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Lowell Police: Gang Dispute Behind Recent Violence

July 31, 2018

Police use flashlights to search for spent shell casings last month at the scene of a shooting at Middlesex and Webber streets in Lowell. SUN/Robert Mills Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- The recent spike in shooting incidents has many flashing back to a darker time in Lowell -- a time when regular violence gave the city a black eye.

After great strides in public safety over the years, officials promise they’re proactively handling this spate of crime, and will do whatever it takes to turn things around.

“It’s clear that nobody is happy about the recent incidents,” Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue said Monday. “The Police Department and their partners are taking it very seriously, and are employing all avenues to address it.”

“It will not be tolerated,” she said.

Two competing gangs are responsible for the series of shooting incidents, according to Interim Police Superintendent Jack Webb.

The two groups -- the Cambodian Mob Family and Outlaws -- used to be aligned in the same group, but they spli t up about a year ago, Webb said. The violence between the gangs is centered around drug trafficking, he added.

Of the dozen reported city shooting incidents since February, nine have been attributed to the two gangs.

“They’re responsible for the vast majority of violence,” Webb said.

“We’re continuing to deal with the issue, focusing on gang suppression, intelligence trafficking and community outreach,” he added.

Every officer is focusing their attention on this problem, according to the interim superintendent. They’re looking out for any type of gang activity.

The Police Department’s gang unit is very active, keeping an eye on the major players, he said.

The Police Department is also contacting many influential members of the community. They want these members to reach out to those in these gangs, in an effort to stop the violence.

One of the gangs has several dozen members, and the other gang has a couple dozen members. Webb declined to identify which gang has more members.

“The violence is happening wherever these members happen to live,” he said. “They live all over the city, and in surrounding towns.

“I’d caution anybody not to make any assumptions of their ethnic makeup,” Webb added. “People of all races are in these gangs, so people shouldn’t immediately assume they’re all Asian.”

Last month, police arrested 31-year-old Lowell man, Burith Phan, for allegedly shooting a 51-year-old Wilmington man. This crime in the area of Middlesex and Webber streets in the Highlands was connected to these two gangs, Webb said.

The man was shot five times -- once in each hand, twice in the chest and once in the leg. He was taken to Lowell General Hospital, and from there was flown to a Boston trauma center where he underwent “lifesaving surgery” on the gunshot wounds to his chest, according to a police report.

The shooting stemmed from a crack cocaine deal, the police report reads. The attorney for Phan said his client is the victim of mistaken identity.

“The violence has been very troubling,” City Councilor Rita Mercier said. “But the police have been doing a great job solving the cases, and are working to address this.

“We need to get a handle on this very important, serious issue,” she added. “It’s a frightening situation, and we’re not going to put up with this baloney. We can’t be immune to all this violence.”

Mayor Bill Samaras said it’s important for the Police Department to put more officers on the street to address the spike in violence.

“The spike is real, and we need to ensure the gangs know we’re on the streets,” the mayor said.

Webb has suggested upping patrols, which will require some overtime funding, according to Donoghue. She agrees that this is necessary to address the violence. Other branches of law enforcement are also assisting.

“All of these strategies are appropriate for dealing with this situation right now,” Donoghue said. “It’s a challenge, but I’m confident the police are addressing this.”

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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