Rival Haverhill Gangs in Middle of ‘Paintball Wars’ Terrorized Neighbors, Defaced Property: Police

(Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News.)

A street outreach worker from the Haverhill’s UTEC hoping to extend an olive branch to two of the city’s rival gangs found himself behind bars after police say he swapped real weapons for paintball guns earlier this month.

Eric J. Cruz (Haverhill Police booking photograph)

According to a report filed by Det. Kevin Portnoy, Portland Street’s Eric Cruz told officers he devised a plan to “curb the ongoing gang war so they could work out their differences with paint, rather than real weapons and rounds.” An employee of the Winter Street outpost that seeks to mentor and encourage gang-affiliated to seek employment, Cruz set up a “paintball war” at Plug Pond Sept. 9 between the two groups. Advised by police such behavior was “not a viable solution,” Cruz agreed he would cease all activity at once.

As police continued to investigate paintball incidents throughout the city, they determined Cruz continued to take part in the activity despite telling officers otherwise. Several hours after Cruz chatted with police, on Sept. 10, officers came upon a blue Honda Accord registered to Cruz whose passengers were allegedly shooting paintballs at a group of people in a driveway on North Street. When questioned at his home, Cruz denied any involvement in the North Street activity.

“It is clear Cruz was not honest and forthcoming as video evidence completely contradicts his statement of not being involved. As a mentor of UTEC, Cruz is supposed to uphold a leadership role throughout the program, which is clearly being exploited,” Portnoy said.

Also arrested along with Cruz in connection with the paintball incidents was Elijah Declet. Both Declet and Cruz have been charged with six counts each of defacing property and one count each of disorderly conduct. Declet—who police say is a 22-year-old known gang member living on Winter Street—was arraigned on the charges Wednesday and ordered to 24/7 house arrest with a GPS monitor.

Elijah M. Declet (Haverhill Police booking photograph)

Cruz was released on his own recognizance at his arraignment Thursday. Reached for comment, UTEC CEO Gregg Croteau told WHAV Cruz’s actions were done on his own and “without the approval of UTEC.” Croteau said Cruz’s status as an employee is a “personnel matter currently under review.”

Others charged last week with defacing property in connection to a paintball battle that took place on Nichols Street are Dante Ellen, 21, of 120 Broadway, Apt. 10, Javani Flowers, 19, of 71 Brockton Ave., and Wilfredo Pizzarro, 21, of 36 Nichols St., Apt. 3. Those men were ordered to stay drug and alcohol free and observe a curfew of 6 p.m.-7 a.m. except for work. All next appear in court in mid-October.

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