U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. has a stern warning for violent criminals and drug traffickers operating in northeastern North Carolina.

“If you are a gang member, if you are carrying a gun illegally, or you’re trafficking in drugs, I want you to assume your name will appear on our Take Back North Carolina list of targets for prosecution,” Higdon said. “I want you to know you’re next.”

Higdon, whose office prosecutes federal crimes in the Eastern District of North Carolina, was in Elizabeth City on Thursday to discuss the 35 federal criminal cases originating in the area that resulted from a multi-police agency collaboration known as Take Back North Carolina. The initiative was formed nearly three years ago and is a collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Higdon was joined at the Pasquotank Public Safety Building on Thursday by members of the U.S. Marshals Service, FBI, N.C. Highway Patrol, Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office, Elizabeth City Police Department, and assistant US attorneys, all of whom are Take Back participants.

In 2020, the Take Back operation has resulted in the indictments, arraignments or sentences of 35 people from seven counties in the region, Higdon said.

“These individuals are charged with a range of offenses, to include drug trafficking and drug conspiracy offenses,” said Higdon, who was nominated for his post by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September 2017.

Higdon discussed several cases completed as part of Take Back, including one from last month.

“Back in late September, law enforcement in this area determined that members of the United Blood Nation gang operating in this region were likely responsible for a number of shootings, all in one weekend,” Higdon said.

Police suspected a gang turf war, and with the assistance of federal resources successfully obtained arrest warrants for three suspects believed to be involved in the shootings. According to Higdon, those three suspects are Jaquan D. Lamb, Jaylen N. Spivey and Quayshaun L. Banks. The ages of the individuals were not provided.

A traffic stop led to Lamb’s arrest, and Spivey was apprehended after police responded to a domestic disturbance, Higdon said. Banks was apprehended after police carried out an undercover controlled purchase of cocaine from him, the U.S. attorney said.

“Since their arrests, each of these individuals has been indicted, some with additional charges by a federal grand jury sitting in this district,” said Higdon, who added each also has prior convictions.

“When you add on top of that their established connection to the United Blood Nation and the concern of law enforcement and members of the community, regarding the increased violence surrounding this gang, you have exactly the situation our Take Back North Carolina initiative and federal prosecutions were designed to address.”

According to Elizabeth City police, the three shootings were not the same three reported the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22-23, that resulted in three deaths.

Another arrest resulted in January when Elizabeth City police discovered a box of ammunition in the bedroom of a 15-year-old boy who had been shot and later died at the hospital. Evidence collected by police led them to a male named Tremayne Harris, whose age was not provided.

“The ammunition was traced to a local pawn shop and the receipt and video surveillance revealed Tremayne Harris had purchased the ammunition,” Higdon said.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harris is scheduled to be sentenced in March. In an online inmate search, there was no one under that name listed in custody at Albemarle District Jail.

As US attorney, Higdon has experience prosecuting gang members. In April, his office issued a news release stating that Demetrice R. Devine, 37, of Garner, was sentenced in federal court to four consecutive life terms, plus 240 months imprisonment for several convictions. The charges against Devine included conspiracy to participate in a pattern of racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering and murder with a firearm. According to the news release, Devine was known as a “godfather” or leader in the United Blood Nation.

Higdon provided an overview of the origins of the Tack Back North Carolina campaign. The initiative was the result of a reorganization and refocusing of efforts to stem the tide of violent crimes and drug trafficking in the region.

The operation involved assigning federal prosecutors to work alongside local district attorneys and law enforcement agencies to identify the offenders most responsible for spurring violent crimes and drug problems, Higdon explained. The goal was to build strong federal cases against the “worst of the worst” offenders to prosecute, he said.

Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten praised the Take Back campaign as a “step in the right direction” for the region.

“Today, law enforcement and our U.S. Attorney’s Office without a doubt made our streets and surrounding communities safer,” said the sheriff, who also issued a warning to criminals:

“Let this be a warning that this sheriff’s office, and the other surrounding agencies, are coming for you,” he said.

Elizabeth City police Chief Eddie Buffaloe said the criminal cases announced Thursday were indicative of the successful partnership forged between federal, state and local agencies.

“Elizabeth City Police Department is very grateful for having a strong partnership with the United States Attorney’s Office,” he said.

Through that partnership, the ECPD remains committed to a proactive, intelligence-driven policing effort to curtail crime, the chief said.

Buffaloe also announced that his department has received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice that will be used to purchase equipment to help it with surveillance and investigations.