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7 arrested on active warrants after Imperial Gangster graffiti complaint leads Hammond police on relentless search for the people responsible
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7 arrested on active warrants after Imperial Gangster graffiti complaint leads Hammond police on relentless search for the people responsible

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HAMMOND — A February complaint of widespread gang graffiti in the city's North Hammond neighborhood sparked a relentless police manhunt for the people responsible. 

The tagging — first reported Feb. 26 by residents through the city's 311 phone app — provided just enough clues to the Police Department's Gang Unit, leading them down a path to the Imperial Gangster street gang. 

Graffiti is a hard crime to solve, but in the weeks that followed, law enforcement branched out to East Chicago and Gary, tracking down old addresses of gang associates and family members.

Eventually, police arrested gang members on charges unrelated to the graffiti, using outstanding warrants. 

"In this situation, finding out who did it was hard, but we knew the crew and gang responsible. Just by attacking them with something as simple as warrants made the graffiti stop," said Officer Sgt. James Onohan, a 17-year veteran with the Hammond police force. 

Onohan and officer Brendan O'Neill, a four-year veteran, were among numerous investigators who aided in the case. 

In all, seven people — either known Imperial Gangster members or associates — were taken into custody by police on unrelated active warrants since the first graffiti complaint Feb. 26, police said. 

Victor Colon, 25, of Hammond, thought he could evade arrest by fleeing to Florida, O'Neill said. 

"He knew we were after him," O'Neill said. 

Colon was recently arrested in Orange County, Florida. Because he had arrest warrants for probation violation originating from a felony theft charge, he can be extradited back to Indiana, O'Neill said. 

The most recent arrest came early Friday after Justin Velez, 21, of Hammond, led the Lake County Sheriff's Department on a high-speed chase from Gary to Hammond, O'Neill said. He had five active warrants for his arrest, records show.

Highland and Griffith police used their squad cars to block off several main intersections as Velez drove recklessly along Ridge Road, Interstate 80/94 and Cline Avenue, according to a Lake County police report.

Velez rammed his car into a police squad car trying to flee before officers placed him into handcuffs. A passenger was also arrested. 

Onohan said he wants Hammond residents to know the police department takes graffiti complaints seriously. 

Two handguns with extended magazines and more than 70 grams of marijuana were seized in the investigation, said Hammond Police Lt. Steven Kellogg. 

Others also arrested on outstanding warrants as part of Hammond's investigation into graffiti include: 

  • Jeremy Velez, 19, of East Chicago, arrested in Hammond. Failure to appear for strangulation, a felony, and resisting law enforcement.
  • Elijah Bonhama, 19, of Hammond, arrested in Hammond. Felony criminal recklessness and marijuana possession, a misdemeanor. 
  • Justin Leiva, 20, of Gary, arrested in Gary. Probation violation originating from a felony charge of receiving a stolen vehicle. 
  • Angel Vellon Jr, 27, of Hammond, arrested in Hammond. Failure to appear, operating a vehicle without a license, and marijuana possession.  
  • Kennedy Carter, 19, of Whiting, arrested in Hammond. Operating a vehicle without a license. 
  • Julio Calzada, 33, of East Chicago, arrested in East Chicago. Escape warrant, a level 5 felony. 

To make a non-emergency complaint with the police department or other Hammond city departments, visit http://www.gohammond.com/hammond-311/ and download the phone application.  


Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail

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North Lake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting from UIS. Contact her at lauren.cross@nwi.com or 219-933-3206.

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