Sheriff: Gang members in Vista shooting have terrorized county for years
NEWBERRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) - When Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster heard the news about a weekend shootout in Columbia's popular Vista entertainment district that left eight people wounded, he was not surprised when he heard the names of the suspects who were allegedly involved.
"When all of the names came out, I realized it was a group of people that we had been dealing with here," Sheriff Foster said.
Foster said the Newberry County Sheriff's Office is very familiar with at least two of the suspects, John Bates, Jr. and Maleik Houseal.
Bates, 28, who is charged with seven counts of attempted murder, has been a troublemaker in Newberry County since 2006, Foster said. Prior to the incident in Columbia, his criminal record history shows five attempted murder charges including other violent charges like battery with intent to kill and stalking.
Houseal also has a violent criminal record dating back to 2012 when he was charged with burglary and possession of a stolen weapon.
Foster said Newberry County has been having trouble with two groups of gangs, which include Bates and Houseal, for the last year.
"Shooting people, shooting at people, and shooting up neighborhoods," Foster said. "For probably about a year, we have been dealing with them. It's a conflict between two groups or gangs. We are trying to determine whether they are members of more organized gangs that are more widespread than just connected with Newberry. Were they Crips, Bloods, or members of the Folk Nation?"
Investigators in Newberry County are trying to determine what gang affiliation, if any, they are connected to but said the men are dangerous regardless.
Foster believes one of the groups were partying at Empire Supper Club when another group showed up and an argument began Saturday morning.
As one group began shooting, the other group fired back, hitting innocent people in the hopes of shooting each other, according to the Columbia Police Department. In some cases, some of the suspects were hit, including Houseal who remains in custody while he recovers. As of the last check, he was not out of the hospital.
Foster said they had been looking into these groups before the violence erupted in the Vista and are continuing to do so.
"What troubles me is that innocent people got injured," Foster said. "Some of the people injured are part of the problem."
"I will catch some heat from this but this isn't any different than an act of terrorism. When you start shooting guns out in a wild uncontrolled way and you hit innocent bystanders, how is that any different?"
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