From left, Ezekiel King and Jardell Williams. (Booking photos, Greene County Sheriff's Office)

Federal prosecutors charged two Springfield teenagers for illegally possessing firearms while using drugs.

The arrests are made in connection to a deeper dive into gang scuffles, shootings and drug use in Springfield. Ezekiel J. King, 19, and Jardell C. Williams, 19, are each charged with possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. According to federal investigators, both King and Williams identify as members of a gang called FTO.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests Dec. 31. Sheriff Jim Arnott said Greene County detectives have worked “around the clock” gathering information about gangs in Greene County, and seizing firearms believed to be stolen and/or involved in shootings.

“With just a little bit of focused effort, we have already seen a reduction in gang violence,” Arnott said in a press release. “This is just the beginning; the Greene County Sheriff’s Office will continue targeting these violent gang members until they are removed from our community.”

“FTO” is an abbreviation that includes an expletive, followed by “the opps,” slang for anyone who opposes the gang or persons who supply information to law enforcement groups. FTO, according to the federal indictments for Williams and King, has a longstanding dispute in Springfield with another gang called Only Da Brothers, or ODB.

The charges resulted from information gathered in a weapons analysis from November 2021, a traffic stop Feb. 15, 2022, and a surveillance operation Oct. 22, 2022. A gun used in a shooting May 4, 2021, has been connected to six more shootings from Nov. 14, 2021, to April 16, 2022.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives filed the probable cause statements that led U.S. attorneys to file charges against the two teenagers.

“A review of their social media accounts showed them in rap music videos and photographs possessing what appeared to be handguns, AR-style pistols, and rifles,” an ATF special agent wrote in probable cause statements filed against King and Williams. “In many of the rap videos, targets of this investigation appear to be smoking marijuana and have been documented as users of controlled substances.”

ATF investigation started in November 2021

The ATF began investigating gangs in Springfield more than a year ago. Agents began by combing a backlog of police incident reports and social media activity involving persons suspected of being involved with gangs.

“The ‘gang’ names identified for various groups of males in this investigation are clearly visible on their social media accounts, tattoos, and clothing/jewelry worn by their respective members,” the agent wrote in the probable cause statements.

The reports say many of the persons involved were younger than the age of 21, and therefore prohibited from possessing some of the guns they had in the videos.

Williams and King are linked to the same Glock 22 Gen 5, a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The gun was believed to have been used in a shooting May 4, 2021, in Springfield. The shooting victim allegedly identified King as the shooter. The gun was linked to six more shootings, although King was not identified as the suspect in any of them. Investigators placed Williams’ vehicle at the scene of one of the shootings Jan. 8, 2022.

King and Williams were searched in a traffic stop on Feb. 15, 2022. Springfield police officers stopped a gold Nissan Altima at College Street and West Avenue in Springfield’s West Central neighborhood.

King reportedly told police he was, “driving erratically because he believed the ‘Ops’ were chasing them and two groups had a ‘beef’ with each other.” Police officers seized an AR rifle, a Glock .45-caliber handgun, ammunition magazines, boxes of ammunition, marijuana and a digital scale from the car.

About two weeks after the traffic stop, agents used a laboratory test to determine the Glock 22 was used in a shooting Jan. 30, 2022, in which shots were fired on a house where the family living inside had ties to Only Da Brothers.

Deputies surveil rap concert

According to federal court documents, Greene County sheriff’s deputies and ATF agents conducted a surveillance operation at a rap concert in downtown Springfield Oct. 22, 2022, where King was one of the performers.

Deputies stopped a vehicle with seven persons inside, including Williams and King. They found three guns in the vehicle, all pistols. One of the guns, an Anderson Manufacturing-made firearm, was linked to a shooting Oct. 8, on North Washington Avenue in Springfield. King was alleged to be the shooter.

Another pistol seized in the traffic stop was linked to three shooting incidents in the Kansas City area.

Possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance is a Class C felony under federal law. Upon conviction, a person who committed possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance may be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to a quarter of a million dollars.

In October 2021, Christian County prosecutors charged Williams with the felony of receiving stolen property and three misdemeanors in connection to his arrest by Nixa police officers. He was scheduled to appear in court in Ozark Jan. 5.

Greene County jail records show ATF agents arrested Williams and King in Blue Springs Dec. 28. They were brought to the Greene County Jail in Springfield, where they are being held without bond.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger