Three Bartow County men have been sentenced for a gang graffiti incident that occurred in Canton last year.
Juan Esteban Gallegos, 25, pleaded guilty and was sentenced Friday, while Coty Lance Gallegos, 32, and Luis Albert Rocha, 25, pleaded guilty and were sentenced Oct. 17.
The guilty pleas stem from a 2018 gang graffiti - or "tagging" - incident on Railroad Street in Canton. Surveillance cameras caught the three men arriving in a Lincoln Town Car around 1 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2018, then spray painting gang-related graffiti on the walls of a building.
The three defendants pleaded guilty to violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, specifically that they are associated with Cartersville Locotes (aka CVL), a criminal street gang, and that they engaged in painting, tagging, and creating graffiti of CVL, District Attorney Shannon Wallace said Monday in a statement. The defendants admitted to committing the crime in retaliation for the beating of Juan Gallegos.
Senior Judge Frank C. Mills III sentenced Juan Gallegos to 7 years of probation with 90-120 days to serve at a probation detention center. The sentence stipulates that he is not permitted north of the Fall Line during his period of probation.
Chief Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea sentenced Coty Gallegos to 7 years of probation with 1 year to serve in state prison and Albert Rocha to 7 years of probation with 6 months to serve in the Cherokee County jail, suspended upon 90 days to serve in the State Probation Detention Center. Both Coty Gallegos and Albert Rocha are banished from Cherokee County during their sentence.
In addition, all three defendants are prohibited from having contact with the other co-defendants or with any member of a criminal street gang.
At the hearing before McElyea, the State called two witnesses, Investigator George Spamer with the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and FBI Agent Bryant Hill, to testify about the motivation behind gang crimes. According to FBI Agent Hill, respect is critical in gang culture and small acts of aggression often lead to greater violence.
“By tagging this building, these gang members were sending a message to other gangs. Their actions could have initiated a turf war, which could have led to gang violence on our streets,” said Assistant District Attorney Kelly Chavis, who prosecuted the case. “Do not come to Cherokee County and commit gang crimes. We will hold you accountable and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
Canton, Cartersville, and Kingston police departments were all involved in the apprehension of these defendants.
“By investigating, detecting, and prosecuting gang activity in its infancy, our goal is to eradicate all gang violence within our county,” Wallace said. "Three men spray painting a building represents much more than an act of vandalism. This criminal act was an aggressive message directed to other gang members. Our prosecution of this case, likewise, sends a message – we will not accept any gang activity in our county.”