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Police: Hempstead shooting death of boy, 16, may be gang-related

A 16-year-old boy was shot and killed on

A 16-year-old boy was shot and killed on Friday, May 23, 2014 in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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

A 16-year-old boy 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 late Friday, according to police sources and witnesses.

The killing of Robert Brown of Westbury is the third this month in Hempstead. It comes just two days after Nassau County police -- who investigate homicides and certain gang cases in the village -- reassigned a highly decorated unit that does anti-gang work in the area. The sources said Brown's killing may be gang-related.

Brown, according to several people with him Friday night, was hanging out at the family home of a friend on Bennett Avenue. He stepped out to walk to a nearby bodega shortly after 11:45 p.m., friends said, and was shot moments later.

Brown clutched his chest and staggered back into the house, screaming "Oh! Oh! I can't breathe!" said Kayla Childress, 18, a friend of Brown's who saw him stumble inside.

"We lifted up his shirt and he had a hole in his chest," Childress said. "He was going in and out of consciousness. We just tried to keep his eyes open, keep him alive."

Another friend of Brown's, who did not want her name used because she feared retaliation from neighborhood gang members, said she believes at least one gunman was waiting outside the home Brown was visiting, "because they got him right after he stepped out."

Brown was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m., police said.

"Whatever he was involved in, it wasn't anything he should be killed over," the female friend said.

Near the crime scene Saturday, detectives scoured the neighborhood in search of information and evidence. Several feet from the spot where Brown was shot, someone had scrawled an insult about a suspect in a different homicide that happened just blocks away in September.

Brown's shooting was the fourth homicide this year in Hempstead Village, which has a long history of gang violence. Parts of the village, along with neighborhoods in Roosevelt, Westbury, Uniondale and Freeport, make up an area known as "the corridor," in which a majority of Nassau's gang-related crimes take place.

Hempstead's last fatal shooting occurred May 5, when someone killed two New Cassel men as they sat in a car in front of a Belmont Parkway home.

One police source said that shooting is believed to be the result of a drug deal gone bad between an MS-13 gang member and Haitian Mafia gang members. No arrests have been made.

Friday's shooting comes at a sensitive time for county police. Last week, Nassau made a controversial decision to reassign roughly 45 plainclothes cops to regular patrol duty as a cost-saving measure. Among the transferred officers were 12 members of the department's Gang Abatement Program, responsible for scores of arrests, gun recoveries and drug busts in the corridor, sources said.

Police said the move will save about $4.4 million in overtime this year, and that undercover cops -- from the Bureau of Special Operations, for example -- would keep working in high-crime areas.

Seven homicides have been recorded this year in Nassau, compared with 12 during the same period last year, police said. Homicides are also down in Hempstead, from seven to four. Hempstead has its own police force, which has an anti-gang unit.

Nassau spokesman Brian Nevin said the police department's gang unit also continues to operate in Hempstead Village.

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: Kayla Childress. 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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