Fifteen minutes to 3 last Monday afternoon, as the July temperature headed to the 100-degree mark, as many as eight known gang members arrived on Albion Street in two different vehicles. In what appears to have been a planned shooting, an exchange of more than 100 rounds of gunfire from what police would later call “assault-type weapons” rang out on the street next to Hadley Park.
According to a federal criminal complaint filed last week, the shootout began when Quinten Tyrone Smith and Finis Deandre Lewis, leaders of what the feds call the Global Gangster Crime Family in Nashville, rolled with two others onto the scene in a rented silver Chevrolet Impala that soon came to a sudden stop.
Lewis (aka “Gangsta Bit”), Quinten Smith (aka “QT”) and another unnamed individual allegedly stepped out of the car — Lewis armed with a .357 revolver, Smith with a 9mm “MAC-style” firearm — and opened fire on the occupants of another dark-colored car, from which fire was then returned.
After the guns quieted and the dark car sped away from the scene carrying the others involved, 33-year-old convicted felon Clarence Claybrooks lay lifeless in a yard on Albion Street, with gloves on his hands and an AK-47 at his feet.
A bullet had punctured the chest of 26-year-old convicted felon Corey L. Smith, who apparently ran from the street and into Hadley Park during the shooting. Not far from him, police found an uninjured Quinten Smith, also 26 and with a record. Police arrested Quinten Smith and Lewis.
Though law enforcement was probably aware of all the suspects to some degree, none was more notorious than Lewis, who has plagued those on the other side of the badge for years now, allegedly circumventing the law most recently through possible witness intimidation.
Detectives from the Metro Nashville Police Department’s North Precinct continue to work the investigation into last week’s shooting, while the Gang Unit and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives push forward with a separate but parallel gang investigation.
Meanwhile, police and prosecutors have another chance to take down leading players in Nashville’s gang scene. This time, home field advantage might belong to the U.S. government: Lewis and Quinten Smith face a federal criminal complaint filed Tuesday, which accuses Lewis of being a felon in possession of a weapon and Smith of possessing a weapon after being convicted of domestic violence.
To this point, though, Lewis has played the system well. Assistant District Attorney Dina Shabayek said he has long been a problem for law enforcement. Despite best efforts, she said, they haven’t gotten solid charges to stick thus far.
“It’s been several years that he’s just been doing what he wants to do and causing chaos,” Shabayek said.
Lt. Gordon Howey, head of Metro’s Gang Unit, characterized Lewis as a “ruthless, cold … hard individual” with no regard for incarceration. Police characterize him as a gang leader who is well-known and feared on the street, where he keeps a hand in a couple gangs.
When police slapped bracelets on Lewis on Monday, he’d been out of jail on a $125,000 bond while awaiting trial set for February 2012 on drug and weapons charges. But his criminal history is much longer than that.
In 2000, Lewis was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison on aggravated robbery charges but served only a fraction of that based on his limited criminal record at the time. In 2003, a grand jury indicted Lewis on charges including felony sale of a controlled substance, tampering with evidence, assault, resisting arrest, and evading arrest. All were dismissed except for a lesser charge of attempted sale of a controlled substance.
A grand jury indicted Lewis and Quinten Smith in 2009 for the Aug. 3, 2008, shooting death of Kenneth Crawley in the J.C. Napier Public Housing Development. Based on an eyewitness report, police alleged at the time that Lewis and Smith stepped out of a truck in front of Unit 45 at University Court just after midnight and approached the 18-year-old Crawley. Lewis allegedly told Smith, “Get it over with. We’ve got to go.” Police said the witness reported seeing Quinten Smith shoot Crawley several times, killing him.
A separate grand jury indictment in February 2009 charged Lewis with the attempted first-degree murder of another man in an incident that occurred just 12 days after Crawley’s death.
Police alleged that Lewis commented on a “recently deceased friend of the victim’s,” saying, “the victim was going to see [his friend] tonight.” Police said Lewis then shot the man several times with a shotgun, once after the victim fell to the ground.
In court, neither of the cases, which relied heavily on eyewitness testimony, would stick. Shabayek said she’s seen no solid proof of witness intimidation. But at the outset of the investigations, eyewitnesses came forward and talked with police. Then as the trial dates approached, witnesses disappeared, drastically changed their stories or simply refused to cooperate.
“One way or the other,” Howey said, “these witnesses were approached — and by who we don’t know — but they were approached, and then all of a sudden their stories changed or they’re uncooperative or they’re not remembering exactly the chain of events.”
From the witnesses’ perspective, “knowing Finis Lewis, knowing his background, knowing what he’s capable of doing, knowing the connections he has in some of these communities, I would probably be a little leery about going to court and testifying myself,” Howey said.
The state had little choice but to abandon the prosecutions.
The dismissal of the attempted murder charge on May 14, 2010, unintentionally handed Lewis a get-out-of-jail-free card. He was mistakenly released on a clerical error after that charge was dropped. He still faced a first-degree murder charge for Crawley’s death at the time he was released, though that would also be abandoned in similar fashion in January of this year.
It wasn’t until a scheduled court date nearly two weeks after his accidental release that officials noticed the mistake and began searching for Lewis. He ran free for nearly two months before members of the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force arrested him on Independence Day last year at a Days Inn on White Bridge Road.
That foray into freedom led to a limited engagement on the Department of Justice Gang Targeting, Enforcement and Coordination Center’s most wanted list, drawing attention from the television show America’s Most Wanted.
On Wednesday, Lewis again failed to appear in court, but this time it was because he was in federal custody with charges pending against him there. A detention and preliminary hearing had been set for last Friday afternoon in federal court. A new hearing date on the state bond motion was reset to July 29.
Between the arrests made after last Monday’s brazen shootout and a broader ongoing gang investigation, law enforcement hopes running into Lewis and associates — however hard it came — provides them with a stronger prosecutorial foothold.
“The way things are going right now,” Howey said, “let’s hope that that’s the end of his walking out amongst average, everyday folks.”