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Columbus police: 21 gang members behind bars, more arrests possible

A compilation of eight mug shots of men with "convicted" written across each of their faces.
Columbus Division of Police
Mug shots show eight of a dozen BL - 800 gang members who were convicted of participating in a criminal gang and other charges at the culmination of a Columbus Division of Police investigation. Police on Wednesday announced that 21 gang members had been arrested, indicted, or convicted in the investigation that began in 2021. Twelve of the first 13 men arrested took plea deals and were convicted. Most face six to 10 years in prison.

On Wednesday, the Columbus Division of Police announced the arrests, indictments or convictions of 21 members of the BL – 800 gang that operates out of the Wedgewood and South Park apartments on the city’s west side.

Detective Eric Clouse said many of the men are charged with crimes like theft and receiving stolen property, but are suspected to have committed more violent crimes that officials couldn’t prosecute because witnesses and victims were afraid to testify.

“They controlled the areas through threat of violence and just kind of plagued the area, by really controlling it to the extent that we couldn't get good cooperation from victims and witnesses,” Clouse said.

Still, through an investigation that started in 2021, Clouse said the gang unit compiled more than 10,500 pages of documentation on the first 13 gang members who were arrested. Of those, Clouse said 12 have been convicted after taking plea deals. The last one faces a murder charge.

“This is what we came up with, and we charge them with what we could, because they're still dangerous individuals,” Clouse said. “We know who they are, and we have to get them out of the community to where they're plaguing these people and just victimizing everyone.”

Clouse described the gang as being mostly made up of 14- to 25-year-old boys and men. He said the name “BL” originally stood for “Bantu Life” or “Bantu Love,” referring to a Somali ethnic group. The gang changed it to “Brotherly Love” to sound more innocuous, Clouse said, and the designation of “800” was added to account for non-Somali gang members who live in the area of the 800 block of Wedgewood Drive.

Clouse said the group was involved in theft more than drug trafficking, though members face a slew of charges.

Those already convicted racked up charges of felonious assault, tampering with evidence, receiving stolen property, drug possession, failure to comply with officers and possession of weapons, among others.

Clouse said police worked with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office to figure out how to best charge members. With two underlying felonies, members could also be charged with participating in a criminal gang.

Most of the men are facing prison sentenced of six to 10 years.

Clouse noted that the investigation was first sparked by an increase in violence at the Wedgewood Apartments and South Park Apartments. He also said BL – 800 has feuded with other gangs, including another Somali group known as 777.

“You're going to see it continue unfortunately. But we're going to be there every step of the way. And by them seeing this, it shows them we're not we're not going to stand for that,” Clouse said.

Clouse said the department has already seen a “slight downtick” in shootings and violence in the BL – 800 territory. Columbus police stressed their commitment to keeping BL – 800 and other gangs in check and noted partnerships with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.

Anthony Pierson, Deputy Chief Counsel with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, said that the BL – 800 case is “only the beginning,” and the county plans to prosecute other gangs.

“If you’re part of the BL gang or any other gang, you really have three options,” Pierson said. “Turn your life around and leave the gang nonsense behind, end up as a victim in a gang-involved murder or be prosecuted and spend a significant portion of your life behind bars."

Authorities say more arrests are possible in the BL — 800 gang case.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.