Two Hilltop Crips who helped send dozens of their fellow gang members to prison got out of jail Friday with the blessing of Pierce County prosecutors.
Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson signed orders presented by prosecutors releasing Curtis D. Hudson and Manuel J. Hernandez, both 23, pending their March 11 sentencing hearings.
Deputy prosecutor Phil Sorensen told The News Tribune that both men had abided by the terms of a deal they made with authorities after they were swept up in a crackdown on the Tacoma street gang nearly a year ago.
They provided key information and in some cases testified at trial against their fellow gang members.
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“This gang sweep couldn’t have happened, couldn’t have been the great success it has been, without the cooperation of these two witnesses,” said Sorensen, who oversees the gang unit.
Prosecutors charged 36 people with a multitude of crimes in February 2010 in an effort to gut the gang, which members of the South Sound Gang Task Force said had become increasingly active and violent.
Since then, 32 have been convicted of at least one crime, and two others are set for trial. Prosecutors dismissed all charges against two of the men.
One of those convicted – Bobby Jo Ezra Plain, 24 – was sentenced Friday to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree robbery and second-degree assault.
Prosecutors are expected to recommend sentences of time served for Hudson and Hernandez – who spent about a year in jail – in exchange for their cooperation.
“They’ve served all the time they’re expected to serve under the terms of their agreements,” Sorensen said.
Hernandez faced in excess of 45 years had he not agreed to cooperate, according to a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors in April 2010.
Originally charged with nine felonies, he pleaded guilty in April to five crimes, including second-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit second-degree burglary. Prosecutors will ask a judge to vacate all but the conspiracy count – which carries a standard-range sentence of nine to 12 months – at his sentencing hearing, his plea agreement shows.
Hernandez began running with the Hilltop Crips not long after he was released from the custody of the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration following a conviction for first-degree murder.
At 12, he was the youngest of eight youths convicted of fatally beating Erik Toews as he walked down a Tacoma street in 2000. He was sentenced to the custody of JRA until he turned 21.
Details of Hudson’s plea deal have not been made public.
He originally was charged with 20 crimes – first-degree robbery and second-degree assault among them – and entered guilty pleas to all of them in March. Prosecutors also attached aggravating factors to his crimes, which qualified him for sentences outside the standard range. In his case, that could have been life in prison.
Prosecutors are expected to ask a judge to vacate all but one of his charges – also with a standard-range sentence of less than a year – at the March sentencing hearing.
Hudson was the key witness in the case, agreeing to cooperate early on in the investigation.
He grew up in the gang and was known to hustle cocaine as a teenager. He had convictions for robbery and illegally carrying a gun before being arrested as part of the crackdown.
Hudson took part in beatings, robberies and burglaries across the greater Tacoma area in 2008 and 2009 as part of the gang, court documents state.
“Through countless hours of interviews he detailed the workings of the Hilltop Crips gang,” Tacoma police detective John Ringer wrote last year in an affidavit seeking a search warrant in the case.
His cooperation was widely known among his codefendants – who called him a snitch – and authorities kept him under guard at an undisclosed location.
Hudson and Hernandez are required to continue cooperating with authorities until their sentencing hearings. That may include testifying against the final two defendants in the case.
As part of his pre-sentence release, Hudson is forbidden from associating with gang members, going to nightclubs where alcohol is served and entering the Tacoma city limits except in limited circumstances.
He also agreed to a 10 p.m. curfew, according to conditions of release signed by Cuthbertson.
“Until they testify in the final two cases, they’ll be under monitoring by law enforcement and strict conditions of release,” Sorensen said. “Because two more cases are still pending, I cannot comment further.”