A Columbus man facing gang, forgery, weapons and drug charges was identified in court Thursday morning by a Columbus police detective as a member of the Ghostface Gangsters, a whites-only gang that has been on the local law enforcement radar for nearly a month.
Cody Watson, 25, appeared in Columbus Recorder’s Court to face nearly 50 charges connected to an ongoing police investigation that started after an arrest in a botched April burglary attempt of a north Columbus storage unit. The investigation has resulted in two high-speed chases of a stolen U-Haul truck and at least four men in custody, police have said.
Watson entered a not guilty plea on all charges, and Judge Michael Joyner bound the case over to Superior Court without bond on the gang and weapons charges.
The four charges that stood out in the nearly page-long list were on criminal gang activity, which is defined by Georgia law “as any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity ...”
“Mr. Cody Watson is a documented Ghostface Gangster member,” Columbus police Detective Michael O’Keefe told the court. “ ... He was interviewed and did admit to being a member.”
Columbus attorney Bobby Jones represented Watson, who has been in custody since April 25.
Asked if Watson was in the gang, Jones responded, “That’s what came out in court today.”
Ghostface Gangsters have been operating in Georgia since 2000 when it started as a prison gang in Cobb County. It has expanded to a large street gang operating throughout Georgia and neighboring states.
Like many members of the gang, Watson has a criminal history and has served time in the Georgia prison system. He served more than two years after being convicted in a 2012 burglary and arson case in Harris County, according to Georgia Department of Corrections records. Watson was sentenced to 20 years on the arson and five years on the burglary conviction. He served less than three years in state prison and was released in September 2016, according to the Department of Corrections.
At the time of Watson’s arrest last month, he was on parole.
Kevin Carver of Columbus, Kevin Brian Davis of Fortson and Brandon Barfield of Hamilton had previously been identified by Columbus police as Ghostface Gangsters members or affiliates. Carver, Davis and Barfield — facing a number of obstruction, theft, assault and other charges — have not yet been charged with gang-related charges.
Carver was arrested on April 12, during a break-in at The Storage Place, 4445 Warm Springs Road. They were attempting to load a Dodge truck when the manager pulled in and blocked their pickup. Davis ran away, but Carver was arrested there, according to previous court testimony.
That event triggered an investigation that led police to Davis, Barfield and Watson, police said.
A few days later, Davis was driving a U-Haul truck when he rammed a patrol car, disabled it and eluded police, escaping in the U-Haul. Less than 48 hours after that incident, using a cellphone police obtained, they located Davis at a residence on 30th Street in Columbus. The truck was not found, but a number of people were at the home, including Watson, who was not taken into custody at the time. Some of the evidence seized in that raid led to the charges against Watson, O’Keefe said.
On April 17, hours after Davis was arrested in the 30th Street search, the U-Haul was spotted. Police gave chase and it ended in the Milgen Road area when the truck was disabled by a move to elude police. The truck was driven by Barfield, who ran from police on foot, but was caught in a nearby neighborhood.
Watson was arrested nearly two weeks later after police issued an arrest and search warrants on an apartment and a vehicle shared by him and his girlfriend at Knology Way, O’Keefe told the court.
“As soon as we made entry, Mr. Watson immediately threw down a Hi-Point 9 mm handgun,” O’Keefe said. “We have received statements from individuals at that location that he had been seen carrying the firearm openly previous to our search warrant.”
The gun was within Watson’s reach when police entered the apartment, O’Keefe said.
As part of this case, Watson was facing 18 counts of identity theft, which his attorney successfully argued should be forgery charges because they were related to forged checks totaling more than $5,100. The judge transferred the charges to forgery, which carry a lower possible sentence and a lower bond.
Watson faces multiple firearm charges, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Ghostface Gangsters made news in March when federal and state agents arrested 23 leaders, members and associates of the gang in a 21-count indictment. The crimes alleged in the indictment include conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, carjacking, four counts of attempted murder, kidnapping, maiming, assault, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and firearms offenses.
Most of the men arrested in the federal case were from the Atlanta area, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The gang has since expanded outside the prison system, and its membership is now estimated in the thousands throughout Georgia, according to the Feds. Members follow written gang literature, use violence to enforce gang rules, and facilitate the gang’s criminal activities from within prisons using contraband cellphones.