U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman (at podium) and members of the Louisville Metro Intelligence Joint Task Force announced the indictment of five gang members on gun charges. | Photo by Joe Sonka

A joint task force of local and federal law enforcement agencies netted the arrests of five gang members on gun charges in Louisville this week, in a 40-count indictment accusing the defendants of engaging in a conspiracy to illegally purchase firearms and distribute them to other gang members.

The Louisville Metro Intelligence Joint Task Force was created in January to combat the historic rise of violent crime in the city, tasked with identifying serious, violent offenders and leveraging federal resources to investigate, apprehend and prosecute such targets. The task force, which was specifically focused on gang activity, includes state and federal prosecutors, the FBI, ATF, DEA and the Louisville Metro Police Department.

U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman announced at a press conference on Wednesday that five members and associates of the Victory Park Crips (VPC) were arrested and charged for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to use non-felons as straw purchasers to buy guns, which were then distributed to gangs members who were felons and legally prohibited from having such weapons.

The criminal defendants are Chicoby Summers, 22, Shelby Strong, 33, Jerlen Horton, 23, Derrick Hammond, 33, and Lakeshia Watts, 23. A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Kentucky stated that the VPC are “a violent street gang” that primarily operates in the West End of Louisville, using firearms to “aid narcotics trafficking, preserve and protect power and reputation by intimidation and violence against rival gangs.”

The charges stemmed from the illegal possession of 32 different firearms, ammunition and explosive material. If convicted at trial, the defendants would face up to 10 years in prison for nearly all of the counts, each of which also carries a fine of $250,000.

Louisville had an all-time high total of criminal homicides in 2016, and is on pace to match or that number again this year.

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad praised the multiple agencies for their work that led to the arrest of the five defendants this week, expressing hope that their conviction with a long sentence will deter others from seeking to replace their leadership in the VPC. Coleman added that the work and investigation of the joint task force would continue.