why didn't you defend yourself?'" said the young man. "Like they think I was weird because I got beat up by a whole gang at once."

His grievous concerns are intertwined with nuanced difficulties that spring even from the mundane.

Jordan says that when he introduces himself, people think he has said "Gordon" (with a G).

Now, if you tell a boy that he sounds like he has a sinus condition when he speaks, you are only making an observation. But that's not what he hears.

"He doesn't like to talk because he is hard to understand," said his mother.

Jordan Jarvis does not recognize himself in the mirror, and he can't tell you who he is without repeating himself.

The beating was so much more than a broken nose.

And the prosecution of the Park South Crips and the Gilbert Devil Dogs was nothing less than the difference between "their" kids and "ours."

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