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Residents angry with Huntington Station violence take on Town Hall

Levar Butts, 19, of Huntington Station chants during

Levar Butts, 19, of Huntington Station chants during a march to Huntington Town Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. Hundreds rallied for justice for stabbing death victim Maggie Rosales, 18, a Walt Whitman High School senior. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Hundreds of angry Huntington Station residents, prompted by the stabbing death of a high school senior last week, marched to Huntington Town Hall Tuesday, where an overflow crowd booed County Executive Steve Bellone and heckled Police Chief James Burke.

Maggie Rosales, 18, was killed Oct. 12, her body found that night lying facedown on Lynch Street, the fourth unsolved slaying in about a year.

Her father, Cesar Rosales, 54, walked with the crowd, which included Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa. Some marchers wore maroon and white clothing -- the colors of Walt Whitman High School, where Maggie Rosales attended.

"Something good is going to come of this," said Rosales, overwhelmed by the turnout.

Marching to Town Hall, the crowd chanted, "Stop the crime. Stop the violence. They all matter." But once there, the atmosphere changed.

At the Town Hall meeting, the crowd grew restless when Bellone and Burke spoke.

"I am personally devastated by it," Bellone said of the teen's death. "It is my top priority and the top priority of the police department to solve these murders."

The crowd booed.

Bellone said his office and the police department did a poor job of communicating with the community. "It was a failure on my part. I'm going to make sure we're going to correct that."

As Burke spoke about intelligence-led policing and policing models, people in the audience fidgeted and became angry.

"We know countywide where crime is happening," Burke said.

"Enough is enough!" one man in the audience shouted. "Enough of the [expletive]!"

Burke said crime is down, but people in the audience shouted, "Not enough!"

Bellone and Burke left before the Huntington Town Board public meeting began. The crowd became upset at their sudden departure.


Four killings in past year

Rosales' killing was the fourth in Huntington Station in little more than a year.

In July, Daniel Carbajal, 25, was shot in the head on East Ninth Street when someone fired at him and a group of people.

A month earlier, Luis Ramos-Rodriguez, 38, of Huntington Station, was stabbed to death at Melissa Restaurant on New York Avenue. He was found on the ground behind the establishment with a stab wound, police said.

Last October, the body of Sarah Strobel, 23, was found in a nature preserve in Huntington Station. Police said it appeared her death was a homicide.

Tuesday night, Burke said of the ongoing cases that one was the result of a fight and one was gang-related. He did not say which. No arrests have been announced in any of the killings.

Communication concern

After the county officials left, town officials said little as a problem with the public address system delayed the meeting. Town Supervisor Frank Petrone repeatedly had to bring order to the crowd, especially after Bellone and Burke departed. At times, he threatened to end the hearing if people did not calm down.

Dozens of people were kept out of the meeting due to fire code restrictions, and dozens more were in the hallway.

Jim McGoldrick, 55, a lifelong Huntington Station resident, criticized the way police handled the crime scene the day Rosales' body was found. He told the meeting the teenager's body was found in front of his home and left uncovered on the street for more than six hours.

"There is a cold breakdown of communication between the police and the community," he said afterward. "The police don't have the ability to deal with the residents of Huntington Station."

Xavier Palacios, an attorney and member of the board of trustees of the Huntington Union Free School District, spoke before the meeting on behalf of the families of two victims, with Fredis Carbajal, father of victim Daniel Carbajal, holding a portrait of his son on one side, and Cesar Rosales on the other.

Also before the meeting, at a podium outside Town Hall, Sliwa told supporters the Guardian Angels would resume patrols in Huntington Station.

The Guardian Angels came to Huntington Station in 2010 after the school district shuttered the Jack Abrams school due to a disproportionate rate of violent crime in the area. The school reopened last year as a magnet school. In 2010, he said, the group patrolled the area for about a year and proposed expanding their presence, but town officials dismissed the idea.

"Now look at the problem they have," he said Monday.

'It's like we're not important'

At Rosales' wake last week at the A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home, a poster board on an easel read "Maggie Rosales Matters" and called for the community to demand action from the town board. Dozens lined up to pay their respects to the family while others sat in the lobby or went outside sobbing in grief.

A Huntington resident and friend of the Rosales family who did not want to give her name said a greater police presence in the area would help. The woman, who attended the wake, has three children, ages 17, 14 and 12, and said she fears one of her children could be next.

"We want more," she said about police patrols in the area. "It's like we're not important."

When he first took office in 2012, it was in Huntington Station that Bellone first vowed to the community that he would help fight crime. He announced a reorganization of the police department's antigang efforts and launched a new strategy that redeployed specialized units to the precincts.

Under the new initiative, 39 antigang officers were to be based out of the department's seven precincts -- with 32 police officers, six sergeants and one lieutenant redeployed in the new push.

"We will win this fight," Bellone said at the time, flanked by a group of community leaders and politicians.

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