Feb 6, 2024 - News

East Valley agencies have made 26 teen violence arrests this year

A building that says "Police."

Gilbert Police headquarters. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

In the last month, three law enforcement agencies in two counties have made more than two dozen arrests in a possibly connected string of East Valley teen violence that dates back to 2022.

Why it matters: The arrests followed the launch of a broad investigation into a possible teen gang. But how long they took has raised questions about past information sharing between neighboring agencies.

Catch up quick: The Arizona Republic reported in December that a group of teens calling themselves the "Gilbert Goons" had carried out a string of violent attacks across the East Valley for more than a year.

  • In early January, Gilbert police announced it would reopen several shelved teen violence cases and work with other agencies to determine whether the group can be classified as a criminal street gang.

State of play: In 2024 alone:

  • Gilbert police have made 22 arrests related to six attacks between 2022 and 2023 — including in some of the reopened cases.
  • Mesa police have arrested two people for a May 2023 attack.
  • The Pinal County Sheriff's Office have arrested two people in connection with a November 2023 assault.

Additionally, the Queen Creek Police Department recommended charges in December against seven suspects in the October beating death of 16-year-old Preston Lord.

Be smart: Police have not confirmed whether any of the suspects arrested are associated with the "Goons" or if any of the incidents are connected.

What they're saying: Gilbert Police Chief Michael Soelberg told Axios Phoenix last month that his department was coordinating with other agencies about teen violence in the same way it does with "any other of our crimes … a crime trend or something significant we communicate with all of our surrounding agencies."

  • He pointed to the East Valley Fusion Center, which allows agencies to share information related to criminal investigations, gang activity and crime trends.

Yes, but: Mesa police told Axios Phoenix that agencies typically communicate in the Fusion Center via bulletins about major trends.

  • And the department confirmed to Axios that no bulletins about teen violence were issued in 2023.

What's next: Jeanine L'Ecuyer, deputy chief of staff for the Maricopa County attorney, tells Axios Phoenix that prosecutors typically handle each case independently — even if a defendant is facing a similar charge elsewhere.

  • Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer tells us that many informal conversations occur between Maricopa and Pinal county prosecutors, but "we believe we should look at a case individually, and it should be individualized justice."
  • At least one suspect has been charged in Maricopa and Pinal counties.
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