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Drug dealing, gunfire puts village on edge

Activists march through a Hempstead Village neighborhood plagued

Activists march through a Hempstead Village neighborhood plagued by drugs and gun violence. They are looking for dealers, gang members and addicts to pray with. (June 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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

Police have rushed to take the offensive against blatant, open-air drug-selling in a Hempstead Village neighborhood after a surge in gun violence blamed largely on rival gang-affiliated dealers put residents in constant fear.

"The dealers all have guns, and it just rains bullets around here," said Monique Otis, 54, who lives in an apartment building on Linden Place. "The addicts are all over the street trying to [buy] drugs at all hours. It's like living in hell. I pray they can stop it."

Battles between rival groups dealing marijuana and crack in the seven-block area of multifamily homes and housing projects near Hempstead High School helped cause an "extreme spike" in firearm-related crimes between January and May, said village police Chief Michael McGowan.

At least eight people have been shot this year, two fatally, in the half-mile stretch running south roughly from Linden Place and Maple Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, compared with three shot, none fatally, in the same period of 2011, records show. Police made 59 drug-related arrests in the same area through June 4.

June was the first month of 2012 in which police received no reports of shots fired in the neighborhood, but officials say it is too soon to know whether this fragile peace will hold.

"We're trying to keep the lid on it [the gun violence]," McGowan said. "We know we have more work to do."

The rate of shootings and drug sales around Linden Place -- and their impact on the village overall -- have prompted comparisons to Terrace Avenue, a street one mile north of Linden Place that was home to Long Island's largest open-air drug market before a major crackdown there in 2008.

"I believe the drug dealing was always going on [on Linden Place], but most of the attention was on Terrace," Mayor Wayne Hall said.

 

Surge in shootings

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office spearheaded a yearlong enforcement effort four years ago that wiped out much of the drug-dealing and violence on Terrace Avenue. Arrests for drug crimes have fallen by 82 percent in that community since the initiative began, Rice said.

One factor in the success was months of community meetings aimed at gaining the trust of residents, Hall said. But village officials said the surge in gun violence around Linden Avenue between January and May was so alarming that they couldn't wait to lay such groundwork.

"We don't have that kind of time," McGowan said.

Michael Watts, 21, a village resident, was shot to death by an unknown gunman Feb. 18 at Linden Avenue and Linden Place -- considered the heart of the drug market, police said. A second man was wounded but survived.

Stanley Cater, a 46-year-old carpenter who served time in jail for crimes including drug possession, was killed by gunfire April 26 on Marvin Avenue, two blocks from the drug market. His relatives believe he was trying to buy drugs when the shooting happened. Herber Guzman, 40, was charged with second-degree murder May 3 and pleaded not guilty. He is being held on $1-million bail.

A teen and another man, ages 17 and 21, were wounded April 1 in a drive-by shooting while walking on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, police said. Both survived.

 

Police adjust tactics

Violence involving drug dealers operating on and around Linden Place helped drive up crime in the village as a whole, officials said. Nineteen people were shot between January and May 1 in the municipality -- compared with seven over the same period in 2011, according to data compiled by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Police last month started beefing up patrols, scanning license plates of suspected drug buyers' cars, working with probation officials to arrest more violators, and focused on making more undercover drug arrests and street busts for open dealing. So far, those tactics have tamped down violence and taken several key dealers off the streets, McGowan said.

Village officials also appealed for help to Rice, who said in a statement the neighborhood was being held "hostage" by criminals, and that her office was working with police to "locate, arrest and prosecute" them. "This community deserves to have its streets back," Rice said.

 

Gang rivalry fuels violence

At the heart of the problem is a violent rivalry between dealers affiliated with the Crips and the Bloods gangs on either side of Graham Avenue, law enforcement sources said.

The Crips dealers and their associates control the market for marijuana and crack in the vicinity of Linden Avenue and Linden Place -- an area known as the "Linden Triangle" -- on the north side of Graham, the sources said. South of Graham, on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Bloods-affiliates control a much-smaller drug market in and around the housing projects that line the street.

Young men on both sides were firing weapons at a blistering pace earlier this year, using 9-mm and .45-caliber guns, as well as more-advanced weaponry like semiautomatic Tec-9s, McGowan said.

A hot spot for trouble is a home on Linden Place that doubles as a nightclub where police suspect drugs have long been used and sold. "It's a problem," McGowan said.

Andre Chambers, 23, was shot and killed inside the house in March 2008 -- just four blocks from where his father, Stanley Cater, was allegedly killed by Guzman in April, Nassau police said. Betty Cater, a village resident, was Stanley's mother and Chambers' grandmother. Chambers' killing remains unsolved.

"The gunshots, the drugs, the kids running up to your car on Linden [Place] to try and sell drugs to you, it's all so out of control," said Cater, 67. "No one else should have to lose their babies to this war zone."

Despite the new enforcement effort, plumes of marijuana smoke still drift from open windows in the neighborhood. Dealers congregate on stoops and scurry to cars whose drivers pull up to buy drugs. Glassy-eyed addicts stumble through the darkness.

Many residents fear a return of the gunfire, which had become so frequent they wouldn't let their children play outside.

"If you live here, you better be ready to duck," said Jeremiah Carter, 47, a mechanic who moved from Brooklyn to an apartment on Linden Place three years ago. "I wish I'd never come here."

Seeking peace in prayer

Police and prosecutors are not the only ones trying to stem the tide of violence.

Each Friday night just before midnight, a small group of male, middle-aged residents-turned-activists gather to march through the Linden Place drug market, looking for dealers, gang members and addicts with whom to pray. They join hands with them on the street and inside homes, asking God to protect them.

"We're not out here to demonize or condemn them -- we're here to serve them," says the Rev. Kirk Lyons Sr., 51, a Hempstead native who recently began leading the prayer marches. "We want this place to be what it should be -- not what it has become."

Male Timmons, a neighborhood association leader, said he and the other marchers are starting to have an impact.

"It's always a struggle," said Timmons, 42. "But they're starting to look forward to the prayer. Some of the tensions seem to be easing. We're starting to get through to them."

A self-described marijuana dealer who met with the marchers one night said afterward he understands their concerns but has not been won over.

"When people do get shot up, that's painful to me," he said. "So we got no problem praying. Praying's good. But this is where we'll be doing what we do."

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: Monique Otis and Jeremiah Carter. 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 Ancestry.com 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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