Police arrested a man Sunday in the fatal October shooting of a 12-year-old girl as she ate dinner in her Hempstead home — a killing that sparked outrage over a plague of gun violence in the village.
Jakwan Keller, 20, of 130 Mason St. in Hempstead, was driving a 2013 BMW at 9:30 a.m. when police arrested him at the corner of Laurel and Linden avenues, a half mile from his home, officials said.
“This sends a strong message that we will not tolerate these heinous acts,” said Nassau Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
Krumpter declined to say whether Keller has any gang affiliations. Investigators have said they were checking whether gang warfare in Hempstead may have led to the shooting.
“That was my heart, my soul,” said Dejah’s great-grandmother, Delois Joyner, 80, late Sunday afternoon. “I just miss her. . . . She took real good care of me. I just loved her.”
The bullet struck Dejah after smashing through a front window, Nassau police said. She died at the hospital a day later.
The killing of a child in her own home angered and stunned the Hempstead community. Residents said at the time the shooting was the latest and perhaps most egregious example of gun violence that has gripped the village.
Keller was charged with second-degree murder, criminal use of a firearm in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. He faces arraignment Monday at First District Court in Hempstead, police said.
Bruce Barket, a Garden City attorney whose firm is representing Keller in a pending civil rights lawsuit against the Nassau County and Hempstead police departments, said Keller’s family contacted him Sunday. He said he plans to meet with them Monday.
“At this point in time, I’ve notified the police that we represent him and that will be an ongoing conversation,” Barket said. “I haven’t tried to speak with him directly. He apparently asked his family to reach out, which they did.” Asked if his client is a gang member, Barket said “not to my knowledge.”
Barket said he’d be surprised if Keller “had anything to say to the police at all. . . . He understands generally if you’re charged with a crime, the best thing to do is to call your lawyer and not chat with the police.”
In late 2012, Hempstead police arrested Keller after he crashed a stolen car into a police vehicle and resisted arrest, according to a Newsday report at the time.
Police charged Keller, who had a 16-year-old passenger, with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, resisting arrest and other charges. Court records did not indicate the disposition of the case and a district attorney’s spokesman said he could not comment.
In 2014, Keller filed a federal civil rights suit against Nassau County, Hempstead Village and several officers from the county and village police departments, alleging excessive force during the 2012 arrest.
The suit alleges Hempstead Police Officer Anthony P. Rogers fired two shots at the vehicle. Keller feared for his life and “ran to safety under a nearby van,” according to the suit.
“The defendants” pulled him from under the van “and began kicking, punching and assaulting him with such violence that upon arrival at the hospital” Keller’s “face was blown up and completely unrecognizable.”
Barket’s law partner, Amy Marion, is representing Keller in the case. She did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall said he recalled the suit but could not comment. He said Keller was “known to police,” and the mayor credited community members for coming forward with information, and police for making Sunday’s arrest.
“The word on the street was his name was coming up, so I think they got the right guy,” said Hall, who called Dejah’s killing “senseless.”
He said her family moved from their Dartmouth Street home in November with help of the Hempstead Housing Authority.
“Here you had an innocent 12-year-old — a Girl Scout at that, all of sudden sitting in her house, she gets shot, how horrible,” Hall said Sunday night. “It can’t be any worse than that. This senseless crime had made the people say, ‘we can’t sit back and let Dejah’s death be in vain.’ ”
Nassau Homicide Squad detectives arrested Keller without incident Sunday, with the aid of the department’s Electronics Squad and Hempstead police officers, officials said.
Krumpter declined Sunday night to discuss what led to Keller’s arrest but said a review of video evidence was “instrumental” in closing the case.
“There was a significant electronic forensic portion of this investigation,” he said.
It was not clear who, if anyone, would get the $75,000 reward offered by Nassau County Crime Stoppers, Krumpter said.
“We did receive a number of tips,” he said. “If they rise to the level of getting all or a portion of the reward, will be determined over the coming days.”
County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement Sunday: “While today’s arrest cannot undo the Joyner’s family pain of losing their 12-year-old daughter Dejah, I am relieved Nassau County Police Department and Hempstead Police Department worked hard to bring her alleged killer to justice.”
Nassau homicides increased in 2015 to 24, from 18 the previous year. There were six homicides in Hempstead Village in 2015, compared to the 8 in 2014. Near the scene of the slaying Sunday, Hempstead Board of Education president Lamont E. Johnson said the killing served as a community wake-up call.
“I think this was a boiling point where people said, ‘enough is enough,’ ” Johnson said. “We need to get together, we need to love one another and stop hurting each other.”
Johnson declined to say whether the suspect had attended school in the district but said he hoped Keller’s arrest “will bring some comfort and closure to the family” as Dejah’s grandfather, David Joyner, 60, wept nearby.
A man who answered the door at Keller’s house declined to comment. A neighbor who declined to give her name said she couldn’t believe Keller had been arrested.
“He’s a nice young man,” she said. “Friendly, respectful.”
With Laura Figueroa