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Albemarle County police say gang violence is behind increase in shootings, car thefts

The rise in recent violent crime in the county is “directly connected” to gang activity, the Albemarle County Police Department announced Thursday.

“While it’s true that overall this past year violent crime is down in the county, we have seen a dramatic rise in both shots-fired calls as well as stolen automobile [statistics],” Chief of Police Colonel Sean Reeves said.

The department has responded to 131 calls for shots fired through November 2022. The previous three years saw an average of 114 for such incidents—amounting to a 15% increase.

The number of stolen cars reported to the county police is up by more than half, according to the department. ACPD has investigated 96 motor vehicle theft cases so far this year. Between 2019 and 2021, county police typically investigated about 60 car thefts each year.

Violent crime, according to the department, includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. ACPD has seen 90 cases of those crimes this year—the three-year average for the same period is 93.33. That’s a 4% drop.

Since July, county police have received 66 calls for service after shots fired (though that includes “unverified” calls that end up being fireworks or cars backfiring) and 53 reports of stolen motor vehicles. The department has made 10 arrests in the same period. Those arrests include seven minors and three adults.

The adults who have been arrested are Meleak Domorion Clark, 19, of Farmville; Devontae Markel Johnson, 18, of Albemarle County and Jalonnie Antonio Henson, 19, of Charlottesville. They were arrested in late October and early November. Their charges include possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, shooting from vehicles so as to endanger persons and aggravated malicious wounding.

Virginia law protects minors’ identities when they have been charged with a crime, so the department did not name those people. ACPD said the juveniles had been charged with possession of an automatic weapon, possession of a stolen firearm and possession of a stolen vehicle, among other offenses.

County police say they’ve identified more than 50 people as gang affiliates—most of them middle and high school age.

“Most of these offenders reside in Albemarle County. However, their actions and personal connections cross jurisdictional lines into the city of Charlottesville,” said Captain Tavis Coffin, who leads the department’s criminal investigations.

Charlottesville police have also responded to a number of teenage victims of gun crimes. On Oct. 15, two male juveniles went to the hospital after a shooting near the Omni Hotel parking lot. On Nov. 12, a shooting on Hardy Drive left a teenager with multiple gunshot wounds. The person went to the University of Virginia Medical Center.

There have been seven gunshot victims in the county between July 27 and Nov. 7, according to the department. There have been 29 cases of stolen vehicles that the department believes are likely related to the gangs. ACPD has recovered 28 of the vehicles.

County police have also recovered eight guns. Three of those were stolen, and one was fully automatic. ACPD has executed 17 search warrants.

"To the families and residents of these neighborhoods, we hear and share in your concerns. We will continue to strive to ensure those responsible for these crimes are held accountable for their actions," Reeves said.

"To the youth participating in this criminal behavior, you have a choice to end this. It is only a matter of time before you or someone you love is shot or killed—so let’s end this cycle now."


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