This article contains a summary of Darrell Caldwell aka Drakeo the Ruler’s criminal case. For a thorough and moving examination of past proceedings we recommend Jeff Weiss’ piece on The Fader. On Monday, we published a piece by Kary Antholis examining the potential political implications of Caldwell’s case.
The Rolling Stones are a criminal street gang.
At least they could be considered a criminal street gang under California’s modern gang legislation if it were applied to the band’s behavior in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
I don’t mean to offend the fans of almighty dad rock or demonize the band that recorded the album Their Satanic Majesties Request. My aim is to illuminate an enigma in The Golden State’s penal codes: the definition of a criminal street gang, which is so broad and loose that it may as well be painted with broad strokes over the doorway of every home in South LA.
Paint it black. Black and Brown.
The Stinc Team is not the Rolling Stones. The LA street rap group would probably loathe the comparison. Their frontman, Drakeo the Ruler (real name Darrell Caldwell), does not have a mouth large enough to eat an alarm clock whole. His style is understated; lyrics are served like insults mumbled under his breath.
According to major players in the hip-hop scene, Drakeo should be reinvigorating LA rap right now, but he’s been stuck in jail since March 28, 2019 on charges related to a murder that detectives and prosecutors all admit he did not commit.
The crime at the heart of this perplexing saga occurred on December 10, 2016 at a “Naughty or Nice Pajama Jam” in Carson, California. Near midnight, the raucous holiday festivities were interrupted by the sound of gunshots. Over 160 party-goers fled to the streets, leaving in their wake two wounded and one dead.
The single fatality was 24-year-old Davion Gregory, a young man with a bright smile. He had familial ties to the Bloods and was known to his friends as “Red Bull.” Gregory sustained five shots to his vital organs and was pronounced dead upon arrival at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. No witnesses were immediately able to identify the shooter, and security footage was too dark to distinguish the faces of the man who may have committed the crime.
According to California Penal Code 186.22, often referred to as the Street Terrorism and Prevention Act or STEP ACT, a “criminal street gang” must meet the following criteria:
1. Be an ongoing organization of three or more persons
2. Have a common name or common identifying sign or symbol
3. Have as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more criminal acts
4. Collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity
The Rolling Stones consists of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood. In other words, it’s an organization of three or more people.
The Rolling Stones also have a common name: The Rolling Stones. Their sign/symbol is a massive cherry-lipped mouth with a tongue lolling out of it.
The Rolling Stones have committed criminal acts including assaulting a peace officer, possession of illicit substances, and possession of an illegal firearm.
Their criminal acts between 1967 and 1976 might qualify as a pattern.
On the night of the shooting, Drakeo was chilling at his apartment with members of the Stinc Team: Ralfy the Plug, Solo, Philly, Kellz, Young Bull and Ketchup the Great. They spotted the Pajama Jam party on Instagram and decided to stop by. Drakeo drove his black Benz with Solo and Kellz. The rest of the Stinc Team caravanned behind them. According to Solo, when they pulled into the parking lot, their friend 2Shitty informed them that the Inglewood Families (The Bloods) were there.
Seconds later, Davion Gregory walked by and shots were fired. 2Shitty later told cops that the first shooter was Jaiden Boyd, a Rollin 40s Crip who goes by the nickname of AB or Arlington Blue. When Boyd was arrested he admitted to pulling the trigger on Gregory, explaining that they had “beef” with each other. He also implicated a second shooter, Stinc Team member, Kellz.
That should have been enough for detectives in search of the truth. Two Crips killed a Blood. The Montagues and Capulets of Compton once again made the concrete bleed. But it seems that law enforcement and the DA in this case were after a bigger prize: they wanted to take down the Stinc Team, especially Drakeo the Ruler.
The DA has filed a litany of charges against the Stinc Team members ranging from felony vandalism to burglary to felon possession of a firearm, but Drakeo was clearly the DA’s primary target. Prosecutors set out to charge Drakeo under California’s Criminal Conspiracy laws (182 PC). which state that “If two or more persons conspire…to commit any crime…it shall be punishable in the same manner and to the same extent as is provided for the punishment of that felony.” Prosecutors argued that Drakeo conspired with Kellz and AB to commit murder prior to the party. Therefore, Drakeo was charged with murder as well as several counts of attempted murder and shooting from a vehicle. All of these charges were filed despite the fact that Drakeo never fired a single bullet.
There was one glaring problem with the conspiracy theory: the DA and the detectives had no evidence that Drakeo ever wanted to kill Davion Gregory. No Facebook messages. No Instagram videos. No coded rap lyrics. Nothing connected the individuals in a credible equation that could add up to conspiracy to commit murder.
This problem was solved when Detective Francis Hardiman developed the RJ theory. RJ is a rapper who did have beef with Drakeo. He’s a bit older than Drakeo, but the two rap in a similar way, both spitting about LA “street shit.” Unsurprisingly, they’ve been pitted against each other —flexing on Instagram, in interviews, and in their freestyle rap videos about who really runs the streets. In one video, Drakeo taunts his rival saying “I’m ridin round town with a tommy gun and Jag/ And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back.” Hardiman used the social media squabbles and lyrics as the foundation for his argument that Drakeo gave Kellz and AB their guns and drove to the party on a mission to kill RJ. Davion Gregory, under this theory, was an unanticipated fatality in a larger conspiracy.
In case you’re wondering, RJ wasn’t at the party. He wasn’t even on the flier.
Presumption of Drakeo’s guilt seemed to march before the evidence like a grand marshal. The prosecution’s argument reeked of bad science: a conclusion was determined, then data was arranged to point to it with a neon arrow.
The jury saw through the legal smokescreen. After a month-long trial, Drakeo was acquitted of the majority of his charges, including criminal conspiracy, attempted murder and murder. He was found guilty of felon possession of a firearm and the jury was split on the charges of discharging a firearm from a vehicle and criminal gang conspiracy.
Conventional wisdom would have you believe that Drakeo’s case was finished. The jury had spoken. Drakeo would serve time for his firearm possession charge and then be free to take his throne on the outside as one of rap’s rising stars. But in the criminal legal process, conventional wisdom is often wrong.
The DA refiled the charges on which the jury hung. Now Drakeo is back in jail and preparing to face trial again in January.
If convicted, he could face a life sentence for a murder that he did not commit and for which a jury has already acquitted him.
The STEP Act defines a “pattern of criminal gang activity” as the attempt, conspiracy to commit, or conviction of two or more specified criminal offenses. The list of specified criminal offenses contains 33 different crimes, most of which are felony offenses ranging from felony vandalism (vandalism resulting in more than $400in damages) to first-degree murder. To establish a pattern, the last of the offenses must have occurred within three years after a prior offense and the offenses must have been committed on separate occasions or by two or more persons.
The following is the Rolling Stone’s “pattern of criminal activity.”
1967: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested while partying at Richard’s mansion. Jagger was charged with possession of methylamphetamine hydrochloride, their friend Robert Fraser was charged with possession of heroin, and Keith Richards was charged with allowing his house to be used for the purpose of smoking marijuana.
1972: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested after getting into a fight with a photographer at an airport in Warwick, Rhode Island. After a long flight, Richards was pissed when photographer Andy Dickerman of the Province Journal-Bulletin insisted on a picture. When Dickerman snapped his camera, Richards whipped off his belt and went after him. An officer attempted to pry Richards away, but Jagger jumped on him from behind. The resulting brawl left the policeman with a dislocated shoulder and ended with five men in custody, including Jagger and Richards.
1973: Keith Richards was arrested after officers found Chinese heroin, mandrax tablets, marijuana, a revolver, a rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition in his London home.
Other minor offenses include Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull’s arrest for possession of marijuana in 1968 and guitarist Brian Jones’ arrests for marijuana possession in 1967 and 1968.
The legal reason that Drakeo can be charged yet again for a murder everyone agrees he did not commit — a murder which a jury agreed he did not even conspire to commit — is the criminal gang conspiracy law.
Criminal gang conspiracy is a limb of California’s STEP Act. The law’s gang enhancements can look like innocuous add-ons in comparison to more visceral elements of the case. The prosecution plays a slight of hand, making the jury gaze at the crime and forget about those pesky legal accouterments. But after a conviction, STEP enhancements can add 2 – 15 years to a sentence. In some cases, the STEP Act even extends a sentence to life in prison.
But in Drakeo’s new trial, the STEP Act is not simply an additional charge used to inflate sentencing: it is the charge.
Criminal gang conspiracy law states that “any person who actively participates in any criminal street gang…with knowledge that its members engage or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity…and who willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang is guilty of conspiracy to commit that felony.” Those convicted of criminal gang conspiracy may be punished in accordance with conspiracy law – the law which generally punishes conspirators to the same degree as the offenders themselves.
Prosecutors are now arguing that the Stinc Team is a gang. Their members have committed burglaries, vandalism, and now murder. Drakeo, as their leader, purportedly benefitted from their crimes. Therefore he can be punished for them.
It doesn’t matter that Drakeo didn’t plan the murder.
It doesn’t matter that he didn’t pull the trigger.
It doesn’t matter that RJ wasn’t at the party.
It doesn’t matter that Drakeo claims his lyrics are just music – not a diary.
All that matters is that Drakeo is in a “gang” and that one of the members killed a man.
It’s guilt by association at the most basic level.
With such legislative logic, if Keith Richards shot a man in the 1970’s, Mick Jagger would be held legally responsible for the crime. During the trial, the prosecutors would point to the band’s criminal history, the drug arrests, aggravated assault, and illegal firearms possession. They would sneer at the red-lip, tongue-y logo and the band’s name that alludes to rugged bad boy transience. Imagine the deputy DA throwing up lyrics on a projector. “‘Sympathy for the Devil!’ This man spits in the face of God himself.” Follow that with insinuations that Mick Jagger committed all those crimes that he brags about in his song. He aided and abetted Pilate in the killing of Christ. He slaughtered the Romanovs while Anastasia screamed in vain. He held a general’s rank during Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. He killed the Kennedys!
But that never would happen.
Like most thought experiments, the screws turn loose upon closer inspection. The Rolling Stones got away with most of their criminal activity. Most of Jagger and Richards’ drug possessions were ultimately reduced to misdemeanors or dismissed. When they assaulted the cop at the airport, the mayor bailed them out and they got a police escort to their concert at Boston Garden.
There’s a reason calling the Rolling Stones a criminal street gang seems so strange.
It’s not because they’re British.