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Slain Gideon's Army employee was a 'high-level drug dealer,' police investigation concludes

Posted: 11:00 AM, Sep 12, 2022
Updated: 2022-09-12 20:02:23-04
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A celebrated employee of the non-violence group Gideon’s Army appears to have been a “high-level drug dealer” in the North Nashville neighborhood where he was supposedly helping the taxpayer-funded group to keep the peace, according to a recently concluded Metro police investigation into the man’s April 2021 death.

Cleveland Shaw Jr., 29, was killed in a late-night gun battle along Clarksville Pike on April 7, 2021. The admitted shooter, Caurice Crawford, told police he shot Shaw in self-defense, and investigators found evidence to support Crawford’s claims. The Nashville district attorney’s office finally decided to close the case this summer.

Gideon’s Army, which had claimed to have dramatically reduced violence in North Nashville’s Cumberland View housing development, had celebrated Shaw as a “hero” and “a sacrifice for Dodge City projects,” referring to the neighborhood's longtime nickname.

But the police report, citing evidence gathered from Shaw’s Facebook Messenger and electronic devices, paints a different picture of a man who, a NewsChannel 5 investigation found, headed a Crips-affiliated gang known as the Dodge City Young Gunnas (DCYG).

“There was an abundance of drug-related communication – so much so, it’s apparent Cleveland was a high-level drug dealer in Nashville, more specifically, in the Cumberland View Apartments,” according to the final police report.

“Cleveland’s communication details his operation of selling mostly 'gas,' 'perks' and 'tabs,' which is marijuana, Percocet and Lortabs, selling from ‘my spot’ and referring to his location as the ‘city,’” the report continues, citing the "Dodge City" nickname.

It goes on to say, “It’s apparent MDHA’s Cumberland View Apartments [was] Shaw’s favorite area for drug sales.”

Those electronic communications also revealed that “Cleveland was active in purchasing guns.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates had independently seen messages where Shaw was negotiating to buy a handgun while on the Gideon's Army payroll, even though he was legally prohibited from carrying a firearm due to a domestic violence conviction.

On top of that, "communication was found where Shaw and others would warn one another about police being in an area,” investigators said.

The report included screenshots of those conversations, but those were redacted from the public version. Police cited the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which limits the release of such information gained from a search of such electronic devices.

That final report was recently obtained through a public records request after the case was closed.

Related story: Did Gideon's Army ignore warning signs about local gang leader?

NewsChannel 5 sent emails and text messages to Gideon’s Army founder Rasheedat Fetuga seeking comment for this story, but we never heard back.

Still, Fetuga and her associates have been staunch defenders of the North Nashville gang figure.

"What we do," Fetuga said in an interview last September, "is we take people who are credible messengers and we mentor them and we help to pull them off the streets and help them to transform their lives."

"Cleveland was in that process, but it's a process."

Gideon's Army had established itself as a powerful force among Nashville's progressive community and had received wide community praise for its violence interruption efforts.

Last year, the Metro Council yielded to a request from Gideon's Army to appropriate $1 million that they hoped to receive, although questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates led city officials to establish a process for the awarding of that money.

That process is continuing, with Gideon's Army scheduled to appear before a city board late Monday afternoon to make its pitch for one of two violence-interruption grants that the city now plans to award.

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Cleveland Shaw
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Post by Gideon's Army employee Cleveland Shaw
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Post by Gideon's Army employee Cleveland Shaw

It comes after a year that has seen the defection of many key members of the group, including the number-two person, Jamel Campbell-Gooch.

“We had members of Gideon’s Army that was literally hurting other community members,” Campbell-Gooch told Nashville Public Radio station WPLN back in March.

“And the leadership would not take action.”

Gideon’s Army countered that Campbell-Gooch was "fired for unrelated reasons and provided correspondence documenting his termination," WPLN reported.

As NewsChannel 5 Investigates previously reported, this past April, another Gideon's Army employee, Charles Brooks, 38, was sentenced to four years in federal prison on firearms charges stemming from his role in a shootout in that same neighborhood. Brooks is a convicted felon and prohibited from possessing firearms.

Related story: Police video shows Gideon's Army arrest

In the case of Cleveland Shaw, NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed last year that he had been banned from the Cumberland View Apartments, but that did not stop Gideon’s Army from using its money – which came from taxpayer-funded grants and individual donations – to put him to work in that same troubled neighborhood.

Hoping to persuade the Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) to lift that no-trespass order, Gideon’s Army had produced a video of neighborhood children talking about how Shaw had showered them with money.

Fetuga also noted how Shaw had helped buy items for community members after the March 2020 tornado that struck North Nashville.

But court records show that, in a pending court case, Shaw swore he didn’t have a job, didn’t make any money, and didn’t receive government assistance.

The Gideon’s Army leader said she never questioned the source of his money.

"We didn't ask," Fetuga said, "because he didn't do that for us. He did that for the community."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Did it ever concern you that Cleveland might be using Gideon's Army?"

"No, no, not at all," Fetuga said.

But police records uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show that, about three months after Shaw first began volunteering with Gideon’s Army, multiple witnesses identified him as the suspect who ran another car off the road, “jumped out with short rifles” and “took something from the trunk.”

Two weeks later, a man was shot in Dodge City. According to police, the victim's wife and mother identified Cleveland Shaw as the suspect, but the victim would not identify anyone.

Two weeks after that, surveillance video showed a shootout in the neighborhood. Police say it was a dispute between Shaw's gang and a rival gang.

Then, in March 2021, surveillance video showed area residents running from another shooting.

Investigators say that video showed Cleveland Shaw — by then, a Gideon's Army employee — running from the scene, grabbing a gun from his car, then running back. Just seconds later, people are seen running from a second shooting.

One of Gideon's Army top leaders was also present for the shooting, but the group has declined to comment on Shaw's possession of a firearm during that incident.

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MDHA identified the man with the gun as Gideon's Army employee Cleveland Shaw

As a result of Shaw being spotted there in Cumberland View with the gun, a Metro housing official emailed his boss: “Based on recent info, recommend that we terminate any affiliation with Gideon’s Army as he is a member of that organization."

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NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Gideon's Army