The Chicago Syndicate: Kurdish Pride Gang Reputedly Infiltrates Police Department in Nashville @MNPDNashville
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Monday, May 21, 2018

Kurdish Pride Gang Reputedly Infiltrates Police Department in Nashville @MNPDNashville

The headline was alarming.

As news broke in mid-April — before Jiyayi Suleyman was ever arrested — of an internal investigation detailing how the Metro Nashville Police Department had determined its first Kurdish officer was a member of the Kurdish Pride Gang, members of the tight-knit community were caught off guard, said Drost Kokoye.

The internal investigation, first reported on by WSMV, outlined allegations by Nashville police that Suleyman, 29, was part of the gang and had conducted unauthorized searches on its members in a state criminal information database.

Suleyman had resigned in March, though his resignation letter states only that he had decided to begin a new career.

Kokoye, an activist and friend of Suleyman's family, believes that Suleyman was unfairly targeted. She began encouraging fellow Kurds to call police Chief Steve Anderson and Mayor David Briley to inquire about what had prompted the investigation. Then Suleyman was charged.

On April 27, a Davidson County grand jury returned indictments charging Suleyman with 57 counts of official misconduct related to "excessive inquiries" of the state criminal justice portal system, said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the criminal investigation into Suleyman.

He was arrested May 8 and booked into jail in Nashville under a $75,000 bond, which he posted through a bondsman.

Suleyman, whose family arrived in Nashville as refugees, was hired by Nashville police in 2012 as the department's first Kurdish officer. Early last year, former Mayor Megan Barry hailed his contribution to the city.

About 15,000 Kurds live in Nashville, more than in any other city in the United States. The community is largely concentrated in the south part of the city.

"It felt like a step in the right direction," said Kokoye, who is similar in age to Suleyman, about Suleyman's hiring. "It felt like we were able to have some level of accountability with Metro Nashville Police Department."

The late 1990s and early 2000s had marked the beginning of the Kurdish Pride Gang, a small group of teenagers accused of being behind a number of crimes in the city.

Kirmanj Gundi, a Tennessee State University professor and Kurd who immigrated to Nashville in the 1970s, said many of the teenagers involved came from strict and stable families but became part of the gang at school.

From the mid-2000s to 2012, police in Nashville identified around two dozen Kurdish Pride Gang members whom the police department ultimately sued, declaring them a public nuisance and prohibiting them from meeting in specific public locations in the Paragon Mills area.

The police gang unit, along with civic groups within the Kurdish community and the Kurdish mosque, the Salahadeen Center, worked with youth and their families to stifle much of the gang activity that had gripped parts of South Nashville.

If you ask Kokoye, the Kurdish Pride Gang in recent years has been joked about as somewhat of an urban legend among Kurdish young people in Nashville.

While Metro police say they found photos of Suleyman previously taking part in making gang gestures and wearing clothing associated with Kurdish Pride colors, Kokoye said he certainly isn't the only Kurdish person from her era of high school who has posed in a similar manner.

Kokoye, who graduated from Antioch High School in 2009, can dig up photos from her time there in which she and her Kurdish friends — sometimes wearing matching yellow bandannas and often sitting together at pep rallies and other events — would jokingly flash gang hand gestures.

"It was kids trying to be cool, kids trying to be associated with something that was cool," she said.

It's unclear when the photos of Suleyman were taken.

According to Nashville police's specialized investigations division, the 2012 injunction against the Kurdish Pride Gang disrupted its traditional structure, but didn't dissolve it.

"Information gleaned by MNPD’s gang unit has led to detectives’ conclusion that the KPG remains active, but more secretive than before," said police spokesman Don Aaron, declining to provide an estimate on how many members remain.

Metro police say Kurdish Pride members are suspected of continually being involved in drug distribution and burglaries, and remain on the gang unit's radar.

"They are around in different ways," Gundi said. "Before they were more violent. What I've heard is they are smaller in size and capacity, but unfortunately they are still around."

At the request of District Attorney General Glenn Funk, on March 13, a week before Suleyman handed in his notice of resignation, TBI had begun investigating the case.

In an investigative summary in Suleyman's personnel file, Nashville police officials alleged that:

  • While investigating House of Kabob, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Thompson Lane, they determined that Suleyman was associating with individuals involved in the sale of drugs and illegal firearms.
  • During a search of suspect's house, police found what they describe as photos of Suleyman — taken before he was hired in 2012 —  "participating in gang activities."
  • Detectives found phone records showing regular communication with known Kurdish Pride members.
  • By the department's own investigative standards, Suleyman would be considered a confirmed gang member.

While Nashville police say Suleyman failed to disclose alleged ties to the Kurdish Pride Gang, Kokoye said he is being punished for natural connections with Kurdish friends and family. "They're criminalizing him for the relationship he has in the community," Kokoye said.

When reached about the case, Hamid Hasan, owner of House of Kabob, denied that there was any gang activity going on at the restaurant, but noted that anybody can come in and patronize a business.

Hasan said one of his employees got in legal trouble roughly a year ago related to the sale of a firearm, but the incident occurred on the employee's own time and not at the restaurant. "I cannot control people's lives," Hasan said, declining to speak further about the allegations outlined in the department's investigative summary.

The court system has no record of an attorney listed for Suleyman, and USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee was unable to determine who is representing him.

Though their perspectives on the legitimacy of the Nashville police and TBI investigations vary, both Gundi and Kokoye said the community now has little choice but to wait and see how the case plays out in the court system.

Kokoye believes the arrest of Suleyman has damaged the Kurds' relationship with police in Nashville. "This attack against Jiyayi isn’t just an attack against Jiyayi," she said. "The claim that he is a KPG member is an attack on our entire community."

Gundi said that if both local and state law enforcement have investigated Suleyman in one capacity or another, that they must have a legitimate reason and probable cause to do so, though he believes no one should jump to conclusions that Suleyman is guilty.

He said he hopes the case against Suleyman doesn't hurt the reputation of the local Kurdish community as a whole. "It's horrible charges, and of course I certainly am ashamed, although we have all our problems like any other immigrant community," Gundi said. "For the most part, our community has been a community that has relied on themselves and tried to do good. Unfortunately, some of our youth have taken advantage of the freedom they have in this country."

Thanks to Natalie Allison.

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