Jan 9, 2024 - News

"Our youth are signaling for help": Gilbert creates teen violence subcommittee

A police officer addressing people at a dais.

Gilbert Police chief Michael Soelberg addresses the town council yesterday. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

The Gilbert Town Council voted Tuesday evening to create a subcommittee to address teen violence at the request of dozens of parents and other community members.

  • "Our youth are signaling for help," East Valley resident Katey McPherson told the council.

Why it matters: The decision came after the town police department announced it's investigating nine cases of teenage violence ā€” four cases that were recently reopened and five newly reported ones.

  • "We are combing through every detail of our past assault cases and arrests involving youth to determine if there are any connections, correlations and what are the relationships ā€” if any ā€” between those involved," Gilbert Police chief Michael Soelberg said at Tuesday night's meeting.

Driving the news: Gilbert Council members Chuck Bongiovanni and Jim Torgeson and Vice Mayor Scott Anderson called for the creation of the subcommittee and will serve on it. The group is expected to work in coordination with police to collect community input to address what appears to be a surge in violent behavior by young people.

What they're saying: "There is an old African proverb that says, 'A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.' We are definitely on fire," McPherson said.

Zoom in: The Arizona Republic reported in November that a group of teens calling themselves the "Gilbert Goons" has carried out a string of violent attacks for more than a year.

Of note: Soelberg said in December his department did "not have police reports from victims or suspects associating or connecting [the Gilbert Goons] to any alleged reported criminal activity in our community."

  • Yes, but: On Monday, the department released a statement acknowledging that "in recent information received from victims there are references to their assailants as being associated with 'Gilbert Goons.'" Gilbert Police did not specify how many victims mentioned the Goons.

Between the lines: The department on Monday also said it's working with the Arizona Gang & Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission and other local law enforcement agencies to "thoroughly investigate any individuals self-proclaiming or being affiliated by others as being associated with the term 'Gilbert Goons.'"

  • Police say the investigation will also determine whether the group can be classified as a criminal street gang, which would make participants eligible for a class 2 felony, per state law.

The new and reopened Gilbert cases come after the fatal October beating of 16-year-old Preston Lord outside a Halloween house party in neighboring Queen Creek.

What's next: The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is reviewing the criminal referrals and will make final charging decisions.

  • Deputy chief of staff Jeanine L'Ecuyer tells Axios Phoenix it's impossible to estimate a timeline for a decision but notes the information submitted to the county attorney's office for review includes 1,800 pages of documents, 600 video clips and boxes of paper records.
  • "The county attorney wants this to move as quickly as possible, but she also wants to get it right," L'Ecuyer says.
  • The Queen Creek Police Department also tells Axios Phoenix it could not provide additional details when asked why the seven individuals recommended for charges were not arrested.
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