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The Gilbert Goons & Arizona Gang Law

Organized street gangs have been around for a long time. The examples most people would likely be familiar with are the “bloods” and “crips,” designated by their official red and blue colors respectively. A new street gang has emerged on the eastside of the Metro Phoenix area in the town of Gilbert. Through brutal acts, including alleged beatings leading to the death of teenager Preston Lord, the Gilbert Goons are the latest street gang to achieve criminal notoriety in Arizona. The Gilbert Goons are on a collision course with Arizona’s gang laws.

The Gilbert Goons

Who are they?

The alleged gang first gained notoriety after Preston Lord was found fatally beaten in Queen Creek. The Arizona Republic began to investigate the murder, talking to community members. Through their investigation, the Arizona Republic was able to connect a series of crimes to a group which came to be known as the “Gilbert Goons.”

The Goons became known for attacks in Southeast Valley communities, such as Gilbert, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, and Chandler. Photos and videos of crimes being attributed to the Goons have been posted on social media. Victims started referring to their attackers as being associated with “the Goons.”

It is believed that the first arrest of any “Goons” was in 2022, when two men were arrested for an assault in a parking garage. At least eight more incidents allegedly tied to the Goons are documented prior the death of Preston Lord in October 2023. Violent crimes involving teenagers continued to happen after Preston Lords’ death. In response, the Gilbert Town Council opted to create a new subcommittee to deal with the spike in teen violence.

In early 2024, Jacob Pennington of Gilbert was arrested for his involvement in a Nov. 18, 2023, attack in San Tan Valley. Pennington said in a post-arrest interview that he was associated with the Gilbert Goons. This was the first connection announced by police between the Gilbert Goons and the violent attacks. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office probable cause statement says Pennington told investigators he’s part of the “Gilbert Goons” group and said the “moniker originated from a Snapchat group chat.”

Arizona Gang Law

What is a Gang?

A.R.S. 13-105 defines “criminal street gang” as, “An ongoing formal or informal association of persons in which members or associates individually or collectively engage in the commission, attempted commission, facilitation, or solicitation of any felony act and that has at least one individual who is a criminal street gang member.

The statute goes on to define “criminal street gang member” as,

“An individual to whom at least two of the following seven criteria that indicate criminal street gang membership apply.”

The specified seven criteria are

  1. Self-proclamation
  2. Witness testimony or official statement
  3. Written or electronic correspondence
  4. Paraphernalia or photographs
  5. Tattoos
  6. Clothing or colors
  7. Any other indicia of street gang membership

If a Defendant is found to be a criminal street gang member in a criminal street gang and is participating in the gang, A.R.S. 13-2321 establishes that to be an independent Class 2 Felony. If the same Defendant was not participating but instead assisting, the statute establishes the assistance to be an independent Class 3 Felony.

Participating in a street gang includes things like oversight of gang criminal objectives, intimidating someone towards gang objectives, or anything in general that intentionally promotes the gang’s criminal objectives. Assisting a street gang is defined as “committing any felony offense, whether completed or preparatory for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with any criminal street gang.”

Consequences at Sentencing

Being charged with any of the gang related charges described above carries serious sentencing enhancements, meaning more prison time. A.R.S. 13-714 prevents anyone convicted of a gang related charge from eligibility for suspension of sentence, probation, or release from confinement, except for some narrow exceptions. There are also mandatory time increases for the presumptive, minimum, and maximum sentences.

How Arizona Gang Law Will Impact Gilbert Goon Prosecution’s

Meeting the Statutory Definition of “Gang”

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is “looking into” the possibility of labeling the Goons a criminal street gang. Matt Browning, a former Mesa police gang detective has stated publicly about the Goons, “[b]y Arizona statute, they fit the criteria of a criminal street gang.”

Additionally, Gilbert Police Chief Michael Soelberg has stated, “[w]e now have an active investigation in collaboration with our law enforcement partners to determine if the Gilbert Goons can be classified under Arizona law as a criminal street gang.” What will it take for the Goons to meet the statutory definition of “street gang?”

Pursuant to A.R.S. 13-105, the prosecution will have to prove that a defendant is a criminal street gang member that participated or assisted the gang. First, the prosecution needs to establish that the Defendant is a “criminal gang member.” This would be done by proving that at least two of the criteria in the statute are satisfied.

In this case of Jacob Pennington, self-proclamation is possibly satisfied, as he claimed to be a Goon. Mr. Pennington stated that the group was started as a snapchat group, so that may very well satisfy the written or electronic correspondence indicia.

Mostly due in part to Mr. Pennington’s self-proclamation, the prosecution should be able to bring gang charges. Self-proclamation has been used as evidence in other cases such as State v. Torres-Mercado, 191 Ariz. 279, 280, 955 P.2d 35, 36 (Ct. App. 1997). For other Defendants who won’t self-identify, it is important to consider the other statutory criteria.

One form of proof could be people testifying about their experiences with the defendant which prove that they are a criminal street gang member. If photographs exist that display clear signs of gang membership such as through hand signs, specific colors, or other indicia, this would also be evidence that would help satisfy the statutory criteria. The same is true of tattoos. Also, the Prosecution will have to establish that the Defendant was either participating in or assisting the criminal street gang. In the case of Pennington, it may be easy to prove. Pennington assisted by committing assault in the name of the gang and participated in a group beating with the gang. Aggravated Assault is a Felony in Arizona. This could be considered participation and assistance.

As Gilbert PD and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office continue to explore charging Defendants who allegedly are members of the Gilbert Goons with gang enhancement charges, it will be interesting to see what evidence the Prosecution offers as proof.

What will happen next?

As public attention increasingly turns to crimes committed by the Gilbert Goons, more pressure will mount on MCAO and Gilbert PD to prosecute to the fullest extent possible. As a result, it seems very likely that gang related enhancement charges will be brought against criminal defendants who are allegedly participatory or assisting members of the Gilbert Goons. Arizona will be watching as the Gilbert Goon prosecutions unfold.

We have also seen people be inappropriately categorized as “gang members.” The prosecution has used those enhancements to paint a negative picture and also put additional pressure on the accused. If you have been charged with a gang related offense, call us.

  1. (“Students, parents and community activists say members of the Goons are responsible for the Oct. 28 fatal beating of 16-year-old Preston Lord”.)
  2. Id.
  4. Facebook/Gilbert Police Department
  6. Id. (“The Gilbert Police Department said it was investigating eight youth violence cases that could involve the Gilbert Goons.)
  9. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. (“The Defendant admitted to police that he was affiliated with the “W”, a group otherwise known as the Chandler Wetback Power Gang.)
  15. A.R.S. § 13-1204