by Matthew Clarke
On August 26, 2017, Benjamin Davis, 42, the founder and leader of a white supremacist prison gang called the 211 Crew, was found hanging in his cell at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. Davis was suspected of having ordered the 2013 murder of Tom Clements, director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections (DOC), though no evidence established a direct link between the gang and Clements’ death.
Clements was killed by Evan Ebel, 28, a 211 Crew member who had been released early due to a clerical error after serving a stint in solitary confinement. In March 2013, Ebel first murdered pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon and stole his car and uniform. He then drove to Clements’ home in Monument, near Denver, and fatally shot him. Ebel fled south into Texas, where he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.1].
According to a 2016 Texas Rangers report, Davis is believed to have ordered Clements’ assassination. Police also found DNA from a third murder victim on a pipe bomb discovered in the trunk of Ebel’s car. They arrested six other members of the 211 Crew based on Ebel’s text and phone records, though none of the arrests was for involvement in Clements’ murder.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, who oversaw the investigation into Clements’ death, said he believes Ebel acted by himself, not on orders from Davis or other gang leaders.
“They’ve looked at everything and anything. To date [they] have not turned over any evidence that disproves that Evan Ebel acted alone,” said Elder, who was quoted in a March 17, 2018 Denver Post article. “I would love nothing more than to prove a conspiracy to the 211 Crew,” he added, but such evidence was lacking – only theories.
The 211 Crew was reportedly founded by Davis in the Denver County Jail in 1995, after he arrived at the facility to begin a 30-year sentence for a string of robberies, one of which resulted in a shooting. That same year, a black prisoner at the jail broke Davis’ jaw in a fight. He then organized the 211 Crew along with other white prisoners for protection from black and Hispanic gang members. The group took its name from the California penal code for robbery, adopting Irish, Nazi and Viking gang symbols. [See, e.g.: PLN, Dec. 2011, p.1].
In 2002, Davis took out an ad in the Rocky Mountain News to publicly deny any continuing association with gang activity. Four years later, however, he was one of two dozen 211 Crew members convicted of racketeering, after he was found to have directed assaults and killings of other prisoners while in solitary confinement at several Colorado facilities. He was sentenced in 2007 to serve additional prison terms totaling 108 years.
Following the murder of his predecessor, Rick Raemisch was appointed director of the Colorado DOC and dispersed 211 Crew leaders to prisons in various other states, including Wyoming, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Calling it “one of the most influential tools available” to corrections officials, Raemisch said such transfers were often used to disrupt gangs like the 211 Crew, which has aligned itself with other white supremacist gangs.
Like Davis, 211 Crew leader James “Jimbo” Lohr was moved to segregation immediately after Clements was murdered. He has since been transferred to New Hampshire, where he claimed his active participation with the gang had ended – though he maintained his leadership rank.
“I didn’t retire. We keep our status,” he said. “But I don’t have anything to do with [day-to-day] operations anymore. When they moved me to New Hampshire, there was a giant weight that was lifted off of me. I don’t have to worry about what hundreds of guys are doing.... For the most part, I don’t know what is going on right now.”
Lohr, 54, will complete his sentence for multiple criminal convictions in 2021. Though he claims no further connection with the 211 Crew, he was able to identify prisons where several other “generals” in the gang had been transferred – information not available to the public. DOC spokesman Mark Fairbairn refused to comment, but the Denver Post confirmed several of the moves Lohr reported.
Besides identifying the whereabouts of his fellow gang members, Lohr – who has cooperated in the conspiracy investigation following Clements’ murder – also denied any connection to that crime. Instead, he blamed it all on Evan Ebel.
“Ebel was a lunatic that did that all on his own. He’s gone. He’s dead. He went out like a lunatic. The Texas Rangers killed him like a lunatic animal,” Lohr said. “If it was an orchestrated thing, don’t you think they would have charged us?”
But in the days leading up to the murder, the FBI tracked numerous calls between Lohr and two fellow 211 Crew members, Thomas Guolee and Chris Middleton, who were also in contact with Ebel. The Texas Rangers have another gang member – identified only as “JR,” because he is acting as a confidential informant – who claimed that Lohr admitted to ordering Clements’ murder.
“I never talked to [Ebel] before [he shot Clements] or after that,” Lohr countered.
He instead claimed that “JR” was just hoping to get himself off the hook for his own involvement in the conspiracy – into which the investigation continues, according to Jaqueline Kirby, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office in El Paso County, where Clements was killed. Lohr also noted that Clements’ death had brought unwanted scrutiny from prison officials.
“They told all of us: ‘You get caught doing shot-caller stuff on the yard, we’re going to come down hard. Don’t be murdering people and getting into fights.’ They wanted me to debrief or rat. That’s not my style,” Lohr said. “That’s why they sent us out [to other states].... We’re just like trading cards. They trade us from one facility to the next. Divide and conquer.”
Damarcus Woods, an expert who has given court testimony on prison gangs, said the transfer may also offer gangs like 211 Crew an opportunity for expansion.
‘‘When you move them, they are going to re-create themselves like seeds in another state,” he said. “What makes this gang so popular was the murder of Tom Clements.”
“That killing was extraordinary,” agreed Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, though no hard evidence connects 211 Crew to Clements’ death.
While Colorado law enforcement officials have yet to determine if Clements’ murder was the result of a conspiracy, they stressed it is difficult to prevent a prisoner like Davis from hiding coded gang orders inside books exchanged with other prisoners, even those at other facilities. In 2016, the DOC began allowing prisoners access to tablets and secure email, too, making such messages easier to send and receive.
As they did with Lohr, prison officials moved Davis to solitary confinement immediately after Clements’ killing, for fear of retaliation by rival gangs. That’s where he remained at the time of his death, which Carson County Coroner Paul Zamora ruled a suicide.
The DOC is also waiting to see if Davis’ death will lead to a bloody succession battle. In 1971, riots broke out in several California prisons after the murder of George Jackson, who founded the Black Guerilla Family, by guards at San Quentin Prison.
“It erupted into a major disturbance,” said gang expert Woods. “A lot of people got hurt.”
He also observed that the 211 Crew would likely try to alter the narrative of Davis’ death, changing it from suicide to a murder.
“His ideology is cemented in death. That’s not the end of the 211 Crew. They’ll raise him up and exalt him. They’ll not just follow him but put their lives on the line for him. They’re going to make his death into a conspiracy to promote their gang. What they write in their book will be different than what others write in theirs,” Woods predicted.
Indeed, Lohr said membership in the 211 Crew had increased to 1,000 current and former prisoners, over whom “we’ve got a real tight rein” – for which he credits both West Point leadership skills that Davis studied as well as a rigid white supremacist ideology that trumps the “dope-scene mentality” of rival prison gangs.
Sources: Denver Post, Cañon City Daily Record, www.koaa.com, www.westword.com
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