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Suspect in Colo. prison chief shooting may have ties to prison gang

HOUSTON -- A Colorado parolee died after he was critically wounded by North Texas law enforcement at the end of a high-speed chase Thursday, and officials said he is suspected in the killing of Colorado’s state prisons chief and a Denver pizza delivery man.

The man was identified Friday as Evan Spencer Ebel, 28, said Susan Gomez, spokeswoman for the Wise County Sheriff in Texas.

Ebel was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth on Thursday for treatment but couldn’t be saved. The body was transferred to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner overnight, hospital and medical examiner’s staff told The Times.

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On Thursday, investigators from three Colorado police agencies traveled to Texas to investigate Ebel’s possible link to the slaying of prison chief Tom Clements, 58, who was fatally shot when he answered the door of his home Tuesday. The black Cadillac Ebel drove had Colorado license plates and matched the description of a car spotted at the time of the shooting outside Clements’ home in Monument, Colo.

Clements came to Colorado two years ago after working for 30 years in the Missouri prison system.

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Also, Colorado officials said they are investigating Ebel’s possible connection to the Sunday killing of Nathan Leon, a Denver pizza delivery man.

The Texas car chase started when a sheriff’s deputy in Montague County, James Boyd, tried to pull over the Cadillac around 11 a.m. Thursday west of Fort Worth, and Ebel opened fire, wounding Boyd, who was hospitalized, officials said.

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About 60 miles west of Dallas, Ebel crashed into an 18-wheeler, got out and traded gunfire with law enforcement, officials said.

Ebel was convicted of several crimes in Colorado dating to 2003, including assaulting a prison guard in 2008, court records show.

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According to Department of Corrections information, he was eligible for parole April 13, 2013. But a website posting by a woman who said she was his mother indicated he was released Feb. 4. Ebels’ former attorney, Scott Robinson confirmed that his client was released early to the custody of his father, Jack Ebel, a lawyer in the Denver area.

Robinson represented Ebel after his arrest Oct. 26 , 2003, for menacing and robbery. He said that Ebel, then 18, lived in an upscale neighborhood in the western suburbs of Denver and described him as bright and personable with a good sense of humor.

“I thought he was salvageable. I thought he was worth helping and I worked like the devil to keep him out of prison,” Robinson said, adding, “I had no inkling any of this was possible.”

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For those two felony charges as well as an additional misdemeanor charge, Robinson said Ebel was sentenced to a community corrections facility rather than prison. But then two other charges surfaced in another county for assault and menacing and he was sent to prison in 2005. An additional assault charge against Ebel was added in 2008 for assault while in prison.

Robinson said he first met the Ebels when he coached Evan’s sister, Marin Nicole Ebel, in softball when she was 13 and 14. The girl died Jan. 31, 2004 when she was 16. He remembers Evan from those days as a “normal, nice kid who seemed interested in what his sister was doing.” Evan and Marin were raised primarily by their father, Robinson said.

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He added Jack Ebel has told him he does not want to make any public comment.

Also unclear Friday was Ebel’s possible connections to white supremacist groups and what brought him to Texas. The Denver Post reported that the attack on Clements may have been a hit ordered by 211 Crew shot callers from state prison. A federal law enforcement official also confirmed gang affiliation to the Associated Press.

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In January, a North Texas prosecutor who had been involved in cases against members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was gunned down outside a courthouse the same day that two of the gang’s members pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in federal court in Houston. His assailants, who were described as wearing tactical gear, their faces covered, have not been arrested.

Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh released a statement Friday saying Dallas and Denver FBI officials were “comparing the homicides of Mark Hasse and Tom Clements to determine if there is any evidence linking the two crimes.”

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“If any link is found, or a possible link is disproven, that information will be released at the appropriate time,” Aulbaugh said.

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center based in Montgomery, Ala., said that even though the 211 Crew and Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are not known to be connected, “It is remarkable that we have had these two murders that might be assassinations ordered by white supremacist prison gangs.”

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He said the 211 Crew, also known as the Aryan Alliance, was formed in 1995 by a Colorado inmate, now claims several hundred to a thousand members, but has no real presence outside of Colorado. The gang has a hierarchical, paramilitary structure, he said, and new members are required to learn a verbal and written code the gang uses to communicate.

The gang draws its name from the California penal code for robbery. Although it formed to defend members against black prison gangs, Potok told The Times the 211 Crew “quickly morphed into a very serious criminal enterprise. They adhere to the ‘blood in, blood out’ rule. In order to join the group you’re supposed to attack someone on orders of a shot caller. If you try to leave the gang, you will be harshly disciplined and likely killed.”

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Most of the gang’s members are in prison, Potok said. When members are released they are expected to engage in criminal activities to earn money, often trafficking and selling illicit drugs such as methamphetamine, he said.

Their main target historically has been other gangs, he said. “When prison gang activity was largely aimed at other gangs, it wasn’t a priority for law enforcement.”

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The gang has drawn increased scrutiny from investigators in recent years, Potok said, with a major four-year racketeering investigation that culminated in the arrest of 32 members in 2007, including the founder, who was indicted and sentenced to an additional 108 years in prison.

If the recent killings are linked to the gang, Potok said it would trigger a law enforcement crackdown.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston; Deam, a special correspondent, from Denver.

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