Pittsburgh police charge Hilltop gang members in connection with 2014 trash collector killing
A four-year investigation into rival gangs that cut a bloody path through Pittsburgh’s Hilltop neighborhoods in 2014 culminated Thursday with police announcing the arrests of nine people, including four in connection with the mistaken-identity killing of a Pittsburgh trash collector.
Four members of the “Zhoove” gang – named for the Beltzhoover neighborhood – face homicide charges in the shooting death of 29-year-old Omar Hodges.
“Omar Hodges was a family man trying to make a living – a hardworking civil servant,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich. “He was not a gang member. He was killed by gang members in a senseless act of violence.”
Police filed the charges in January, and arrest warrants were unsealed this week for Lance ‘LG’ Gardenhire, 43, the alleged leader of Zhoove; Holman Brown, 27; Chris Brown, 26; and Corey Cheatom, 31.
Hodges, a Pittsburgh trash collector, was waiting for his shift to start in his Cadillac just before 7 a.m. Oct. 13, 2014, on Birmingham Avenue. He had no affiliation with any gang, but his car was similar to that driven by Angelo ‘AK’ Massie – the head of the Darccide gang and a target of the Zhoove gang during a street war that erupted between the two over the course of a few days that month. The Darccide gang was born out of the razed St. Clair Village housing projects.
More than a dozen shots from at least three guns were found at the scene. Hundreds attended the funeral for the city worker, and Mayor Bill Peduto called for an end to street violence and pledged to stand with Hodges’ family.
Five other members of Zhoove were charged for the string of violent crime: Gemere Bey, 29; Christopher Bradley-Bey, 25; Sheraun Davis, 35; Shakeem Davis, 28; and Cody Duncan, 27.
The arrests stem from multiple grand jury indictments and take down a longstanding drug trafficking operations as well as the leaders of Zhoove.
Major Crimes Cmdr. Vic Joseph said detectives had little information about Hodges’ murder at the time, including why he might have been killed. Detectives newly assigned to the case in 2016 – Joseph Fabus, Garrett Spory and Edward Fallert – recalled a joint investigation between Pittsburgh police narcotics detectives and the Drug Enforcement Agency into major drug trafficking in the same time and area as the shootings.
“(The detectives) teamed with narcotics Detective Eric Harpster and reviewed all the information and evidence from the drug case and began to find evidence linking the 2014 shootings together,” Joseph said. “Technology and teamwork played the biggest roles in this investigation.”
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said prosecutors can only prove violent crime charges against the members of Zhoove at this point, not Darccide. The gang’s leader, Massie, is serving a five-year federal prison sentence for drug trafficking.
The three days of violence began Oct. 11, 2014, when someone opened fire on Massie, Normal ‘Dirt’ Blackwell and Ronald ‘Dante’ Clayton at Cordell Place – a housing project controlled by the Darccide gang, according to the criminal complaints
No one was killed in the gunfire, but shooting at Massie “demanded retaliation by the members of Darccide,” detectives wrote in the complaint. As a result, Tamiel ‘Chicago’ Watson was shot and killed that same day. Watson drove the same type of car that Zhoove leader Gardenhire drove. Zhoove members took the shooting as an attempt at taking out Gardenhire.
A witness told police that each gang’s leader offered rewards for shooting rival gang members, according to the complaint. Gardenhire offered up to $10,000 for the death of a Darccide member. Simply wounding them paid $5,000. Taking out Massie, the leader of Darccide, could pay up to $25,000, detectives wrote.
Members of the Zhoove gang decided to try to kill Massie, according to detectives working the case.
Police said that surveillance footage showed Cheatom and Chris and Holman Brown leave their home on Industry Street the morning Hodges was shot and get into a silver Nissan Altima parked across the street.
As the three left Industry Street, different surveillance video three miles away captured Hodges turning from Brownsville Road onto Birmingham Avenue, according to police. His Cadillac was a similar make and model to that of the leader of Darccide, Massie, who also often stayed in a home in that area.
Hodges pulled to the side of Birmingham Avenue – an area where sanitation workers often park their personal vehicles to begin their garbage routes.
As Hodges waited for a garbage truck to pick him up, a silver Nissan Altima pulled alongside his Cadillac and opened fire, police wrote. A muzzle flash was visible in the surveillance footage, detectives said. The footage showed the Altima speeding away as Hodges got out of his car and fell to the street about 6:56 a.m..
Police said a witness told investigators that in a conversation with Cheatom in the days after the killing, Cheatom admitted “they hit the wrong guy.”
Fabus, one of the homicide detectives on the case, said it was a good feeling to get to call Hodges’ mother just before Christmas last year to tell her the indictments were coming.
“They were very patient with us,” he said of the family. “They were understanding that we had a lot going on, a giant case that spider-webbed into different things, and they knew we were making progress.”
Spory, another detective, said cases like this come together bit by bit.
“It’s not something that might happen eight hours a day, but piece by piece we get information, and as we get information, we just follow those leads,” he said. “That’s the good thing about prosecuting criminal homicide – there’s no statute of limitations. We get calls every day for old homicides, and when we get a lead, we follow it. This one took us to indicting nine people.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .