TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - A Tahlequah man is accused of tattooing gang signs on two young children.
A school resource officer at Cherokee Elementary in Tahlequah called authorities on Thursday after staff members noticed tattoos on 5- and 10-year-old brothers.
Investigators say the tattoos represent accomplishment in a Mexican gang called the Surenos.
The 10-year-old victim was given a tattoo on each hand. He also had a burn on his upper arm. It appears work had also began on a third tattoo on the boy's upper arm.
The 5-year-old victim was found to have one tattoo on his hand.
The 10-year-old told investigators that he and his younger brother received the tattoos from Rocky Gritts, 23, whom the victim referred to as his uncle.
Gritts said the boys were raised as his nephews, but they are actually his younger cousins.
Gritts told investigators he gave the boys the tattoos while they were staying at the rural home he shares with the children's grandfather -- while boys' mother was in jail.
"We attempted Friday to go talk with Rocky," said Mike Moore, an investigator with the Cherokee County DA's office. "He ran from us, he fled the residence and we were unable to locate him."
But authorities went back Tuesday morning and arrested him on child abuse charges, as well as two warrants of domestic battery and resisting arrest.
Moore says they found what looks like a homemade tattoo needle, along with meth and drug paraphernalia.
During his confession, Gritts told Moore the boys "wanted" the tattoos.
Moore says he doesn't believe that statement. Because, he said, during the interview with a child abuse expert, the elder victim broke down and cried, saying he did not want the tattoo and that he had tried to wash them off.
"I don't believe I've ever heard of a case like this where you have a grown man who has made a decision to apply gang tattoos to two young children," said Cherokee County DA Brian Keuster.
Gritts is the biological father to the victim in another high profile child abuse case in Cherokee County. He is being held in the same jail as Jodi Rock, the mother of his infant son.
Earlier this year, Rock confessed to using a flat iron to repeatedly burn the baby boy's testicles. The child also had broken bones in various stages of healing.
"They (Rock and Gritts) are both accused of the same crime and are in the detention center," Moore said. "But their victims are different."
If convicted, the child abuse charges could land Gritts in prison for life.
"We have got to look at all the facts of the case, the weight of the evidence and decide what is justice for these two little boys," Keuster said.
Keuster expects to file formal charges against Gritts as early as next week. Drug charges will likely be added later.
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