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Gilbert police won't say why it took over a year to go after 'Gilbert Goons'

A string of arrests have been made by police in Gilbert, Mesa and Pinal County in recent weeks in relation to the high school gang that called themselves the “Gilbert Goons.” The arrests are coming fast and furious now, but attacks by the gang went on for more than a year. 

In October, 16-year-old Preston Lord was beaten to death outside of a house party in Queen Creek. Not long after, reporters at the Arizona Republic started connecting the dots between the homicide and a string of other assaults in the area. Many of them had been filmed and posted online. 

Robert Anglen is one of the reporters covering the story and he joined The Show to tell us more.

LAUREN GILGER: Thanks for coming in, Robert.

ROBERT ANGLEN: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

GILGER: So I want to talk about the beginning of this. Like just how long had the Gilbert Goons, this kind of gang of high schoolers, been basically attacking people and then talking about it online in this area.

ANGLEN: Some of the first videos I found date back to November of '22, December '22. So more than a year or or 11 months up to the murder.

GILGER: So residents it seems like had been complaining about this before Preston Lord was attacked that night, right?

ANGLEN: There were some complaints but Preston Lord was the catalyst. The murder of Preston Lord, the 16-year-old, he was beaten to death outside a Halloween party on Oct. 28. He died two days later after the beating. And that was the catalyst to push a lot of outrage from the community. And people began pointing to different attacks by this group. I got involved about just at Thanksgiving, and I came in and it was started piecing it together along with my colleague Elena Santa Cruz. And we began putting these, these beating attack, you know, together, and we were looking at the videos that they this group would post online, individual members and we were like, well, that person is here, this person is here, that person is here. We could, we could start tracking the actual beating videos, and if we could do it, the question becomes: Why weren't police doing it for a year?

GILGER: Right. So tell us about the response by the police and this was in several jurisdictions it sounds like at that point when that death happened when Preston Lord was beaten to death.

ANGLEN: Yeah, OK. Preston Lord was beaten to death in Queen Creek. The nexus of the attacks appears to be Gilbert, hence probably the nickname the Gilbert Goons, and we determined very early on that they had given themselves this nickname that it was, it was self-generated, and they post they were very proud of their attacks and they seem to have enjoy it. In fact, we found court documents dating back a year where individual members had said "I attack people, I attack strangers because I like it."

GILGER: What did the police do when Preston Lord was killed?

ANGLEN: Well, there are two different again, two different agencies. Queen Creek launched what appeared to be a pretty rigorous homicide investigation. Meanwhile, Gilbert stood in the shadows, and when we went to Gilbert and said, "What is happening? Why haven't you done this?" the police chief gave some lukewarm response. Lukewarm is being generous. He said, well, we and publicly, he said we never connected these because the people who were victimized never told us they were being attacked by the Gilbert Goons. They never used that name. And I that left me thinking, well, are all victims supposed to know the identity of their attackers before the police can launch an investigation? And and there's still not a a real cogent answer immediately upon our story being the first story being published in Dec. 14. The police the next day, Gilbert police said they were reopening at least one investigation. They have since reopened nine or opened nine; four were reopened five are new, and they're all based on these attack videos.

GILGER: OK. So police are involved now and going forward. Now after your investigation has come out, how many arrests have happened at this point?

ANGLEN: Seven as of last week, and they were all last week. What's amazing is some of the departments, Mesa Police Department in particular, Pinal County in particular, looked at the videos within the last ... Mesa got a video two weeks ago, and they made an arrest within, within really, within seven days. And that the focus of that arrest, the target is a juvenile. The Republic isn't naming the name of that — we're not naming juveniles — that particular person. I have him in three attack videos. One at a park in Mesa, which is the one he was arrested for, a parking garage in Gilbert, and In-N-Out beating from Dec. 22 in the parking lot of this In-N-Out in Gilbert. Nothing has happened with Gilbert police in regard to those cases. But that individual was also the subject of a search by Queen Creek police in the murder of Preston Lord. So you can start seeing the overlap.

GILGER: Yeah. And these videos were not hard to find. We should say like these were public, they were online. 

ANGLEN: Yeah. Although the the subjects now are erasing them right and left, but we captured quite a bit of them but they were online and with sometimes the hashtag Gilbert Goons sometimes just individual names. They were shared privately and we've obtained those. They're, they're vicious and we're not talking about minor attacks, homicide, not withstanding. Some of these attacks left kids put hospitalized. They had $14,000 hospital bills. One kid had his head had to be stapled because they were using brass knuckles. These are vicious, violent attacks, and if you watch them, they're almost staggering because you see a group of kids swarm a victim and just pummel them.

GILGER: Wow. So what else do we know about these kids in this, in this gang, the Gilbert Goons, like some are being charged as juveniles as you said, some as adults. Much of the coverage around this story has been about the fact that they're from some of these, you know, affluent parts of town.

ANGLEN: They are. I started with the four in a exclusive subdivision gated community called White Wing and Gilbert, most of the houses they run upward of a million dollars. And there were four individuals, they are by any  judgment wealthy white kids, which makes the first arrest by Gilbert PD, kind of baffling of all these videos that are of predominantly white kids. The first two arrests by Gilbert PD were of, or the first arrest was of a black individual, black student, pardon me, a black adult and they released his picture. But what was wild about that is on the day they arrested him last week, they said this is the only arrest we've made. This is the only arrest we've made. I got hold of documents showing they'd actually arrested three people cited and released the other three, and they didn't want to say anything about it. So for hours Tuesday, they maintained there was only one arrest. Elena presented Gilbert with the documentation, and Gilbert police said nothing except they released a press release a half-hour later and said we also arrested three others.

GILGER: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Lots to watch for. Robert Anglen with the Arizona Republic joining us, Robert. Thank you for coming in. I appreciate it.

ANGLEN: Thank you for having me.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.