Was there a prison gang connection to murder of Colorado prisons chief?

Colorado parolee Evan Ebel, who died Friday after a shootout with police in Texas, may have been connected to the shooting death of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements. As the member of a 'particularly vicious' prison gang, Ebel may have been ordered to kill Clements.

By , Staff writer

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    Evan Spencer Ebel is shown in this undated Colorado Department of Corrections booking photo. Ebel died Friday but authorities say he is a suspect in the slaying of Tom Clements, the head of Colorado's prison system.
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Law enforcement officials are zeroing in on the member of a prison gang as a suspect in the killing of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements.

He has been identified by several news sources as 28-year-old Evan Ebel, who had been on life-support in Texas after a high-speed chase and shootout with police there. Mr. Ebel died Friday.

Ebel had been in and out of prison in Colorado over the past decade for various offenses, including assaulting a prison guard in 2008. His list of nine felonies over a four-year period includes aggravated robbery, assault, and menacing. Authorities say he was a member of the “211 Crew,” also known as the Aryan Alliance. Ebel had been free on parole since February.

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“There is a thick stack of indictments against gang members for attempted murder, bribing or tampering with witnesses, solicitation to commit murder, and criminal impersonation,” reports 9News, an NBC affiliate in Denver. “One of the most famous members of the group was Jeremiah Barnum. He was an accessory to the murder of an African immigrant, Oumar Dia, in 1997. Just a year ago, Barnum died when Englewood Police shot and killed him during a confrontation.”

Writing on his Hatewatch blog Friday, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala., describes the gang as “a particularly vicious regional white supremacist prison gang whose size has been estimated at somewhere between several hundred and a thousand members, all in Colorado.” Most of the gang’s members are prison inmates.

“A major, four-year racketeering investigation of the group culminated in 2007 with the arrests of 32 gang members and associates,” Mr. Potok writes. “One of them was Benjamin Davis, who started the gang in 1995, and was ultimately convicted of racketeering, assault, and conspiracy and sentenced to 108 years in prison.”

“Officials have said that the 211 Crew was started by Davis initially after attacks by black inmates on white prisoners, but quickly morphed into a major criminal enterprise,” Potok writes. “Inmates seeking to join were reportedly required to attack someone selected by gang ‘shot callers,’ and the only way out is to die.”

"It's blood in and blood out," Potok told the Associated Press.

After their release from prison, gang members are under orders to earn money to support gang members still in prison – typically through drug dealing, weapons trafficking, and other criminal activity.

The gang’s name, 211, comes from the California penal code for robbery, according to the SPLC, which tracks and reports on hate groups, including white supremacists. Members are often tattooed with “211” or a shamrock, after its founder’s Irish roots. The 211 Crew is known for its paramilitary structure, with some members designated as major, captain, and lieutenant, and for elaborate verbal and written codes that all members are required to learn.

Scott Robinson, a criminal defense attorney and media legal analyst, represented Ebel in 2003 and 2004, reports the AP.

Mr. Robinson said Ebel had been sentenced to a halfway house for a robbery charge in 2003 before he was accused in two additional robbery cases the following year that garnered prison sentences of three and eight years.

Robinson said he knew Ebel – who was raised by a single father – before he got in trouble. "I thought he was a young man who was redeemable, otherwise I wouldn't have taken the case,” he told the AP.

Neighbor Vicky Bankey, also speaking to the AP, said Ebel was in his teens when she lived across from him in suburban Denver until his father moved away several years ago.

"He was a handful. I'd see him do some pretty crazy things," Ms. Bankey said. "He had a hair-trigger temper as a kid. But his dad was so nice.”

Assuming Ebel was involved in the shooting death of Mr. Clements, the Colorado prisons chief, the main question remains “why?”

"What's not known is whether this was ordered or a crime of opportunity," a Colorado Department of Corrections employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Denver Post

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