Seattle gang tensions, violence on rise
Gang detectives are busy chasing down suspects responsible for recent shootings in the Central District and South Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A greeting and a handshake between Donald Ray “Mess” Massey and a rival gang member last month was an uncharacteristic break in the violence that has escalated between the groups in recent months.
Massey, 22, had once been a member of the other man’s gang, the Valley Hood Pirus, based in Seattle’s Central District, according to court documents. Still inked in Massey’s skin is a tattoo dedicated to Quincy Coleman, a 15-year-old who had ties to Pirus before being fatally shot in front of Garfield High School in 2008.
But the break in violence was as short-lived as the handshake the men shared at a McDonald’s restaurant, according to detectives, because of Massey’s newer connection to a rival gang also based in the Central District, the East Union Street Hustlers.
Minutes after the two men shook hands, Massey shot the rival gang member and his companion near a busy Central District intersection, according to police.
Both victims survived the April 29 shooting at Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Jackson Street. Gang detectives later arrested Massey, who has been charged with two counts of first-degree assault.
The shooting underscores rising tensions between the Central Districtgangs, said Gabe Morales, a local gang-prevention specialist. He attributed much of the tension to the recent increase in Valley Hood Pirus members released from prison.
“They tend to come out in large waves, and we’re in the middle of one right now,” Morales said.
Valley Hood Pirus broke away from an old Central District alliance of gangs about a decade ago, Morales says. Ever since, other Central District gangs have put pressure on Valley Hood Pirus to re-enter the fold — or else.
“They’re trying to hold down the rebellion,” Morales said of the alliance, which often teams up against South Seattle gangs.
The documents filed in support of the charges against Massey shed light on the tensions between the rival gangs, which come amid other shootings in South Seattle also believed to be gang-related.
According to charging documents, Seattle police gang detectives believe the rivalry has become so intense that Massey was likely pressured to prove his loyalty to the East Union Street Hustlers by shooting an old friend from his former gang.
After Massey shook hands with his ex-gang mate at the McDonald’s, the two Valley Hood Pirus members drove off in a Chevrolet Caprice, according to the police report. Massey and other East Union Street Hustlers allegedly followed in a dark SUV.
The Pirus car stopped and one occupant bought a sandwich at Quick Pack Food Mart. As he returned to the Caprice, the SUV pulled in front of it and a black Ford Flex pulled behind it, blocking the car from leaving the parking lot.
The victims later told police that a former Valley Hood Pirus member — identified by detectives as Massey — walked up to their car and fired several shots at them, according to the police report. One victim, a man in his 20s, was shot in the shoulder; the other, a man in his 30s, in the hip.
The detective’s report says, “When [the victim] spoke of shaking Massey’s hand, then being shot by that same person minutes later, [he] appeared shocked and in disbelief.”
The Central District shooting came shortly after a spate of gun violence in rival South Seattle gang territory. In two separate April shootings in front of a house near South Austin Street and Rainier Avenue South, two longtime gang members from the 74 Hoovers were fatally shot.
Police and those who study local gangs don’t know for sure who shot and killed Ritchie “OG Ratt Loc” Williams and Derrick “OG Vamp Loc” Hargress, or if the killings were connected to Central District violence.
Morales thinks an internal power struggle between older and younger 74 Hoovers might have been at work in the South Seattle shootings because of the recent prison releases of longtime gang members.
The Seattle Police Department’s Gang Unit doesn’t comment on active investigations, but police spokesman Jeff Kappel said detectives are working to take as many violent criminals off the street as they can.
“They generally come from a background where they were assertive officers — it’s a high-speed unit,” Kappel said of the gang unit. “They’re actually on the street shaking down leads old-fashioned style. That’s why they get so much intel — they really have their thumb on the beat.”
Massey is being held behind bars in lieu of $500,000 bail. He faces a standard sentencing range of 26 to 31 years in prison if convicted of the two counts of first-degree assault with firearm enhancements, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.