A joint task force of more than 500 law enforcement officers conducted a massive sweep across the Bay Area over the last two days, arresting dozens of alleged members of what police call one of the most violent gangs in the South Bay, including a popular rap artist.
The Taliban gang is a group of mostly young men that emerged in 2002 around East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, police said. Members were booked into custody on suspicion of various offenses, including homicide, armed robbery, and trafficking in methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and weapons.
At least 42 people were arrested without incident on Friday night and Saturday morning on a combination of state and federal warrants. They were all booked into San Mateo County Jail, where some are being held without bail, some with bail in varying amounts.
Among those taken into custody was Dontae Gardner, 32, a member of the rap duo Dem Hoodstarz who goes by the stage name Scoot Dogg, according to Ed Soares, a primary investigator in the case and a detective with East Palo Alto police. Desean Gardner, described by police as the leader of the Taliban, turned himself in on Saturday afternoon and also was booked into custody.
The raids in 14 cities follow an 18-month investigation by a special task force that included members of the FBI, East Palo Alto police and Menlo Park police.
"I'm proud to say that today's effort is the culmination of 18 months of hard work by the men and women of our police departments and it has resulted in what I can only describe as the most significant operation takedown that I've witnessed in the last 28 years of law enforcement," said Menlo Park Police Chief Bruce Goitia. "This will profoundly affect the safety and quality of life of our communities."
The sweep involved the coordinated efforts of more than a dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and stretched across the East Bay and South Bay from Emeryville to Gilroy.
Police seized $240,000 in cash, 10 automobiles, numerous assault rifles and handguns, and what the task force described in a statement as "significant quantities" of ecstasy pills, a smokable form of cocaine called base and other illegal narcotics.
The gang took its name from the fundamentalist Islamic group that ruled Afghanistan until 2001, using "Taliban" for its public shock value rather than for any religious or political reason, officers said. They added that the gang members initially were the "muscle" for another gang, known as the Midtown Hogs. After the law enforcement crackdown on the rival Latino Sac Street gang in 2007, however, the Taliban gang quickly filled the crime vacuum and soon overshadowed the Hogs.
"It's a local gang, not a nationwide gang, but they are very violent and notorious," said Charlene Thornton, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the FBI. "They are a significant threat to the communities here."
Members are known for wearing camouflage fatigues and military hats, and employing sophisticated coded language and countersurveillance techniques, Soares said.
Charles Kelley, identified on the Dem Hoodstarz MySpace Web site as the group's media representative, said in an e-mail statement to The Chronicle that "Dem Hoodstarz are NOT a part of any 'Taliban' Gang; they solely do music."
In the e-mail, Kelley said he is the manager of the group. None of the members of the band responded to a request made through Kelley to speak to The Chronicle.
The size of the gang is estimated at between 50 and 60 members, so the arrests "put a big dent in the organization," said Carl Estelle, a captain with East Palo Alto police. That agency began a crackdown on gang-related crime in early 2007, shortly after a member of the Sac Street gang allegedly shot and killed a police officer. East Palo Alto enlisted the help of 14 law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the state Department of Justice.
The effort dramatically reduced the Sac Street gang's criminal activity, from around 200 known incidents before 2007 to about 10 since, police said.
Estelle said they will keep up the pressure and have already identified other gangs they intend to investigate.
"We know who you are," he said at the press conference Saturday. "We do promise you that one of you gangs will be next."