Gang Banger Ghost Dog

Los Angeles California - John Calvert, 17, or Lo-Jo as he is nicknamed, is a typical well mannered teenager. He goes to school, does his homework, and helps out around the house. What's remarkable about him is that until 2 months ago he was a member of one of the most violent street gangs in the neighborhood. "The West Coast Posse" has an estimated 150 members according to Sergeant Ray Coggins of the LAPD. Coggins is one of 10 police officers who are part of an anti-gang taskforce and has had first hand experience with the West Coast Posse.

Gang member Lo-Jo and his dog Chewie who was killed only a month after this picture was taken

"It's your typical gang," Coggins told me during a phone interview, "They have a history of run ins with other gangs which lead to shootings and stabbings. The also are known to sell drugs and have a particular violent initiation rite which involves carjacking and violent robbery."

Lo-Jo admits to being a part of this scene and his mother more than once through him out of the house. What made him change his ways? It was the reappearance of his pet pitbull, Chewie. A reappearance that started occurring a week after the dog had died.

"Chewie was always with me." says Lo-Jo. "He hung around and was like a gang mascot. We called him Chewie because he was always chewing on things. He would like chew bones, shoes whatever, but nobody cared cause he was a cool dog."

But Chewie's life came to an end on March 3rd when he was hit by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting of the gang's unoccupied headquarters. Neighbors had called Lo-Jo's mother who came and got the animal which had been a Christmas gift to her son. She had left a note on the front door asking for Lo-Jo to come to her house.

Lo-Jo claims this picture shows the ghost of his dog at the top right of the scene

"When we got back to the house I saw all the blood on the porch and knew that Chewie had gotten hit. I went to Mom's home and Chewie was just laying on the porch. He was hurt bad and I knew he was dying. He was breathing hard and I just kept petting him and crying. We couldn't afford no vet and I think he would have died anyway. So finally he just sorta licked my hand and then stopped breathing. "

Lo-Jo's allowed him to bury the dog in the back yard. She also begged her son to forgive whoever had done it..

"She knew I'd go over there and start some s**t so she just kept saying it didn't matter." Lo-Jo said. "I was still p*ssed off and planned on finding out my own way."

Lo-Jo got several of the gang members together and they went around the neighborhood asking neighbors about who had been responsible for the drive-by.. Finally someone broke down the next week and told them that it was another gang that was nearby.

"I was telling everybody we should burn their house down for killing my dog." said Lo-Jo. "And all the boys were like with me on that cause they all liked Chewie so much. We planned to do it that night."

Lo-Jo and several other gang members went back to their headquarters to get some stolen goods they were going to pawn for gasoline and other supplies. As they were leaving the house Lo-Jo saw something strange.

"Right as I was getting off the porch I saw Chewie at the side of the house. I looked at him and he barked at me and then kinda vanished. I thought he scooted underneath the house. Nobody else saw it but me and they all said I was seeing stuff or that it was another dog. It looked just like Chewie so I kept calling his name and even got down and looked under that house. He wasn't there."

Later at the pawnshop Lo-Jo saw Chewie again.

"We had just gotten out of Zebra's car and this time I heard him bark. I looked into the little alley that runs behind the pawnshop and Chewie was standing there right beside the dumpster. I told everybody to look but when they did he was gone. Now everybody was thinking I was going crazy and sh*t so they told me to come on. We got inside and was getting paid for the stuff and then I saw Chewie again. He was inside the store but the thing was that I could see right through him, like he wasn't there. He barked at me and then went around this amplifier the guy had laying on the floor. I didn't even tell anyone this time because I knew they were thinking I was drunk or high or something.. So we walked back out to the car and there he was again barking at me like crazy in that alley. I told the boys to go on ahead to the house and I was going to walk home and think about sh*t but really I wanted to hang out with Chewie. It's like I knew he was dead but at the same time I knew this dog I was seeing was him too."

This choice was a prophetic one for Lo-Jo since the boys in the car were attacked by a rival gang as they drove to the their hangout. Over 13 shots were pumped into the car, killing two of Lo-Jo's friends instantly. One other was paralyzed from the waist down.

"Soon as I got into the hood I knew something was up from the cops and sh*t. I went to Mamma's since she lived right down the street. She was crying when I saw her since she thought I was with them when they got killed. But I wasn't with them cause I was walking home with Chewie. Chewie saved me that day"

Since then Lo-Jo has changed his ways. He's back in school and lives at home once more. He's quit the gang and instead has a part time job at a local animal shelter. He plans to go to vocational school and hopes to become a mechanic. He still sees Chewie from time to time but the sightings are getting fewer and are usually when he's thinking about old times with the gang. Lo-Jo's mother claims to have snapped a image of the dog one morning when she took her son's picture.

"It's like he knows that his time is done." says Lo-Jo. "Chewie saved my life that day. He made me realize my life mattered."


-phone interview with John and Roberta Calvert April 12th, 1999

-phone interview with Sergeant Ray Coggins, Los Angeles Police Department April 13th, 1999

photos courtesy or John and Loiuse Calvert

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