Monroe Ezell is a marked man. At 21, Ezell is one of the ranking members of the Hoover Criminals 74, a South Seattle gang affiliated with the Los Angeles–based Crips. Members of the Valley Hood Piru (a Blood-affiliated gang), and other Seattle gangs, want him dead.
Ezell has a rap sheet with charges for robbery and drug possession, and law-enforcement sources say he is a suspect in a handful of drive-by shootings around Seattle. According to Seattle Police Department search-warrant records, Ezell was also a suspect in the murder of 15-year-old Quincy Coleman—a known Deuce-8 gang member with apparent ties to the Valley Hood Piru—who was gunned down outside of Garfield High School on Halloween 2008.
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Last month, Ezell was nearly killed outside of the King County Youth Service Center, presumably by a rival gang member, possibly in retaliation for Coleman's murder. No arrests have been made.
"I don't want to live like this," a rattled Ezell now says. "You've got to look every time a car passes that's got too many people in it."
We're sitting inside a South Seattle diner, about a month after the shooting, and his eyes are tired and his shoulders sag. Ezell looks weary. He is tall, but slight, having lost 30 pounds while he was recovering in the hospital. As a waitress—clearly acquainted with Ezell—approaches the table, Ezell lifts his long white T-shirt, showing off his wounds. A plastic colostomy bag wraps halfway around his abdomen.
"You're lucky to be alive," the waitress says.
On August 14, Ezell was standing outside of the parking lot of the King County Youth Service Center with two younger Hoover members—Ezell says rival gang members have frequently targeted Hoovers as they leave court—when an SUV rolled down 12th Avenue. The car pulled a U-turn at the end of the block and stopped in front of Ezell. A man in the backseat opened his door, threw a red rag on the ground, signifying a likely connection between the shooter and a Blood-affiliated gang, and fired a volley of shots at the group, striking Ezell in the arm, stomach, and buttocks. No one else was injured. Ezell was taken to Harborview where, he says, members of the Valley Hood Piru showed up to finish the job. SPD spokesman Mark Jamieson confirms that a large group of young men showed up at the hospital following the shooting and that officers were dispatched to patrol the area. Jamieson was unaware of any arrests.
In the days following Coleman's murder, Seattle police records say witnesses spotted Ezell and a teenage accomplice—who, witnesses told police, drove the car as Ezell allegedly opened fire on Coleman from the backseat—at the scene of the shooting. The affidavit also alleges that Ezell told an acquaintance that he had "killed that little boy," and one of Coleman's friends, also wounded in the incident, told Coleman's mother that Ezell had killed her son.
Police picked Ezell up on a robbery warrant several weeks after the shooting and interrogated him. Ezell told detectives he had been at the Southcenter Mall at the time of the incident. Ezell denies any involvement in Coleman's murder, but police are still investigating his alibi, and word of Ezell's possible involvement in Coleman's murder has spread.
Coleman's murder isn't the only reason rival gangs are after Ezell. While Ezell has pledged his loyalty to the south-end Hoovers, he originally hails from the Central District, making him unpopular with members of the Central District–based Deuce-8s, Deuce-0s, and East Union Street Hustlers, he says. On top of that, Ezell believes he has enough status within the Hoovers to make him a target for a rival gang member looking to make a name for himself.
In the last few years, law enforcement has heavily targeted the Hoovers, believed to be one of the larger and more organized gangs in the city. In 2005, the Drug Enforcement Agency went after the South Seattle gang with the Street Light Initiative. The DEA eventually seized 23 guns and $250,000 in cash from the gang, and it charged 26 purported Hoover members with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, marijuana, and OxyContin.
"We've prosecuted a number of Hoovers," says Vince Lombardi, the anti-gang coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "Most of the Hoover cases we've done have been drugs or guns."
In addition to attention from police, a number of young men with ties to the Hoovers have also been targeted in shootings around the Seattle area in the last two years.
On January 11, 2008, 14-year-old De'Che Morrison was shot and killed near Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Rose Street. Morrison is believed to have ties to the Hoover and Down with the Crew gangs. On November 22, 2008, Nathaniel Thomas, also believed to have Hoover ties, was shot and killed inside Vito's Madison Grill on First Hill. The next evening, 16-year-old Daiquan Jones, a member of the Hoovers, was gunned down at the Southcenter Mall after reportedly flashing gang signs—or "stacking"—at members of the Low Profile gang.
Ezell has connections to other gang deaths in Seattle. He was present when Allen Joplin was shot and killed at a party in downtown Seattle in January 2008. During the shooting, Ezell says he was so close to another girl struck by gunfire that her blood splattered on his shoes. In August 2008, Ezell was also involved in a robbery on a Metro bus in South Seattle with a group of young boys, including 16-year-old Pierre Lapoint. Four hours after the robbery, Lapoint was shot dead near the corner of Rainier Avenue South and Graham Street.
Leaning on the table back at the diner, Ezell rubs a scar on his elbow, left by a bullet that passed through his arm. Below the scar is a tattoo of his mother's name. Doctors also repaired bullet wounds to Ezell's backside, and he still has a bullet sitting in his guts. And these aren't the only markings on his body left over from his life in gangs. Ezell also has scars on his arm from where a police dog sunk its teeth into him a few years back, and his left forearm bears a tattoo with the name of a cousin killed in a shooting in 2002. Below his cousin's name, Ezell has a five-pointed star with an H in the center, denoting his membership in the Hoovers.
After seven years in the Hoovers, Ezell is looking for a way out. He has enrolled in school and is trying to come up with the money to pay for classes.
"I would like to say it could end," says Ezell. "They stop shooting us, we stop shooting them."
After finishing a large plate of pancakes, Ezell stands up and limps past the front counter of the restaurant. The waitress turns to him. "It's a shame that had to happen for you to wake up," she says. Ezell turns to face her.
"I woke all the way up," he says.
That remains to be seen. Ezell claims his departure from the Hoovers would leave 40 or so younger members of the gang vulnerable to attacks from the hundreds of Deuce-8, East Union Street Hustlers, or Valley Hood Piru members out for blood. And while Ezell plays up his changed-man image, the result of his near-death experience, his gangster bravado remains. The man who shot him is being "hunted," Ezell says, although he claims he doesn't want to see any harm come to his assailant. He brags, "A lot of people are going to get killed over me getting shot."