Gang feud that killed Nizzel grew for months

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2012 - 9:08 AM

An internal Minneapolis police report lays out a history of confrontations between two North Side gangs.

The bullet that killed 5-year-old Nizzel George last month in the home where he was staying came through the wall in an instant, but the events that led to his murder began at least 10 months earlier, according to an internal police report obtained by the Star Tribune.

A summer 2011 street fight that spiraled out of control sparked an ongoing, violent feud between two North Side gangs -- the Skitz Squad and Y.N.T. -- that over the winter and spring included shootings, beatings and repeated threats on social media, according to the report.

So far, the feud has killed two people, including Nizzel. Those involved include juveniles who have grown up surrounded by people who have been shot, arrested or both, and some have had friends or relatives who were murdered, according to jail logs, news reports and booking records.

The father of one of the teenagers at the center of the feud was killed in a shooting 11 years ago.

The apparent inability of the adults in these teens' lives to stop the fighting has generated concern among police and others that more people might die.

Police claimed credit for Thursday evening's capture of an armed gunman who authorities believe is a gang member set on carrying on the gang battle.

Such feuds are difficult to control, one police official said, because violent crime has happened to and around these kids for much of their lives.

"They consider it to be kind of a fact of life that people get killed, that houses get shot up, that adults go to prison, and therefore those things are not a deterrent," said Inspector Mike Martin, who wrote the department's internal report. Though he agreed to discuss the report, Martin was not the newspaper's source in obtaining it.

The report includes the information that a judge signed a narcotics search warrant for 4501 Camden Av. N. -- the home of Nizzel's alleged killer -- just before Nizzel was murdered. That warrant was executed hours after Nizzel died, with Minneapolis police and ATF agents seizing drugs, drug-dealing equipment and ammunition.

Asked whether that warrant should have been executed sooner, considering the buildup of tensions between the two gangs, Martin said no.

"We couldn't possibly anticipate something like this," he said.

Out of control

On a Sunday afternoon last August, a member of the Y.N.T. gang was shot after an argument in the street, according to the internal report. The nature of the argument is not described. The gunshot victim survived, and he later identified the gunman as Juwon "Skitz" Osborne, a 16-year-old member of the Scarface gang.

A month later, on Sept. 12, Osborne was shot in the leg while standing near his home on Dupont Avenue N. Investigators were led back to the teenager whom Osborne had shot weeks earlier and made an arrest. Their case was not convincing to the Hennepin County attorney, however, and charges were not filed.

A week later, Osborne was shot again, this time fatally. Friends of his believed that Y.N.T. gang members were responsible and formed a group they called the Skitz Squad, from Osborne's nickname.

Rooted in Osborne's slaying, which remains unsolved, the feud spread to Facebook, where Skitz Squad and Y.N.T. members traded threats, according to the internal report. The social network allows gang members to picture themselves flashing the hand signals of their gang, or to "throw down" the hand sign of their enemy in disrespect. Osborne's friends memorialized him with "RIP Skitz," keeping fresh the memory of his killing.

The pictures shown on the gang members' Facebook pages show young kids, which should be a sign of a situation out of control, one youth worker said.

"Thirteen-, 14-, 15-year-old kids are shooting and doing this and that, because parents have lost their authority over the kids," said Will Wallace, a youth outreach worker who mentors gang members on the North Side. Wallace, who works with the North4 program that will include mentoring 60 kids ages 16 to 21 over the next two years, said it's about employment.

"The thing that's probably driving these kids to continue to do murder is just he-say, she-say, jealousy, lack of job, lack of communication," he said. "The bigger picture is that the North Side has got to get cleaned up. More business has got to come into our neighborhood to keep these kids busy with more jobs."

The gang fight continued in early March, when a series of callers reported to police that someone in north Minneapolis was shooting at people from a black vehicle. One of the targets hit was a car carrying two young men and a young woman, but no one in the car was wounded. Police chased the vehicle and eventually found it at 4601 Camden Av. N. The black Ford Crown Victoria was tied to 4501 Camden Av. N., a Skitz Squad hangout, and a follow-up investigation led to the arrests of two people identified as Skitz Squad members, including Juwon Osborne's half brother, 16-year-old PatrickTimberlake.

Three months later, while locked up at the Juvenile Detention Center in downtown Minneapolis over the shooting, Timberlake was caught in a hallway by several Y.N.T. members, according to the department's internal report and a police report on the assault. They punched him, breaking his nose, according to the nurse who treated him.

Final 12 hours

In the 12 hours before Nizzel was killed, the two groups clashed repeatedly, according to the internal police report. The clashes started with a confrontation at a Lyndale Avenue N. neighborhood convenience store, one close to a house where Skitz Squad members lived and just a few blocks from a house where Y.N.T. members were staying. When members of each group ran into one another at the store, a 15-year-old Skitz Squad member known by his street handle, "Funny Mo," overheard one of the Y.N.T. members talking about him, saying he was from "the other side," according to the criminal complaint in the case. Funny Mo pointed a gun at the other group, according to the complaint.

Just hours later, someone shot several times into the house at 4501 Camden Av. N., where Skitz Squad members had been staying with Jamica Holden, Juwon Osborne's mother. One of the people inside at the time was Stephon Terrell Shannon, 17.

Less than three hours later, someone shot at a house at 2524 Bryant Av. N., nearly striking a resident, according to the internal report. Inside the house at the time was a Y.N.T. member.

And then later that morning, as Nizzel was asleep on his grandmother's couch at 4515 Bryant Av. N., Shannon and Funny Mo fired numerous rounds into the house, according to criminal charges against them. Nizzel, whom officers found lying lifeless on the sofa, could not be revived. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

TIMELINE TO TRAGEDY

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