An expert on gangs and threat assessments has testified in the trial of four men accused of being members of the Lake Boyz gang in Fort Myers, Florida.
The four men who are currently on trial are James Brown, 23, Kwameaine Brown, 25, Diante Davis, 21, and Eric Fletcher, 30. The men were arrested in January 2017, following a two-year investigation by the Fort Myers Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office into the activities of the Lake Boyz gang. The police allege that the Lake Boyz gang operates in the Harlem Lakes subdivision of Fort Myers.
Brown, Brown, and Davis were arrested during a roundup. Fletcher was charged while serving a 30-year prison sentence for robbery. They are the first of 23 men who are scheduled to face a jury for their alleged involvement with the Lake Boyz. When the arrests took place, Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs said that “This group has targeted the Harlem Lakes community for years… We hope this initiative will give the Harlem Lakes community some peace.”
Florida State Attorney Steve Russell charged all of the alleged Lake Boyz members under Florida’s RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). The Florida RICO Act is the state version of a federal law that was enacted to provide for extended criminal penalties and civil causes of action for acts that were performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
State’s Expert Witnesses
The state retained Ben Pieper, a senior investigator for the Bradenton Police Department’s gang unit, to testify as an expert on gangs. Pieper is also the co-owner and instructor for a consulting group that specializes in threat and gang assessments, All is One International. Pieper provided testimony about the history of gangs and how they work. Pieper testified about the gangs of New York, the Bloods and the Crips, and the lower hybrid gangs, that have “morphed into local neighborhood groups.” How the Bloods and the Crips are relevant to a Florida motorcycle gang is unclear.
Attorneys for the defendants objected repeatedly to Pieper’s testimony. The four defense attorneys used their cross-examination to show that Pieper did not know anything about this case or the Lake Boyz. Under cross-examination, Pieper revealed that he had been paid $8,000 for his involvement in the trial, but he had not looked at or read any of the discovery in the case. Davis’ attorney, K.J. Myllynen said, “So, after $8,000-plus dollars spent by this county you have no testimony to tell us about the defendants in this case.” Pieper replied, “Yes, sir, correct.”
One of the prosecutors, Bob Lee, explained that the state’s attorney’s office did not ask Pieper to review the case because that would be handled by the local detectives. Fort Myers police Detective Wolfgang Daniel was the lead investigator on the case and testified about the different ways that the police identified the gang members. Daniels testified that “a documented reliable informant” named James Brown, Kwameaine Brown, and Diante Davis as gang members and that Fletcher was seen in the company of other gang members, using gang signs. How hearsay testimony from a non-testifying, unidentified informant is admissible is again unclear. Daniels also explained about the police department’s use of social media, surveillance, and confidential informants to investigate the Lake Boyz.
A jury found all four defendants Not Guilty. The verdict should be a reminder that calling an expert as a witness will backfire when the expert knows nothing about the relevant facts of the case. Lawyers should always choose their experts wisely.