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Friday, March 16, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Police: Most Mardi Gras riot suspects black, tied to gangs

Seattle Times staff reporter

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An overwhelming majority of the 103 people police say committed crimes at Mardi Gras are black, police acknowledged today. And sources say most of the two dozen suspects identified for arrest so far have ties to local gangs.

Publicly, detectives continue to caution that despite at least two reports of racial outbursts by black attackers in the crowd, they can't say any of the attacks were hate crimes. They also say the mayhem Feb. 27 in Pioneer Square was not orchestrated by organized gangs.

"We can say the majority appear to be African Americans," said police spokesman Sean O'Donnell. "But our resources are focused on investigating the criminal acts. As we continue to investigate, if we determine that race played a factor as an element of the crimes, our investigation will include that information, as appropriate, when forwarded to prosecutors."

Police say they have recorded 103 criminal acts by individual rioters in the crowd. This morning, the task force reported that 50 people have been identified by name. Of those, police have arrested 13 -- including three black men arrested last night -- and have sufficient cases built to arrest 11 more.

More than half of the 13 arrested and the 11 fingered for arrest have been recognized by police as having affiliations with gangs. Sources didn't specify individual suspects, but said the percentage could be as high as 85 percent.

But Sgt. Gary Nelson said yesterday that it should come as no surprise that those people have criminal pasts or gang ties. It's the gang affiliations and their criminal records that helped police identify them.

Police have no evidence that any group actively planned a siege on the celebration.

"There are some of these guys who have gang affiliations, as loose as our Seattle gangs are," said Nelson, who heads up a Mardi Gras the task force. "But the whole thing was not a gang riot. This was not a gang war."

In a squad room in the Public Safety building downtown, photos of the 103 rioters fill two full walls, each person meticulously cross-referenced by the video-tape footage that shows them committing crimes. Many have long lists of crimes below their images.

It's clear from the wall that blacks easily make up three-fourths of the suspects. But there are white faces, Samoan faces and Hispanic faces there, too. And many are shown committing serious, violent crimes.

King County prosecutors yesterday filed felony charges against three more suspected rioters: Calvin Williams, 20, of Seattle; Demarr Goldsmith, 18; and Khalid Adams, 17. No hometown was available for Goldsmith or Adams.

All three are charged with working together to beat and rob people in the crowd. Williams and Adams are also charged with indecent liberties, accused of tearing the clothes off a woman and groping her.

Goldsmith is charged separately with attacking and robbing Associated Press photographer Ralph Radford. Court papers say Radford managed to snap a photo of his attacker, which led to the arrest.

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