Three Associated with Columbia Gangs, Including Local Gang Leader, Sentenced to a Total of 19 Years in Federal Prison

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Columbia, South Carolina — Acting United States Attorney M. Rhett DeHart announced today that three defendants associated with violent Columbia street gangs – Daisean Montez Skeeters, 27, of Elgin; Trenton Jermaine Portee, 26, of Columbia; and Zykese Demar Trevon Howell, 20, of Columbia – were sentenced in total to more than 19 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to federal firearms violations.

According to evidence presented in court, Skeeters and Portee are validated gang members, and Howell is a gang associate. Skeeters is also the leader of a local hybrid gang known to engage in violence and other criminal conduct, according to evidence presented in court by law enforcement.

“Gang violence and violence associated with drug distribution will not be tolerated in South Carolina,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DeHart.  “The results from these cases were only possible because of tremendous partnerships with federal, state, and local partners who continue to prioritize an aggressive response to violent crime. We will continue to work together to make communities safer across South Carolina.”

Skeeters pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Evidence presented in court showed that, around 10:30 PM on October 18, 2019, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) task force officer observed an Instagram story with Skeeters brandishing a tan firearm with a high-capacity magazine.  The officer, who knew Skeeters was a felon and affiliated with various street gangs, notified the Midlands Gang Task Force.  Hours later, the officer observed another Instagram story showing Skeeters with a group of associates, including one on GPS ankle monitor known to have active bench warrants.  That associate has since been the victim of a homicide by gunshot.  Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office deputies were able to detain the associate, as well as stop a vehicle in which Skeeters was a passenger. When searching the vehicle, law enforcement located the tan firearm with an extended magazine loaded with 28 rounds of ammunition.  Federal law prohibits Skeeters from possessing firearms and ammunition based on prior felony convictions, including five firearm convictions, numerous drug convictions, and two failure to stop for blue lights convictions, among others, in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018.   

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Portee also pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.  Evidence presented in court showed that on September 3, 2019, Portee was pulled over by a Columbia Police Department officer.  After stopping his car, Portee fled on foot.  During the chase, the officer observed a black pistol in Portee’s right hand and gave Portee loud verbal commands to stop and drop the firearm.  Portee then tripped over a fence and was apprehended by the officer.  After Portee was placed in handcuffs and rolled over, a loaded .40 caliber pistol was located on the ground under Portee.  The pistol was stolen in Richland County a year prior.  Additionally, through ballistics testing by ATF and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), it was determined that the gun was preliminary linked to two local attempted homicides – one in which the victim was shot in the back of the head. Portee was also prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition based on prior felony convictions, including three firearm convictions, numerous drug convictions, and convictions criminal domestic violence, Assault & Battery, and Strong Arm Robbery in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

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Howell pled guilty to the distribution of marijuana and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.  Evidence presented in court showed that between January and February 2020, Howell and a co-defendant, who is a validated gang member, sold an ATF undercover agent 11 firearms, 5 of which were loaded with a total of 81 rounds of ammunition, and approximately 242 grams of marijuana.  Four of the firearms had been previously stolen and ballistics testing by ATF and SLED determined that two of the firearms were previously used in shootings in Richland County.

The ballistics analysis used in the Portee and Howell cases was through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN),  the only national network that allows for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms. NIBIN is a proven investigative and intelligence tool that can link firearms from multiple crime scenes, allowing law enforcement to quickly disrupt shooting cycles. More information on NIBIN can be found at: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/national-integrated-ballistic-information-network-nibin.

United States District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs sentenced Skeeters to 84 months in federal prison, to be followed by a 3-year term of court-ordered supervision.  Judge Childs sentenced Portee to 86 months in federal prison, to be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision; and Judge Childs sentenced Howell to 61 months in federal prison, to be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision.  There is no parole in the federal system.

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The cases were investigated by the ATF, Columbia Police Department, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office, the Midlands Gang Task Force, and SLED.  Assistant United States Attorney Elliott B. Daniels prosecuted the cases.

The cases were prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime.  Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.  As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

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