Jan 12, 2024 - News

What to know about East Valley teen violence arrests

Illustration of the statue of Justice holding handcuffs in place of a scale

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Gilbert Police Department and Pinal County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday said they arrested five people in connection with two attacks on teenagers in the East Valley last year.

Why it matters: The arrests came after more than a month of public pressure and media scrutiny on what appears to be a surge in violent teen-on-teen attacks in Gilbert and the surrounding areas.

Catch up quick: Gilbert Police have charged 18-year-old Christopher Fantastic, 18-year-old Aris Arredondo and two 16-year-olds with aggravated assault and aggravated robbery in an altercation that occurred in Gilbert last August, police spokesperson Brenda Carrasco told Axios Phoenix. All were charged with aggravated assault and aggravated robbery, she said.

  • At the initial court appearances for Fantastic and Arredondo, prosecutors asked for a $100,000 bond for each because they believe they are two of several "individuals in the community of Gilbert that have been perpetrating attacks similar to this one on minors in the community."
  • But a Maricopa County judge said during the court appearance that prosecutors and police didn't provide the court with evidence to prove either individual is a part of a violent group. She set both bails at $25,000 based solely on the evidence in the assault case.

The charges against the two 16-year-old suspects were referred to juvenile court, Carrasco told us. Axios does not name juveniles charged with crimes.

  • Axios' attempts to contact Fantastic, Arredondo and their families were unsuccessful.

Separately, Pinal County sheriff's deputies charged 20-year-old Jacob Pennington of Gilbert with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct for his alleged involvement in a November assault of a minor in a desert area in San Tan Valley, Sheriff Mark Lamb announced Wednesday in a video posted to social media.

  • Lamb included a video clip of the attack, which appears to show a group of young people circling a teen and then punching, shoving and chasing him.
  • The Pinal County Sheriff's Office said in court documents obtained by Axios Phoenix that Pennington told investigators in an interview he was defending a female friend whom he claimed the victim hit.

The intrigue: According to court records, Pennington also told police he's associated with a group called the "Gilbert Goons" and that the moniker originated from a Snapchat group.

  • The Arizona Republic reported in December that a group of teens calling themselves the Gilbert Goons had carried out a string of violent attacks for more than a year.
  • The Gilbert Police Department earlier this week said it's working with other law enforcement agencies to 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.

In an email to Axios Phoenix, Pennington's mother Alisha Tidwell said, "He is not a Gilbert Goon, never has been never will be."

  • A Pinal County judge set Pennington's bond at $5,000 and forbid him from any contact with "anyone who is a member of or affiliated with the 'Gilbert Goons,'" according to court documents obtained by Axios Phoenix.

Between the lines: Community members are questioning why it took so long to make arrests in both assaults, which were reported months ago.

  • Carrasco said the Gilbert assault was reported Aug. 18 and images of the suspects were reviewed by detectives and school resource officers, but the department could not identify them. The case was inactivated pending new leads in October, but police reopened it in December and shared photos of the suspects on social media. Members of the public responded with information that helped police make the arrests this week, she said.
  • Pinal County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Lauren Reimer told Axios the victim in the November San Tan Valley case immediately reported being attacked but could not identify the attackers. A video later posted on social media helped police identify Pennington, per court documents. Reimer said she didn't know when the video was posted.

What they're saying: "It can be frustrating waiting for additional information and charging decisions. It may seem at times as if action isn't being taken. But I can assure you that everyone here is working hard to ensure that anyone who has committed a crime in Gilbert is held accountable," Gilbert Police chief Michael Soelberg said at a town council meeting Tuesday.

Of note: The arrests made this week are separate from the Queen Creek investigation into the October beating death of 16-year-old Preston Lord.

  • That department recommended charges against seven individuals related to Lord's homicide investigation on Dec. 28. The department has not said whether Lord's death is associated with the Gilbert Goons.

What we're watching: "Let me say this to the people out there who are the perpetrators of this crime: You should take no comfort whatsoever in the time that this is taking to put the case together. We are just lining the ducks up," Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said in a press conference Wednesday.

  • Her office will make the final charging decisions in Lord's homicide.

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