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Dejah Joyner killing highlights Hempstead's plague of violent crimes

Mourners gather Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 at the

Mourners gather Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 at the Union Baptist Church in Hempstead at the wake and funeral for Dejah Joyner, the 12-year-old Hempstead girl who was shot and killed in her living room a week earlier. Credit: Alejandra Villa

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story. 

Twelve-year-old Dejah Joyner's death from a stray bullet in her Hempstead home Oct. 16 highlighted the gang- and drug-related violence that's plagued the village for years.

Hempstead has the most shooting victims in Nassau County during each of the last eight years, according to a Newsday review of gun crime data compiled by the state since 2007. Many of these shootings are at the hands of drug-dealing gang members -- some with easy access to illegal guns -- of the long-running Bloods-Crips gang wars and gunplay involving criminal organizations like MS-13 and the Haitian Mafia clique.

At least 295 people have been wounded by gunfire in Hempstead since 2007, at least 50 of them fatally, according to the records, compiled by New York's Division of Criminal Justice Services and supplemented with newer data provided by Nassau police homicide detectives.

A gang or drug connection

In a majority of the 295 cases, police said, the shooters were connected to gangs or illegal drug dealing -- sometimes both.

"The number of people shot, people killed, tells you that we need change here," said Hempstead resident Danny Craig, 53, an anti-violence activist and former Bloods gang member who once fought gang-related gunbattles in the village, but now tries to stop Hempstead gang members from killing one another. "It's been the same way for too many years. There's a lot of beautiful things here, a lot of community and prayer, but there's death all the time, too."

Crime actually dropped in this village of 54,000 in 2013 and 2014 -- a decrease that coincided with village police putting additional patrols in high-crime areas during peak times and overnight. Homicides last year were down by 42 percent, with seven deaths last year, compared with 12 in 2013, records show.

Despite the decrease, many say the violence remains prevalent.

Hempstead Police Chief Michael McGowan, who has hailed the crime reductions, said at a village board meeting last Tuesday that Dejah's killing "is an indicator of how much further we all have to go to end violent crime."

Efforts to quell that violence have met with varying degrees of success. A yearlong enforcement effort led by the Nassau district attorney's office in 2008 wiped out much of the drug dealing and violence on Terrace Avenue, but some dealers there migrated to the so-called Linden Triangle, at Linden Place and Linden Avenue, a little more than a mile away, officials have said.

Painful reminders

The day after Dejah's killing, remnants of shootings past remained evident across her neighborhood.

Near her home lay a memorial poster of Dante James Quinones-Wright, 17, who was fatally shot on the same street in September 2013. A makeshift memorial to another young man killed by violence sits outside a home one block away; and yet another, eight blocks away.

"We've been through this too many times," said Naisha Mason, 24, who lives in Hempstead and says she is considering installing bulletproof windows in her home because of Dejah's death.

A single bullet pierced the bay window of Dejah Joyner's Dartmouth Street house, striking her as she ate dinner, police said.

"It takes a child getting shot to wake people up to what's happening," Mason said. "Too much killing."

Detectives investigating Dejah's death are examining whether ongoing warfare between the Crips and the Bloods street gangs could be the motive for the shooting, police said, and also trying to determine whether someone at the home was targeted by the shooter.

Several recent homicides believed to be linked to gangs or drugs also remain unsolved, including the May 24, 2014 shooting of 16-year-old Robert Brown, of Westbury, who was killed by an unknown gunman who appeared to be lying in wait for the teen before shooting him in the chest in Hempstead Village; the May 5, 2014 killing of two New Cassel men as they sat in a car in front of a Belmont Parkway home; and the shooting of Andre Bell, 34, who was found in a vehicle on Kennedy Avenue about 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, mortally wounded by gunshots to his head. He died six days later.

"We should be outraged anytime someone is killed in Hempstead," Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall said. "We want it to stop."

With John Asbury

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016. 

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book. 

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.  

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote. 

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures. 

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources.  In this story, Newsday could not locate: Danny Craig and Naisha Mason. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.  

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:  

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review. 

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names. 

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.  

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes. 

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local. 

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.” 

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.” 

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes. 

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.  

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday. 

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission.  If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories. 

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