Drug sweep targeted the notorious 31 Gang

Wounding of decorated FBI agent is the third incident involving FBI drug raids

By Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel
THE BUFFALO NEWS STAFF REPORTERS

Updated: 02/27/09 03:35 PM

When 300 cops hit the streets of Buffalo early Thursday morning, they knew they were going after suspected members of a dangerous drug gang, some of whom could be armed and violent.

As it turned out, the most dangerous weapon was one accidentally fired by one of law enforcement’s own.

The accidental shooting of Peter Orchard, a decorated veteran FBI agent, marred a massive drug raid that was described by law enforcement officials as a strike against a “major group of dangerous drug traffickers.”

It was at least the third local incident since 2005 in which something went terribly wrong during a drug raid. In one of those previous raids a man was killed, and in the other a woman was severely burned.

Orchard, a member of the FBI’s Special Weapons & Tactics Team, was shot in the back of his shoulder while looking for a suspect in a house on Coit Street. Authorities said a fellow agent’s gun discharged accidentally.

The accidental shooting occurred at 7:30 a.m. as FBI agents, state police and Buffalo police officers were executing a search warrant at the Coit Street house. Just prior to the search, police had arrested Adrian Goudelock, 26, of Blaine Street, at the house.

An FBI SWAT medic provided immediate first aid to Orchard, who then was transported to Erie County Medical Center, where he was in stable condition Thursday night.

A special team of agents that investigates all FBI shootings will come to Buffalo to investigate the incident, said Laurie J. Bennett, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo office. The name of the agent who fired the shot was withheld.

The shooting occurred during the arrests of more than 30 people in connection with an alleged drug gang known as the 31 Gang. The gang’s name is a reference to the neighborhood surrounding Harriet Ross Tubman School 31, an elementary school on Stanton Street. Those who belong to the gang had to have attended the school.

Among those arrested was Damone Brown, accused of money-laundering. He is one of the region’s all-time best basketball players and played for Syracuse University and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Safe Streets Task Force, a unit led by the FBI, has been investigating “large-scale narcotics distribution, homicides and other acts of violence” allegedly associated with the 31 Gang, Assistant U. S. Attorneys Kurt P. Martin and George C. Burgasser said in court papers.

Bennett declined to comment in specifics about the shooting incident, but she, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said the raids at 17 locations, including homes in the suburbs, put a major dent in a sophisticated drug operation.

Gipson described the gang as a scourge that has plagued the East Side for “a very long time.”

A total of $450,000 in cash — including $170,000 in a Reno, Nev., safe deposit box — was seized, along with weapons, cocaine, financial records and vehicles.

“The seized money comes back to the community, and it allows us to do more investigations,” Bennett said.

“We have sent a message very loudly that drug dealing will not be tolerated in our community,” Brown said.

But at Thursday afternoon’s news conference in Buffalo Police Headquarters, questions kept coming up about the FBI shooting.

When Bennett was asked if these raids were worth the risk, she said law enforcement has an obligation to make neighborhoods safe from drug gangs.

There have been other problems during drug raids in Western New York.

During a drug raid led by the Drug Enforcement Administration last July 29, a Niagara County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Marvin Sullivan, 43, when he pointed a shotgun at the deputy in a bedroom on Kay Street. Police said Sullivan was not a target of the investigation but was at the home of a woman who was one of the targets.

No charges were filed against the deputy. Twenty-three arrests were made, more than 11 pounds of cocaine were recovered and 17 weapons were found in the raids.

On Jan. 20, 2005, an 18-year-old woman suffered second-and third-degree burns when Niagara Falls police threw a flash-bang device into a drug house on Niagara Avenue.

Police said the small explosive device was meant only to stun people in the home, but it landed on a bed where the woman was sleeping and burned her chest and stomach. Officers found marijuana and a loaded gun in the house.

But in the vast majority of major drug raids, well-trained cops and federal agents are able to make large numbers of arrests without incident, said U. S. Marshal Peter A. Lawrence, a veteran of more than 50 drug raids with the Marshals Service and in his previous career with State Police.

“You do all kinds of training. You try to prepare for every kind of situation that could come up,” Lawrence said. “Before each raid, every team of officers gets an extensive briefing and a packet of information about the defendants, including their pictures and pictures of their home.

“But you still have surprising situations that come up all the time.”

Accused of felony drug conspiracy and identified by police as key members of the alleged drug organization are:

• Marcus “Turtle” Chambers, 29, of Emslie Street.

• Glance “G” Ross, 23, of Somerton Avenue, Kenmore.

They and approximately 28 other defendants appeared Thursday before U. S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr.

Brown, who had been playing for a minor- league basketball team in Reno, and two other defendants are accused of using a Reno bank safe deposit box last year to hold about $170,000 in drug money. The money was seized by federal agents Dec. 11.

According to court papers, federal agents wiretapped telephones and made numerous undercover cocaine buys from alleged gang associates during the more than two-year investigation.

During one wiretapped conversation, one of the alleged drug dealers joked that a little boy at his house kept taking packets of drugs out of a box and playing with them. During another conversation, a dealer said he had to take his little boy to a “Disney on Ice” show at HSBC Arena before he could make a cocaine delivery.

Lawrence said one of his deputies killed a “huge” Great Dane that charged at him Thursday in an alleged drug house on Emslie Street.

“[The deputy marshal] said he held off shooting as long as he could, but the dog kept coming at him,” Lawrence said.

Thursday’s incident on Coit Street was upsetting to Tanisha Smith, who lives in the neighborhood. She said she has observed many police raids in her life.

Smith said officers need to exercise caution, especially when working with other law enforcement agencies.

Major drug raids are difficult and dangerous, but police need to be careful, for their own safety and for the safety of neighborhood residents, said Arlee Daniels Jr. of the Stop the Violence Coalition of Buffalo.

“You hope and pray that [Orchard] is all right, but I think they certainly need to use more caution,” Daniels said. “There’s so much confusion and shouting during a drug raid, I can see how something like this can happen.”

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