LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Sheriff Grady Judd discusses an “Operation Gangs & Guns” investigation on Friday afternoon.
The investigation began on March 11 after the department said a Lakeland gang committed 38 car burglaries over four days in the South Lakeland area.
The thieves specifically targeted firearms left in vehicles with the intent of using them. The crimes took place in three “middle to upper-class upscale neighborhoods.”
13 burglaries occurred in the “Reflections West” neighborhood on March 11, 11 in “Christina Oaks” on May 26, and 14 in “Highlands Crossing and Mission Hills” on May 28.
Some of the cars were unlocked, but with the locked cars, the criminals were smashing car windows.
They would look for “pro-gun” stickers on the car, or any sticker implying the car owners were conservative or liked guns.
Sheriff Judd said they would bypass valuables and go straight to the guns.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Department is working alongside Bartow police due to burglaries in the Bartow area. The suspects asked “What about the Bartow crimes,” not realizing deputies didn’t know about the Bartow crimes at the time.
Seven firearms were stolen, although only two were recovered by deputies. The other five are outstanding.
“We’re not going to allow kids to kill kids,” the sheriff added.
One of the gang members, a 16-year-old at the time of the crimes, coordinated how and where they hit. He has 75 total charges including directing activities of a criminal gang and possession of a machine gun.
Deputies found the teen’s dreads he cut off after a search warrant was issued for him. Sheriff Judd advised to not mistake him for an innocent kid after his new clean haircut.
In a video played by the sheriff’s department, the teen is seen practicing and pointing a gun at three juveniles, one as young as 17 months old, in his parent’s home
“He’s gonna get a real-man sentence,” the sheriff said, in reference to if the 16-year-old is being charged as an adult. “He’s dangerous.”
Javien Sterling, a 19-year-old, is another member who was recruited by the 16-year-old and now has 40 total charges including burglary of a conveyance and grand theft of a firearm.
Eric Denson, an 18-year-old, who was the driver for the burglaries, is facing three counts of attempted first-degree murder. He additionally made a shank in jail.
Eldred Kellum, 23, has a lengthy criminal history and coordinated the burglaries with Pringle and is now facing 63 charges.
Taurean Sumrall, a 22-year-old, was selling the handguns on the street, and normally got $300 per gun, according to Sheriff Judd. “He is charged with a total of “We do homicides and burglarize,” the man posted on his social media account.
De’Andre Guilford, a 22-year-old, was charged with carrying a concealed firearm and a warrant arrest for failing to appear.
“If I have legs in my pants today, he’s out there committing a crime,” the sheriff said in reference to one of the gang members.
There were six total members of the gang who committed these crimes.
“I’m talking to you gang-banger. I’d rather you be alive in prison than dead on the streets,” Sheriff Judd said in the press conference.
“They’re experts, it ain’t their first rodeo,” the sheriff said regarding the crimes. “This is a very bad group of criminals who intended to steal guns to be used for even more crime.”