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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Calls to stop violence in Huntington Station aren't new

Suffolk County police Officer Mark Collins, left, was

Suffolk County police Officer Mark Collins, left, was shot twice just before midnight Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Huntington Station, police said. At right, emergency vehicles near the shooting site. Credit: Chris Ware; Stringer News Service

"No more guns."

"Stop the violence."

Those were the cries from more than 100 people during a Huntington Station peace march.

In 2011.

The catalyst was a brazen act of violence one week earlier, in the Lincoln Farms Apartments parking lot on 123 First Ave., where, on Nov. 27, at least two gunmen in a crowd of eight to 10 men that had surrounded a car began shooting.

On a Sunday afternoon.

In broad daylight.

Near a church, where children played in an indoor gym.

Three young men -- the youngest 16 years old -- were injured that afternoon.

And, within days, Suffolk police began making arrests in what they believed was a gang-related incident. Among the first three (of ultimately 10 arrested): Sheldon Leftenant, 19, who had attended schools in Wyandanch and Huntington Station. And who, in 2011, was living on Tippin Drive, 1.3 miles -- and a five-minute ride -- from the crime scene.

Last week, Leftenant, now 22 and living in Mastic Beach, was charged in connection with another act of violence in Huntington Station -- the shooting of Suffolk Police Officer Mark Collins. He has pleaded not guilty.

Close to midnight Wednesday, Leftenant, a backseat passenger in a car pulled over by police, bolted because, he would tell officers later, he didn't want to be caught with a gun. Collins, in foot pursuit, went to fire off a stun gun rather than reaching for his service weapon. But, at some point, police said, Leftenant fired a gun, leaving a wounded Collins to inform fellow officers -- who did not, at that time, know whether the undercover gang officer would live or die -- "Sheldon Leftenant shot me."

Some community residents expressed outrage last week that Leftenant, who is on parole and who had been arrested in Huntington Station in December on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, was still on the street.

Leftenant served a year in prison and was placed on five years' parole after pleading guilty in 2012 to fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor, after initially being charged with three counts of second-degree assault in the Lincoln Farms Apartments shooting.

A spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota -- in response to residents' complaints -- said Friday that there had been no plea bargain.

According to spokesman Robert Clifford, an investigation determined that Leftenant neither fired nor was in possession of a gun that afternoon, although he was among the men who surrounded the car.

In August 2014, Leftenant was in the news again after Suffolk police, responding to a ShotSpotter activation, arrived at Tippin Drive to find Leftenant with a gunshot wound to the groin. Officers found a single bullet casing on the street outside the home.

That case, according to the district attorney, has been classified as a second-degree assault investigation. It is still pending.

Leftenant and his neighbors and friends who visited him in Huntington Hospital refused to cooperate with the investigation; and, police said Friday, physical evidence in the case shows that Leftenant's wound could have been accidentally self inflicted -- as Suffolk police said in October when residents demanded answers about a 15-month spate of violence that included several unsolved slayings.

Among those killed was Maggie Rosales, an 18-year-old high school student whose throat was cut from behind as she walked near her home. A neighbor later was charged in that case.

So, what happens now for Huntington Station -- more than three years after the 2011 peace march, five months after residents marched again, this time to Town Hall, spurred by the Rosales case?

Two weeks ago, residents gathered at the Second Precinct to remember victims in other unsolved cases, including Sarah Stroebel and Daniel Carbajal. Last week, as news of Collins' shooting again left neighbors reeling, residents said they wanted more policing, more code enforcement. "They are going to have to bring in help, from the state and from the federal government because with the shooting of a cop, people feel like nobody's safe," said James McGoldrick on Saturday. Rosales' body was found near his house.

On Friday, Huntington officials began examining the possibility of revising a code that could allow the town to shutter housing where multiple arrests have occurred on the property.

"We are working with police on this and we are going to send code inspectors in with police with more regularity," Supervisor Frank Petrone said in an interview following a town-hall meeting with police and other officials.

In a "thank you" message to residents, Insp. Edward Brady, the Second Precinct's commanding officer, noted that Collins was a member of the Huntington Station Violence Initiative that began last summer.

On Friday, Collins was awake, alert and talkative.

The officer had a message for Edward Webber, Suffolk's police commissioner.

He wants to get back to work.


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