As with the slayings of so many young African Americans, the murder of 20-year-old Nadirah Ruffin calls to mind the same descriptive adjectives used to describe so many killings in the Black community.
Senseless. Needless. Tragic.
Ruffin, who was also a single mother, was kidnapped last March 26th in Atlantic City by a group of masked home invaders. The home invaders, who were all young African Americans, weren’t content to pistol-whip their victims and steal money and drugs. Because Nadirah recognized the voice of one of the robbers, she was dragged from the residence, pleading for her life. Worried that she would “snitch” to the cops, her captors drove her to Philadelphia, shot her in the head and then threw her lifeless body into the Schuylkill River. Her remains were found April 19.
On Tuesday of this week a team of more than 50 federal, state and local law enforcement officers carried out arrest warrants for six suspects, one of them a woman, wanted in connection with Ruffin’s murder.
Charged in the case are Shamerria Smith, 24, Aziz Sanders, 18 and Deshawn Hicks, 19, all of Atlantic City. The three have been charged with kidnapping resulting in the victim’s death, robbery and weapons offenses.
Also arrested and charged in the case are Ronnie Ruffin, 42, of Lindenwold, New Jersey, Henry Ruffin, 40, of Williamstown, New Jersey and Isiah Ruffin, 20, of Atlantic City. The Ruffin co-defendants are not related to the victim, however, according to police, Ronnie Ruffin is the father of Shamerria Smith. Smith, Sanders and Isiah Ruffin are all first cousins and their parents are siblings.
Brothers Henry and Ronnie Ruffin are accused of witness tampering. Isiah Ruffin has been charged with providing false information to federal agents.
“Well, the entire family is pleased that the police have caught the suspects. This has been a very difficult time for me and my family as you can imagine,” said Derek Longcrier, grandfather of Nadirah Ruffin. The depth of Longcrier’s grief and emotional burden were evident in his voice as he spoke with the Tribune.
“As I understand it, this is still an ongoing investigation. Basically we’re content to let justice take its course. Nadirah was my son’s daughter, and this has been very, very hard on all of us,” Longcrier said. “We’re happy that arrests have been made and are grateful for the efforts of law enforcement.”
The arrests were part of an aggressive investigation by the Atlantic City office of the FBI, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and the Atlantic City Police Department. In addition, personnel of FBI SWAT, New Jersey State Police, FBI Evidence Response Team; Atlantic City Police Department SWAT Team and detectives; the Philadelphia office of the FBI, and the N.J. State Police participated in the operation.
“The kidnapping and murder allegations in the complaint detail an indifference to human life that is shocking,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman in a press release. “The complaint describes how associates of those responsible attempted to use threats, violence and lies to prevent us from finding and arresting the suspects. We are grateful for the tireless and cooperative investigative work of the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI, which ultimately led to the arrests of all of those involved.”
The tragedy began with a physical altercation on Wednesday, March 23 between a female referred to in the investigative reports as T.W. and Isiah Ruffin, who were involved in a relationship. The fight between the couple took place in the North Maryland Avenue area of Atlantic City known as “Back Maryland.” The couple was arguing over Ruffin’s alleged involvement with another woman. T.W. believed the “other woman” was Nadirah Ruffin. T.W.’s response was to find Nadirah, confront her and slap her.
This set off a series of confrontations between two groups of young people who all know each other. The end result was a physical confrontation between Isiah Ruffin and an individual identified in the investigative report as Donald Hawkins, a.k.a. “Goldie” on the afternoon of March 23rd. Goldie allegedly beat and robbed Ruffin, putting him in the hospital. Ruffin allegedly told law enforcement officers at the time that he had no idea who robbed and assaulted him.
According to investigators, Shamerria Smith was angry over the incident involving her cousin, Isiah, and Goldie and wanted to retaliate.
“This investigation is of utmost importance to the FBI Safe Street Task Force due to aspects of home invasion, robbery, kidnapping and the senseless murder of a young woman and mother,” said Michael B. Ward, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI’s Newark Division in a press release.
“Such acts of violence will not be tolerated and will be met forcefully by the united efforts of law enforcement. The arrests of six subjects believed to be responsible for this extreme violence are an example of that commitment,” Ward said.
On Saturday, March 26, Atlantic City Police were called to the residence of Monica Dunn. Police found four duct-taped women who reported they had been pistol whipped and robbed by a group armed with guns. The assailants were wearing masks and wore dark, hooded sweatshirts. At least one of them was a woman, later identified as Smith. The assailants searched the house in a manner, police said, that indicated they were familiar with the layout of the residence. They stole money and drugs; investigators say portions of the stolen cash were earned from the sale of a narcotic known on the streets as “woki,” marijuana laced with embalming fluid.
During the course of the home invasion, the victims reported to authorities that Ruffin said, “Shamerria, why are you doing this to me? You know me.”
The assailants then forced Nadirah from the house. She was never seen alive again.
On April 19, 2011 just after 10:30 a.m., Philadelphia police received a call reporting the discovery of a body floating in the Schuylkill River near Martin Luther King Drive and Black Road. The body was recovered and subsequently identified as that of Nadirah Ruffin. The cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head. Her body was found wrapped in a khaki colored piece of clothing and duct taped.
“This is a very significant arrest,” said Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee, Commander of the Atlantic City Police Department in a press release. “This is the most significant series of arrests made in one case this year. It was a tragic occurrence and I’m glad that the collaborative effort put forth by all agencies has resulted in these arrests.”
But of course, the arrests will never bring back Nadirah Ruffin, who leaves behind a 4-year-old son.
“It’s times like this that you learn to hold onto your faith in God, because that’s really all you have,” Longcrier said. “Ultimately, God is the true source of justice.”
Rian Thal was 34 when she was murdered inside her apartment building, a trendy digs known as Piazza at Schmidts. Thal was a club and restaurant promoter referred to in some circles as “the white girl.”
She got to know an individual named Timothy Gilmore, who was murdered with her. Gilmore, a former firefighter out of Detroit, was also a truck driver who allegedly transported kilos of cocaine out of Texas and into Philadelphia.
“The victims in this case were not innocent bystanders,” said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber, in her opening arguments yesterday morning. “When you’re moving large amounts of illegal drugs, as Thal was, the word gets out. You could have a target on your back.
The three co-defendants in the case are: Edward Daniels, Keith Epps, the alleged mastermind, and Antonio Wright. They have been accused of two counts of criminal homicide apiece, conspiracy and robbery with the intention of committing bodily harm. Daniels and Wright are also accused of illegal weapons offenses and Epps is also facing murder in the first degree — felony murder to be specific.
The defendants have all pleaded not guilty.
On Saturday, June 27, 2009, just before 5:45 p.m. police responded to a report of a shooting inside the Piazza at Schmidt’s apartment complex, an upscale collection of residences, art galleries, restaurants and night clubs.
The victims, Thal and Gilmore, were shot multiple times. When investigators gained access to Thal’s apartment on the seventh floor, they found four kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of $400,000 and over $100,000 in cash. Right away investigators believed it was a drug robbery gone wrong; except the robbers got nothing for the lives they took, and the entire incident was recorded by the many surveillance cameras that were strategically placed outside and inside the building.
Selber described in exacting detail how investigators believe the plan to rob Thal was formed. She ran down the names of all the players — three of whom pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution. The prosecution’s case rests on those now incarcerated witnesses, surveillance camera recordings and cell phone records, which allegedly show Epps communicating with his cast of co-conspirators.
Those individuals are identified as Katoya Jones, Langdon Scott and Donnell Murchison — all have pleaded guilty for their connection with the murders.
Selber, in her opening arguments, told the jury that the original plan was to wait until Thal was out of her home. Then, break in and steal the money and the drugs. But that’s not how it went down.
“Each tenant needs a pass-key in order to get into the buildings. Epps had an inside person, Katoya Jones. He called her, told her he needed to get in, that there was a lot of money involved and that she’d get a cut,” Selber said. “She goes to the lobby and lets in Epps and Robert Keith. This is the first attempt to get in. But instead of going to Thal’s apartment on the seventh floor, they went to an apartment on the sixth floor. But Epps is determined, he’s resourceful, he’s not going to give up. What does he do? He gets his robbery posse together.”
Again, Selber said, with Katoya Jones’ help, entrance was gained to the Piazza.
“How did they know when Thal was coming back to her apartment? Epps is sitting outside in his white van and he called Murchison when he saw Thal and Gilmore,” Selber said. “That’s when they ambushed them, they boxed them in. We know Gilmore resisted and Wright shot him not once, not twice, not three times but at least four times. Murchison shot Thal in the back of the head. She was killed instantly. But Gilmore was pretty strong, he tried to get away and ran to the elevator and was shot again in the leg. Wright ran him down. When they saw Gilmore was still alive, Murchison shot him twice in the head.”
Everything, Selber said, was caught by the surveillance cameras, from the times that Jones let the would-be robbers in, to the actual murders.
But, the defense counter argued, that’s not the whole story and just the prosecution’s perspective. Epps, according to his defense attorney, was set up.
“These men must be presumed innocent,” said Epps’ defense counsel, Christopher Warren. “And you can’t overcome the presumption of innocence by a good speech. Donnell Murchison, Langdon Scott and Katoya Jones are the prosecution’s witnesses. Epps was set up, he was sent to the wrong apartment the first time. The prosecution says he was outside the Piazza when the murders happened and that his cell phone location proves that. But the communication tower only serves a specific area. He was actually inside a bar, Delilah’s Den, when the murders took place. The word of the witnesses is not worth the debris on the bottom of my shoe.”
What happens to the more than 20,000 youths currently in foster care when they reach age 18 and max out of the system? Do they move on to prosperous lives as contributing members of society?
Sadly, and perhaps predictably, the answer to that question is no. According to experts, concerned lawmakers and officials at the Department of Human Services, too many young people end up homeless — where they are at risk of becoming criminals, victims of crime or living with mental health problems.
“These young people are at risk of being unemployed, early parenthood, and they have exceptionally high rates of incarceration. They also present a higher risk of becoming homeless when they age out of the system, at least 12 to 30 percent higher,” said state Senator LeAnna Washington at a public hearing on the issue. The public hearings, held by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee on Foster Care-Aging Out: Options and Obstacles was held on Wednesday at the Claudia Cohen Hall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
Washington, who is Democratic Chair of the committee, said it’s all too easy to forget how much support these youths need. Basically, once they age out of the system, many of them have no place to go. Washington, among others at the legislative level, would like for state support to continue until these young people reach age 21 and are more prepared for the challenges of being on their own.
“My biggest challenge was figuring out what to do since I was on my own,” said Braheem Farmer, who has been in foster care since age 8. He just aged out of the system a few days ago.
“My biggest struggle was not being prepared,” Farmer said. “I mean the system doesn’t really prepare us for that. I didn’t have a plan; I didn’t even think I needed a plan. Being in the system didn’t help me in learning how to be a man; I learned how to fall into the wrong crowd.”
Farmer’s testimony was echoed by other young men and women who also maxed out of the system and made statements during the hearing. Sen. Washington said there are numerous organizations already in place to help these youths, but in many instances, they’re not communicating with each other — making it all too easy for these young people to fall through the cracks.
“We have an obligation to them, and the dots are simply not being connected, for whatever reason,” Washington said. “We owe these kids.”
According to the latest statistical information, provided by Ken Mullner, Executive Director of the National Adoption Center and the Adoption Center of the Delaware Valley, more than 50 percent of these young people will experience homelessness. At least 25 percent will not earn a high school diploma, and less than 2 percent will earn a college degree. Fifty percent will be unemployed, 33 percent will have to receive public assistance; and more than 50 percent will be incarcerated at some point.
“As a group, they are more likely to become drug addicted, experience mental illness and become the victims of violent crime. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Mullner said. “Unfortunately, just last year, nearly 30,000 teenagers aged out of foster care without finding a permanent family, leaving them to fend for themselves.”
Jennifer Pokemper, Esq., Supervising Attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, said one of her greatest concerns for these at-risk youth is that, in terms of their susceptibility to fall into criminal behavior, no one really know how many of them that there are.
“How many of Philly’s criminals are the dumped children of the foster care system? And let’s be honest, when we say there were emancipated, they didn’t have shackles on their feet. They were dumped. How many were in foster care? Youths leaving foster care at age 18 are not ready to live on their own. There are federal dollars to help them, but it’s not enough.”
To push legislative remedies to address these problems in Pennsylvania, Sen. Washington, along with several colleagues, have crafted two proposals: Senate Bill 170 and 171. The proposals would extend the support of the state for these young people, since, the experts testified, evidence shows few people are ready to be on their own at age 18.
Dr. Charles A. Williams of Drexel University, and a member of the Community Oversight Board for the Department of Human Services is a former foster youth. He readily admits he was blessed to have not fallen into the pits that so many maxed out youth trip into. He also said that what the system is currently doing is not working.
“I was in foster care and aged out,” Williams said. Fortunately I avoided some of the pitfalls, thank God, but far too many of these youths don’t. We have to face the truth; we took these kids out of their homes because they were abused, or molested or raped. We took them out and those who wound up in the system were worse off than when they went in. We have to change that, and we can. When a mother wants to see if her toddler can walk she stands behind him. When he can propel himself forward, she knows. We need proof that these children can walk, that what we’re doing for them is working. Right now, it’s not. The fact is, the longer they stay in foster care, the worse they get.”
Last week I pulled jury duty, and to my great surprise, was picked for a jury. But that was only the first of many surprises I’d experience on my slow trip down the abandoned dirt road we call the criminal justice system.
I don’t know if it’s the general inconvenience, or the fact that most civilians entering the Criminal Justice Center are there on unpleasant business, but no one was very happy to be there, and took their displeasure out on the sheriff’s deputies monitoring the entrance, and each other.
Once you’re picked for a jury, the real fun begins. Two things to note going in: First, you’re going to spend a lot more time in the jury room with your fellow jurors than you’ll spend in the courtroom listening to testimony. That’s just the nature of the beast. So get to know, and try hard to like, the other members of your panel. And second, get used to being referred to by number, since your name is now gone and forgotten. I was juror number nine.
I was picked for a murder trial in the courtroom of Judge Shelley Robins-New, who appeared to run a tight ship, but was fair-minded and put the best face possible on an experience she knew would leave a sour taste on our palates for quite some time.
In February 2008, a young man named Ronald Saunders was shot and killed outside the Easy Corner bar in Mantua, a tough West Philly neighborhood known as “The Bottom.”
Saunders, the prosecutor admitted up front, was no angel. According to testimony, Saunders was a street corner drug dealer with a quick temper and a propensity for violence. When he was killed, he was carrying a $1,200 bankroll and a loaded 9mm handgun.
Despite the late hour, about 1:15 am, there were at least a dozen people in the Easy Corner, drinking and partying — at least until shots rang out just outside the door.
That’s when as many folks scattered as could get out of there in a hurry, and the remaining patrons developed an acute case of hysterical blindness coupled with selective amnesia. By the time police arrived, no one saw anything, no one could identify either victim or shooter, and no one wanted to get involved.
I understand their reluctance to tell what they saw. Witness intimidation and retaliation is real in Philadelphia, and we have the headstones to prove it. Elsewhere in this edition, crime reporter Larry Miller is covering a story of just how pervasive witness retaliation is, and why witnesses, and their families, feel more like sitting ducks than community heroes.
With few clues, and no reliable witnesses, the trail of Saunders killer had gone cold. Then, more than a year after the shooting, a couple of jailhouse snitches, eager to reduce their own sentences by making a deal, fingered another neighborhood corner boy, Tyree Berry, as the killer.
As Berry sat silent in the defendant’s chair, the prosecutor trotted out a series of jump-suited “witnesses” fresh from the cell block, who claimed second- or third-hand knowledge of Berry’s guilt. Their testimony was so full of lies and ridiculous claims, that even if there were a kernel of truth buried somewhere deep under their pile of fabrications, it would have been impossible to find.
There was no physical evidence, no murder weapon, no ballistics evidence, no DNA and not one credible witness — nothing to put Berry in the Easy Corner bar that night, nothing to put a gun in his hand, and nothing proving he’s the one who pumped two bullets into Saunders — the last one administered as the shooter stood over the body, coup de grace style.
We the jury found Berry not guilty, mostly because the state failed miserably to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. We also agreed that it probably wasn’t the prosecutor’s fault — she had been handed a bag of lemons from the outset.
But someone casually snatched Ronald Saunders life away from him. That someone counted on the scared silence of the people in that bar, and gambled correctly. They also counted on society’s collective willingness to shrug our shoulders and turn a blind eye when one drug-dealing corner boy kills another. Again, they gambled right. There were no protestors outside the CJC, no outraged community gathering, and no “Justice for Ronald Saunders” T-shirts.
That trigger-happy someone is now freely walking the streets of Philadelphia, and having gotten away with murder once, probably won’t hesitate to do it again.
And that fact will cause Number Nine a few sleepless nights.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Jones accused of diverting $147k in development funds
A verdict was expected early next week in the federal trial of a politically connected attorney and his wife who landed in front of a jury charged with money laundering and fraud.
The trail wrapped up Friday afternoon, unable to reach a verdict the jury retired at about 4:30 and was expected to resume deliberations Monday.
Federal prosecutors allege that Mikel Jones defrauded the Minority Venture Partners Ltd., a firm managed by the now defunct Philadelphia Community Development Corporation and a private New York-based lender, out of thousands of dollars. The money was supposed to be used for legitimate business purposes but prosecutors Paul Gray and Alexander Garvin said Jones and his wife, Dona Nichols Jones, used the cash for their personal expenses.
Jones has been charged with 16 counts of mail fraud and two counts of money laundering. He also faces 10 additional counts of wire fraud based on a superceding indictment handed down earlier in October. His wife has been charged with conspiracy, money laundering and 14 counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud.
The couple pleaded not guilty.
Jones, a former top aid to Congressman Alcee Hastings in Palm Beach County, Fla., owned and operated a personal injury law firm, Mikel Jones Law Firm LLC, which was located at 1831 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia. The indictment alleges that Jones secured $147,000 from PCDC and a connected firm known as the Minority Venture Partners Ltd., or MVP. The purpose of the funding was to expand his business, which prosecutors say he agreed to do. But, the prosecution contends that once the money was in his accounts, Jones diverted the funds for his own use, transferring some of the money into a personal bank account. He also allegedly paid off his credit card debt and used other some of the cash to purchase sports tickets and pay other personal expenses.
In three separate transactions, MVP wire transferred $147,000 into operating and business accounts Jones held with Citizens and Commerce Banks. The separate transactions were in the amounts of $75,000, $37,000 and $35,000.
Federal prosecutors argue that Jones lied to MVP by not using the money in a manner he agreed to. They say he never opened a bank account to hole a portion of his law firm’s revenues. Instead, they allege, he transferred the money to his wife’s personal banks accounts and then used it to pay his personal expenses — groceries, personal trips and tickets for sporting events. In order to hide what he was doing, prosecutors argue he lied again, claiming he didn’t have the money to repay MVP — that he could only cough up $20,000.
Prosecutors contend, when he claimed this, he had substantial funds that he was blowing on luxury items.
But during testimony on Thursday, defense attorney David Garvin showed evidence that, he says, indicates all of the funding was used for legitimate purposes.
“Does the chart provided by the government accurately depict the transfers from MVP?” asked Garvin in questioning Carlos Samlut, Jones’ certified public accountant based in Coral Gables, Florida. Garvin asked Samlut to explain the flow of money from MVP — in the amounts of $75,000, $37,000 and $35,000.
“No,” Samlut replied, who testified that, based on his analysis of Jones’ financial statements, no money was transferred out of the business accounts into the personal accounts. “The chart is not accurate.”
In essence, Samlut testified that he could account for the money loaned from MVP to Jones. Yes, some of that money was used to purchase tickets to sporting events, but, Samlut testified, that is seen as a legitimate expense.
The allegations against Jones state that Jones owned and controlled Strata Tech, Inc. and Visions 21st Democratic Club — alleged shell companies that he used to defraud a New York-based lender of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In January 2008, Jones obtained a multi-million dollar line of credit from the lender and agreed that he would only use the line of credit for legitimate expenses related to the operation of his law firm.
But federal prosecutors say that didn’t happen.
Allegedly, Jones and his wife used the shell companies and their daughter’s name to steal the money by supplying false invoices on the companies’ letterheads for services to Jones’ law firm that were never performed.
“Have you ever submitted phony invoices to your clients?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Nguyen in questioning defense witness Eric George, who owns and operates a funeral home that bears his name.
“No,” George replied.
“That wouldn’t be right, would it, Mr. George?”
“No, of course not,” George answered.
The prosecution alleges that Jones created bogus invoices in the name of Strata-Tech, which listed an address of a mail drop in Florida as its business address and stated that Strata-Tech was in the business of, among other things, event management, strategic marketing, speaker placement, corporate identity and advertising. In reality, Strata-Tech was a shell corporation that had no operations.
In total, it is alleged that between February 2008 and April 2009, the Joneses obtained more than $456,000 in this manner.
Investigators also allege that Jones didn’t file tax returns reporting that he had received the money from MVP in an effort to conceal the fact that he was misusing the funding. When representatives of MVP approached him about repaying the money, Jones allegedly lied about his financial situation and claimed he could only repay $20,000 when he was spending thousands on himself.
Mayor Michael Nutter shut down PCDC in June 2009. At the time, Nutter said that reducing administration costs associated with lending would allow the city to better serve small businesses. The Nutter Administration decided, after closely examining the different agencies the city was funding that PCDC’s primary programs were duplicated at the Department of Commerce, PIDC or at other agencies supported by city funding.
Homicide detectives have five new murders on their casebooks, four occurring within one hour, according to Police Officer Jillian Russell, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Police Department.
The first slaying happened on Oct. 17 at 10:55 p.m. Police were called to the 300 block of East Hortter Street, where a young Black male had been shot in the chest. The victim was identified as Michael Barnes, 28, from the same location. He was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center where physicians pronounced him dead at 7:46 a.m. the next day.
Investigators report that the motive was robbery but as of Tribune press time, no arrests had been made.
The second homicide was reported at 11:15 p.m. in the 5200 block of Oakland Street. Police from the 15th District, responding to a report of gunfire found a man lying on the ground dying from multiple gunshot wounds. He has been identified as Akkier McKinney, 36, of the 5100 block of Leiper Street. He was taken to Frankford-Torresdale Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 12:08 a.m.
So far police have made no arrests and the motive is unknown.
On the same date at 11:24 p.m. police from the 14th District were called to the 1500 block of East Cardeza Street in response to another shooting. The victim has been identified as Chad Barnette, 31, of the same location. He had been shot in the chest by a still unknown assailant. He was pronounced dead at Albert Einstein Medical Center at 12:13 a.m.
Investigators said the motive was robbery but as of Tribune press time, no arrests had been made.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 12:04 a.m. police rushed to the 200 block of East Albanus Street in response to yet another shooting. The victim, identified as LaJuan Morrison, 29, of the 3100 block of North 29th Street, had been shot in the head,, He was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:13 a.m.
The motive so far remains a mystery and no arrests have been made.
On Oct.19 at 2:29 a.m. police responded to a report of gunfire in the 700 block of East Thayer Street. When officers arrived at the scene they found a young Black male lying on the ground, dead from multiple gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
He was identified as Sean Kinning, 20, of the 4100 block of M Street. Kinning was pronounced dead at the scene by responding medics.
As of Tribune press time, there had been 270 murders in Philadelphia this year.
The Philadelphia Police Department announced the arrests of four suspects wanted for at least 18 commercial robberies in the city.
According to investigators, on Monday, October 24, Police Officers Robert Hoover and Michael Minor, both assigned to the busy 12th District, responded to the report of a robbery in progress at the Rite Aid located at 7615 Lindbergh Boulevard.
When the officers arrived at the scene, they determined that two unknown young Black males entered the store just before closing. The suspects brandished semi-automatic handguns and demanded cash. The offenders also ordered the cashier to open a safe and remove all of the money. The males fled the location on foot with $2,343 and store merchandise.
Officers Minor and Hoover arrested the suspects and recovered three firearms in close proximity of the robbery. Through an intensive investigation, Southwest detectives were able to connect the two males to the robbery at the Rite Aid as well as link two additional males to a pattern of gunpoint robberies throughout the city since late August. To date, the four males have been charged with numerous counts of robbery, weapons offenses and related charges.
The suspects have been identified as: Marvin Gibson, 38, from the 3300 block of North Park Avenue; Anwar Mitchell, 19, from the 3300 block of North Park Avenue; and Jackson Doggette, 21, from the 3300 block of North Park Avenue. The fourth suspect is a 17-year-old Black male. Because he is a juvenile, police have not yet released his name.
In an unrelated robbery investigation, police have arrested a man wanted in connection with another string of robberies, including the armed robbery of a West Philadelphia bar.
On October 20, Eugene Calhoun, 48, was arrested on the 5500 block of Pine Street for the robbery of the Good Times Bar located at 5527 Lansdowne Avenue. After further investigation, Eugene Calhoun was identified as the alleged suspect for three additional robberies and is being charged accordingly. Calhoun was arrested without incident and will be charged with multiple counts of robbery and related offenses.
Crime is a problem in every city in America.
In Camden, New Jersey, the city’s economic woes have forced the city government to consider folding what’s left of its police force into a county department. Residents there are concerned about their safety, and criminals seem to conduct themselves with increasing impunity. It’s even worse in Chicago, where recently 19 people were shot in one weekend; 13 of them within just a few hours.
Then there’s Philadelphia, a city seemingly caught in a kind of purgatory between hell, where it’s as bad as it could get — and an urban heaven, where violent crime has been successfully and significantly reduced. Repeat offenders cycle through the city’s justice system; the recidivism rate is high, and employment opportunities aren’t plentiful. Conditions seem to invite a return to prison and for many, that’s just what happens — usually within two years of release.
This week, District Attorney R. Seth Williams spoke to the Tribune about his views regarding what drives violent crime in Philadelphia and what can and should done to prevent it. Since he became the first African-American district attorney in Philadelphia, his office successfully prosecuted and convicted Monsignor William Lynn, the first Catholic Church official to go down for allowing known child sexual predators to remain serving as priests. His assistant district attorneys built a case against former police officer Frank Tepper and convicted him of murder. They’re building cases against other police officers who dishonored their badges selling drugs, for manslaughter and other criminal acts. Most significantly, the highest profile criminals in the city right now are Rafael Jones and Chancier McFarland, both charged with murder in the slaying of police officer Moses Walker Jr. Both have preliminary hearings coming up next Wednesday.
Williams spoke at length about how to better prosecute the city’s worst criminals, but also how to save those who genuinely want to become a part of building up the community. He has no illusions about the depth and complexities of the problem and the limited resources at his disposal with which to do the job.
“I like to compare our prosecutors to the 300 Spartans,” he said. “You could argue that the odds are stacked against us, and even that we’re outnumbered. But eventually the Greeks beat the Persians — in the end, they won and so will we. The reality is I ran on a platform of reforming this office, which had the lowest conviction rate of the forty largest urban areas. At one time 59 percent of the felony cases were being thrown out at the preliminary hearing. It wasn’t that the ADAs weren’t working hard enough, but that the system was broken — and some people were angry just making those statistics public. Now, economically speaking, the budget for this office is less than when Lynn was district attorney. At her zenith, the were about 330 ADAs; we’re down to 290 now; so we have a smaller budget and fewer ADAs, but we’ve dramatically increased our efficiency, especially in how we hold cases for prosecution. We revamped the Charging Unit and tripled the number of ADAs that review cases. It’s not just enough to arrest someone; the police can make an arrest, but unless there’s a solid case against a defendant that case is going to get thrown out. We get our legitimacy from the community — if they know we’re fair — and for a long time this office was seen as an oppressor and not a protector. People need to know that we’re not going to just prosecute Pookie and Man-Man for selling weed or crack. If you’re a police officer and you do something wrong, or a Catholic Church official that knows about pedophile priests and you do nothing, or a Dr. Gosnell allegedly murdering eight people — you’re going to be charged. There’s the same standard of justice from one end of Germantown Avenue to the other end.”
In terms of what produces violent criminals and drives crime in Philadelphia, Williams said a number of different factors are at work, but he was quick to point out what he believes is the single most important contributing factor.
“It’s a connection of things — which is why we have to have a holistic approach. But most problematic is the high school dropout rate,” he said. “It’s close to 50 percent. When I talk to kids in schools or to people at community meetings and I ask that question they’ll raise their hands and say the criminals are Black. Yes, a disproportionate number of our criminals and victims are Black and brown people — but the number one commonality for criminals in this city is they didn’t finish high school. That’s across all demographics. My father used to take me to Sulzberger Junior High with him at night sometimes to play checkers. I never knew why, but I later found out that he did that on the parent-teacher night. He took me along because no parents were coming to meet him; but they would come on report card night to cuss him out. That’s the next big factor: a lack of parental involvement. When it comes to crime in this city, it’s a combination of economic development, education, public health and public safety.”
Williams said the number one mental health provider in the United States is the Los Angeles County Prison System. The second largest is the New York City prison system and the third is Cook County in Chicago. The nation used to provide more mental health services in its communities, he said, and then budget cuts under President Ronald Reagan shut down much of it.
“Take drug addicts — we have to treat them as addicts, not necessarily as criminals, but to get them help for their illness,” he said. “To make the city safer it’s not just about going after drug dealers. For every dealer there are about 50 or 60 addicts. To reduce crime, we have to keep kids in school and reduce truancy. Drug addicts need treatment; we have to improve literacy. Now that might not sound as sexy as more jail time, but the reality is that we have seven times the number of people in Pennsylvania’s prisons today than 30 years ago — but we’re not seven times safer. We have to have the right people in prison.”
Williams said he would like to see more diversionary programs, particularly for non-violent criminals and juveniles. You don’t want to put someone in prison for a small amount of marijuana, he said. Why spend thousands of dollars prosecuting someone who had $10 worth of marijuana, he questioned, when the resources could be better spent.
The district attorney also spoke candidly about the recent murder of police officer Moses Walker Jr. Walker was laid to rest on Monday, a day after the second suspect in the case, Chancier McFarland, turned himself over to the FBI after having gotten as far south as Mobile, Alabama. The alleged shooter in the murder, Rafael Jones, was arrested a few days after Walker was slain on August 18. Questions were raised as to how Jones, a man with a significant criminal history, was not already behind bars for violating his probation.
“All of the people who have killed police officers over the last several years all began their criminal careers as truants,” Williams said. “The system isn’t perfect, but at the same time people want due process, they want and expect checks and balances. We can’t just have someone make an allegation and then lock them away. The police just can’t enter your home without a warrant and you have the right to face your accusers. We can’t just point the finger of blame in this or any other case and say, ‘Well, if this had happened, maybe Officer Walker would still be alive.’ We have to do more to ensure that violent criminals have to be dealt with expeditiously, but we also have to adhere to our laws. Part of what we’re doing is called GunStat.”
GunStat, Williams said, is a collaborative effort using crime analysis methods already employed by law enforcement. By targeting high violence areas, police and the district attorney’s office are able to identify who the violent criminals in a neighborhood are — and where they are.
“We work with the captains of a particular district to identify who certain offenders are and then build real cases against them, rather than waiting for them to shoot someone and then specially assign a case,” Williams said. “We have these individuals under surveillance, observe them and build a case from that.”
Homicide detectives said they are unraveling a deadly shooting in North Philadelphia in which two people were killed and two others were wounded.
It happened on Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. in the 3000 block of North 8th Street. Police officers from the 25th District rushed to the location in response to a report of gunfire. When they arrived at the scene they found two males suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.
One of the victims, identified as Craig Lassiter, 38, of the same location was pronounced dead at the scene by responding medics. A second victim, Duane Talley, 36, of the 1200 block of West Seltzer Street was rushed to Temple University Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 8:09 p.m.
A third victim, a 31-year-old Black male was taken to Temple University hospital with a gunshot wound to the right thigh. As of Tribune press time, he is listed in stable condition.
A fourth victim, a 33-year-old female is listed in critical condition at Temple University Hospital with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Police are looking for suspects and a motive has not yet been determined.
In an unrelated homicide investigation police have arrested a 22-year-old Black male, charging him with murder in connection with a deadly shooting that happened on Wednesday, October 5th in West Philadelphia.
At 2:08 a.m. in the unit block of North Robinson Street, police from the 19th District responded to a report of gunfire. When they arrived at the scene they found a 37-year-old Black male on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head. He has been identified as William Tyler of the 400 block of North Horton Street. Tyler was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:25 a.m.
Police later arrested a suspect in the shooting, identified as Richard Fox, 22, of the 6400 block of Vine Street. Fox has been charged with murder and related offenses.
Police are also seeking a second suspect in the case and the investigation continues.
In another unrelated criminal investigation, Philadelphia police and federal authorities are still asking the public’s assistance in capturing a pair of bank robbers who hit the Beneficial Savings Bank branch office located at 826 East Allegheny Avenue Monday afternoon.
According to FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge J.J. Klaver, at approximately 11:42 a.m. the suspects entered the bank. While one man remained at the door, the other approached the teller counter and presented a threatening demand note. The two men fled the scene with an undisclosed amount of money in an unknown direction.
The first subject is described as a Black or Hispanic male with a light complexion. He is in his mid 20s and is 5 feet 10 inches to 5 feet 11 inches tall. He has a thin build, with a black beard and was wearing a tan zippered jacket.
The second subject, who presented the demand note, is described as Black or Hispanic male also in his mid 20s. He is between 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches in height. He is approximately 160 pounds, is clean-shaven and was wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and cargo shorts. One or both of the robbers may have dye stains on their skin and/or clothing.
Anyone with information regarding the suspects should call the Philadelphia Police Department or the FBI at (215) 418-4000. There may be a reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspects, and tipsters can remain anonymous.
Hafeezah Nuri-Deen, a young Muslim wife, mother and day-care operator, was on her way home early Saturday evening when gunfire exploded and her life was ended.
Law enforcement authorities said she had no criminal past and was not involved in any kind of high-risk behavior — in short, she was just an innocent bystander when at least three young Black males engaged in some kind of dispute opened fire.
“She was a totally innocent person,” said Capt. James Clark, commander of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit. “She was truly innocent, no criminal past, just a young mother and upstanding resident of the community. This is a real tragedy.”
Nuri-Deen held a Bachelor of Education degree from Cheyney University and a Master of Education degree from Cabrini College.
According to police reports, on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 7:53 p.m. officers from the 19th District responded to a report of a person with a gun in the 5800 block of Malvern Avenue. When police arrived at the scene they learned that the victim, Nuri-Deen, 31, had been taken to Lankenau Medical Center with gunshot wounds to the back and shoulder.
Physicians pronounced her dead at 8:34 p.m.
Witnesses said they saw two young Black males running from the scene of the crime. Investigators haven’t released much information regarding a possible motive or the identity of possible suspects. Law enforcement officials said, however, that the investigation is aggressive and proceeding.
“It appears at this point to have been some kind of confrontation between teenagers and, unfortunately, she got caught in the middle. We’ve got some direction, but no one is in custody, yet,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “We have some information regarding the case but I don’t want to give out too much information. Bad guys read the papers too.”
According to family members, Nuri-Deen was a mother of four and ran a day-care center on North 63rd Street. Her family lives in the 5800 block of Malvern Avenue where she was shot.
“The decedent was leaving her father’s house; he was taking her back home,” Clark said. “As they leave, they walk to his car; he enters the driver’s side and she’s about to enter the passenger side. As they’re doing this two young Black males run past them. Another young male at the end of the block, without any regard for anyone, starts shooting at the first two. He fired at least ten shots — two of those rounds struck the victim in the back and shoulder. Her father drove her to Lankenau Hospital where she was later pronounced dead.”
Clark also confirmed that so far no arrests have been made but also said the investigation is proceeding.
“We’re making good progress on the case and we’ve gotten cooperation from the community. Our detectives are working night and day on this, but if anyone has any information it would be greatly appreciated.”
Anyone with information regarding the identity of the suspects is urged to call the Homicide Unit at (215) 686-3334 or call 9-1-1.
Informants can be anonymous. Family members have set up a Facebook page for the victim to post prayers and show support. The site is aptly named We Must Find the Murderers of Hafeezah Nuri-Deen.