leader of a Tacoma street gang was spoiling for a fight the night of Nov. 15, Pierce County prosecutors contended Thursday. As many as 100 people, many of them associated with a rival gang, were on his turf, celebrating the 16th birthday of a Lincoln High School student at the South End Community Center.Authorities allege Pitra Bay Oeung, 18, wanted to incite a rumble, so he brought some of his subordinates to the center and urged them to attack their rivals.Henry Nhem, 17, reportedly heeded his leader’s call.Prosecutors contend in newly filed charging documents that Nhem pulled out a silver pistol and fired four shots into a crowd that had come outside the community center to confront Oeung’s gang. One bullet hit Phillip G. Oquendo, 18. Oquendo, who also went by the last name Johnson, stumbled back into the community center and later died. Another partygoer was hit in the hand.Prosecutors on Thursday charged Oeung and Nhem with first-degree murder and first-degree assault in the shooting. They pleaded not guilty.Superior Court Judge Rosanne Buckner ordered each jailed in lieu of $2 million bail at the request of deputy prosecutor Jerry Costello, who said both teenagers are “deeply involved in a violent street gang.”Prosecutors also charged four other reported members of Oeung’s gang – Young Hwan Cho, 16; Antara Pok, 17; and two boys, 14 and 15 – with second-degree murder in the case. Prosecutors say in charging documents that the four threw bottles and rocks at their rivals, helping to provoke a situation that later lead to Oquendo’s death.Nhem, Cho and Pok are being prosecuted as adults.The other boys were charged in juvenile court, though their cases could be transferred to adult court after a hearing Dec. 31, deputy prosecutor Fred Wist said.Buckner ordered Cho and Pok, who pleaded not guilty, jailed in lieu of $1 million bail. The other boys won’t be arraigned until after prosecutors decide whether to try them as adults.
Also, a woman who reportedly drove Nhem and others from the scene was charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance. Buckner ordered Alicia Ngo jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail.Witnesses described a frightening scene at the community, with scores of young people screaming insults and gang taunts at each other before the shooting, according to court documents.At one point, Oeung spat on one of the people attending the party, infuriating him.Nhem has a history of illegally possessing guns. According to court documents, he’s been convicted three times of unlawfully possessing firearms since 2003.The latest case was last year after he engaged in a gunfight with two soldiers near South 90th and M streets in Tacoma, court records state. Nhem got 45 weeks in juvenile detention for that conviction.Authorities believe the shooting of Oquendo sparked a retaliatory homicide a few hours later. Victor Schwenke was shot to death outside another party in the 5600 block of South Yakima Avenue.Prosecutors have charged Marsele Kenith Henderson, a good friend of Oquendo, with first-degree murder in Schwenke’s death.