Tag Archive | "Crime"

Another Chance for Bronx Misdemeanor Ticket Holders

A small crowd trickled into the Mount Hope Community Center on Saturday, Sept. 17, hoping for help. Some clutched wrinkled pink police tickets, many held white invitation letters, folded three times, at their chest. At the front door, the new Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark, spoke to the press.

“So many times the Bronx is left out of things,” Clark said. “But I’m just going to make sure we always get what we deserve.”

The event, called Another Chance, was the first low-level summons warrant forgiveness program in the Bronx. There have been two in Manhattan and four in Brooklyn.

The Bronx has not been left out when it comes to the number of quality-of-life violation tickets issued. According to the Department of Investigation, the police department has issued more low-level misdemeanor tickets in the Bronx than anywhere else in the city. Residents who attended the event frequently described the tickets they received as “unnecessary” and “ridiculous.”

The Office of Court Administration sent 2,500 summons letters to Bronx residents who have outstanding low-level crime tickets. The letters invited the holders to come to the event and clean up their records. Ticket holders without letters from the other four boroughs were also welcomed. About 500 people attended.

The District Attorney’s Office tried to make the event light-hearted and relaxed. A DJ stationed near the front door of the community center played a song with the lyrics “tonight is going to be a good night”. Ticket holders got free lunch boxes with soda, chips, and sandwiches after meeting the judges. There were tables with information about community resources, including health insurance.

The Legal Aid Society helped organized the event. Attorneys at the front door pre-checked the eligibility of ticket holders who came to the event, making sure people with criminal summonses would not meet the judges and inadvertently get arrested.

A DJ played songs at the event. Sept. 17, 2016

While several Legal Aid Society staff snapped cheerful group photos, the Bronx District Attorney Deputy Counsel Julian Bond O’Conner spoke about the event as a way to foster a “positive interaction with the legal system of the community.”

Bronx residents said they were relieved to clear their records. Romel Solano said he was having a bad day when he visited the 40th Precinct earlier this year. When a police officer ordered him to wait behind a line, Solano responded with a profanity and got a ticket.

“It was pretty unnecessary,” Solano said, about the summons.

Kevin Cuffee said he was with two other friends in a park after it closed, and he was issued a ticket for littering.

“I wasn’t even littering,” he said. “[The police officer] told me he’s just giving me a ticket because I was in the park after dark. It was a tiny park between the buildings. People sit there all the time.”

A man who said his name is Gustavo, but refused to give his last name, said he got a ticket for having an open container in public. He said he opened a beer after a day working at a store, when two police officers walked in.

“Haha we got lucky today,” Gustavo imitated the police as saying, before giving him a ticket.

By the end of the day, more than 500 people were given advice, 350 cases were resolved. No residents were arrested. But compared to similar events in Brooklyn, the number of warrants cleared in the Bronx was much lower. The Brooklyn events average more than 600 cases resolved each time.

“We would of course like to have many more people, and were prepared for that, but the turnout was good for a first event,” said Patrice O’Shaughnessey, from the district attorney’s office. “Since some of the warrants were years old, the people we sent the letter to may have moved away.”

The high rate of summons tickets in the Bronx is a byproduct of the “broken windows” policing strategy, initiated by former police Commissioner Bill Bratton. The effectiveness of the policy, which aims to lower the overall felony crime rate by excessively focusing on the issuing of low-level crime tickets, is controversial. According the Bronx District Attorney’s office, there are more than a million open low-level crime summonses in the city.

“The Bronx is over policed,” said Legal Aid Society Attorney Mary Peppito. “The NYPD seem to mainly focus on some areas.”

The Police Department has not responded to questions about the number of tickets issued in the Bronx.

An open summons or warrant could impede immigration, housing, or job applications. The Bronx District Attorney Office says it plans to hold the event again, hoping to have more residents come and clear their records and their worries.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Community Resources, Crime, Featured, PoliticsComments (0)

‘Violence Interrupters’ Answer SOS in South Bronx

The whiteboard at the SOS South Bronx office displays the number of days since the last shooting in the territory SOS covers. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

The whiteboard at the SOS South Bronx office displays the number of days since the last shooting in the territory SOS covers. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

It’s hard to hold your breath for 108 days.

At Save Our Streets South Bronx, which launched in January 2013, a whiteboard in their Mott Haven office read “107” on Oct. 13 and “108” on Oct. 14. They dread when that tally of days without a shooting in their 20-block territory must go back to zero.

Save Our Streets, or simply SOS, originated in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in 2009 and has since expanded to 15 sites across the city. The City Council along with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the largest U.S. charity devoted to public health, have pumped millions of dollars into this unconventional anti-violence initiative modeled after Chicago’s CeaseFire program. Now called Cure Violence, the program was celebrated in the award-winning 2011 documentary “The Interrupters.” Cure Violence has been emulated in roughly 50 cities worldwide since its inception 15 years ago.

The cornerstone of Cure Violence is the work of “violence interrupters,” “credible messengers” and “outreach workers” who patrol the streets and nurture relationships with at-risk individuals, typically young people, in an effort to undo a culture of violence of which they themselves were once byproducts. A job flier for SOS South Bronx (they’re hiring) describes such responsibilities for violence interrupters as identifying youth who are gang members or at-risk for joining, finding tips on potential conflicts, mediating with those parties involved to prevent retaliations and diffusing “hot spots” where shootings are likely to occur.

The credibility of these paid staffers is rooted in empathy.

“What I like about Save Our Streets is it’s composed of staff and volunteers who are former gang members or drug abusers themselves, or people who have been incarcerated,” said City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods such as Morrisania and Melrose. “The best person you can get to really understand what a young person is going through is someone who has been in that situation before.”

Gibson allocated $5,000 of her discretionary funds for the 2015 fiscal year to SOS South Bronx. Democrat Robert Cornegy of Bedford-Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights set aside $9,000. The Council voted earlier this year to expand SOS efforts from three neighborhoods to 15, including new posts in the 44th, 46th and 47th precincts in the South Bronx.

Jeffrey A. Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, echoed Gibson’s assertion that knowing the streets is key for SOS employees. “They have to have some connection to the community that doesn’t make them seem like an outside meddler or do-gooder,” explained Butts. Researchers at his school are currently evaluating the Cure Violence model and its implementation in Crown Heights and the South Bronx. “Some of the programs have successful employees who’ve never been arrested, but they might be the son of a well-known gang leader,” he said.

SOS is guarded about disclosing details on its organization. An SOS staffer said the program’s parent organization, the Center for Court Innovation, clamped down on news media access after The Mott Haven Herald published the criminal record of an SOS interrupter. Robert Wolf, director of communications for the Center for Court Innovation, denied that claim but said “everyone is tied up here” and would be unavailable for interviews indefinitely. SOS staffers have been instructed not to participate in interviews without approval from the Center’s Midtown Manhattan office.

Butts, whose center at John Jay received more than $1 million from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and $750,000 from the city council to study Save Our Streets through 2016 in conjunction with the Center for Court Innovation, explained the concern over public scrutiny.

“These programs do get very skittish. There have been lots of stories about some of the dominant political infrastructure forces running to the media to explode the situation when something goes wrong,” Butts said.

“Cure violence does not conform with the dominant political culture surrounding public safety,” he added. “So when you’re talking about crime and violence in a public policy arena, people immediately think of policing, prosecution and punishment. This program does not fit that model, so you start off with immediate opposition from the people who think conventionally about public safety.”

In the South Bronx, SOS outreach workers are unarmed and identifiable by their red T-shirts. Although sanctioned by the city, they operate in communities where cooperating with police work is a serious taboo. Despite often being privy to criminal activity, SOS explicitly refuses to have contact with police.

“You have a disconnect with a lot of young people who don’t trust the police and don’t think police are there to serve the public and to protect them,” Councilmember Gibson said.

This wall of separation between law enforcement and social workers is not unusual.

“I was visiting some police departments in Washington, D.C., and they said they keep in touch with outreach workers at these types of programs, but only at the highest level,” Butts said. “They might hear, ‘Things are really heating up in this neighborhood’ or ‘We’re getting rumors that something is about to go down between this crew and that crew,’ but no individual names, no tip-offs and certainly no post-incident information to help the investigation find a perpetrator. As soon as you do that, word gets out and the whole program is dead.”

SOS South Bronx employs three interrupters and three outreach workers, all middle-aged, to engage a territory composed of four public housing complexes and about 20,000 residents. They work full-time Tuesday through Saturday, with shifts running as late as 2 a.m.

In Crown Heights, interrupters underwent 40 hours of training in direct consultation with Cure Violence experts in Chicago, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. SOS South Bronx is also in frequent contact with Chicago, allowing for a uniform implementation of the model.

Crown Heights had a homicide rate for those aged 15 to 24 nearly four times the city average in 2011, at 41.9 homicides for every 100,000 people in that age bracket, according to a report by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (The department is now an advisor to SOS.) Fordham / Bronx Park and High Bridge / Morrisania in the South Bronx were also in the top-five neighborhoods most plagued by youth gun violence. Whereas SOS Crown Heights developed a successful “Youth SOS” program driven by student volunteers, efforts to duplicate that youth engagement in the South Bronx have foundered.

“The youth are disempowered and basically have no opportunity. One of biggest frustrations from a social work perspective is when you’re not addressing the core causes behind these issues,” said Markus Redding, a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work who has worked extensively in non-violent conflict resolution. “It’s going to be very similar to what we do in the court system, which is reacting to what’s there but not getting at root causes like better education.”

The Crown Heights program reported recruiting 96 community members between January 2010 and May 2012 to participate in the SOS mission. All but one of these recruits was male, 94 were black and two were Hispanic. An SOS South Bronx official said his team has fostered about 25 such relationships.

Researchers led by Butts have interviewed roughly 200 people about gun violence in neighborhoods with and without SOS programs, and they are analyzing shooting data in these test and control areas. Butts would not give any tentative findings — their work began in February 2014 and will conclude around August 2016 — but he did outline basic variables that impact Cure Violence:

“To what extent are public institutions well-coordinated? Do social services people talk to the schools? Do law enforcement know their own community? How do neighborhood residents feel about their access to necessary support? Are police seen as an outside occupying force?”

The SOS South Bronx office displays posters advocating to end gun violence. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

The SOS South Bronx office displays posters advocating ending gun violence. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

SOS South Bronx has struggled to form alliances with institutions in the area. An exception is the Bronx Christian Fellowship, a church in Mott Haven where Rev. Que English has collaborated closely with SOS efforts. English reiterated the need to solve violence through means outside law enforcement.

“There’s an idea in these communities that if a cop kills us they’ll get away with it,” she said. “It’s circulated throughout generations. I once heard a 5-year-old say, “I don’t like cops.’”

Religious figures are a core component of the SOS strategy, according to literature distributed at the program’s Mott Haven office. One form reads, “Faith-based leaders are encouraged to preach against gun violence from their pulpits.”

What would it take for programs such as SOS to thrive in the pastor’s community?

“My first thought is a miracle,” English responded. “If we had a wish list, it would be ongoing community awareness and a lot of media coverage because we need to get the word out on violence to turn the tide.

“It’s going to take a while, and there’s no quick answer,” she added.

Anti-violence initiatives are not new in New York City. In 1979, Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels, whose red berets and jackets became trademarks of the amateur pseudo-police force that patrolled the subway amid a rash of violence. That operation was controversial for its vigilante approach, instructing volunteers to make citizens arrests and even providing them training in martial arts. The Guardian Angels do not accept volunteers with gang affiliations or serious criminal records.

But Redding and Gibson support the inclusion of ex-convicts in SOS South Bronx.

“With the prison industrial complex — we have more people incarcerated in the United States than any other country in the history of the world — there’s such labeling and the stereotyping of anyone who has committed a crime,” Redding said. “That lack of a second chance is very frustrating.”

In areas of Chicago where Cure Violence has been implemented, shootings are down 75 percent, according to cureviolenge.org. Crown Heights saw a 6 percent drop in shootings from January 2011 to May 2012 — the first year and a half of SOS activity — while comparable Brooklyn neighborhoods saw increases of 18 to 28 percent in that period. Experts say it is premature to conclude a cause-and-effect relationship between SOS efforts and diminished shooting rates, but they point to these data as cause for optimism about the efficacy of Cure Violence.

Still, Chicago is far from eradicating its gun epidemic or the culture behind it. The city has suffered 329 homicides in 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported, following 440 in 2013.

Lil Bibby, a 19-year-old at the forefront of the hardcore rap movement in a city nicknamed “Chiraq,” spoke in January on New York’s HOT 97 hip-hop radio station about gun violence in his hometown.

“In the last couple of years everybody got guns now, man. There ain’t no more fist fighting or arguing anymore, just guns,” Lil Bibby said. “Guns come out right away. There are kids, 13 or 14, playing with guns, and there ain’t no big homies telling them, ‘Stop this.’”

Several months later, HOT 97 debuted “Hot N—-” by the then-19-year-old from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, named Bobby Shmurda. The song is now ubiquitous on New York street corners, and it was blaring on repeat from a stereo across the street from the SOS South Bronx office on the day the whiteboard showed No. 95.

“Hot Boy,” as it’s called on the radio, reflects a pervasive gun culture that SOS staffers are fighting desperately to reform. Seven of the song’s first 10 lines, and most thereafter, draw on boastful anecdotes dealing with guns.

Although experts such as Redding note the peril of discounting underlying political causes behind crime, Save Our Streets is premised on changing a cultural mentality — as Butts put it, “accepting violence as normal behavior.”

“It’s not an easy thing or a quick thing, but I think it’s the only way you fix this problem,” he said. “If we continue to see community-level violence through the lens of a war on crime, it will just be a war on crime forever. It takes someone bold enough to say maybe there’s a new way to think about this problem.”

To keep urban shooting tallies like the one on the Mott Haven whiteboard low, must interrupters patrol violent street corners indefinitely?

“The foundational idea behind this model is that you implement it for three years or 10 years  — some period of time  — and you slowly shift away the social norms in support of violence, then you’re done,” Butts said. “There’s no need for people to be constantly funding programs to stop cigarette smoking: that cultural shift has already happened in this country. It’s the same thing with violence.”

Posted in Bronx Life, Crime, Culture, Southern BronxComments (0)

Defendant’s Girlfriend Testifies Against Him with iPhone Footage of Alleged Assault

A 25-year-old mother of two testified against the father of her six-month-old infant in Bronx Supreme Court on Wednesday, as the first witness in his trial on 28 counts of assault, possession of a weapon and attempted murder.

The witness, Vateya Prentiss, covered her face as the prosecutor showed the jury graphic video Prentiss had taken with her iPhone, recording the alleged crime that took place on January 6, 2013. “It’s disturbing. It bothers me, the way I was reacting and everything,” she said when Bronx District Attorney Marisol Martinez Alonso, asked why she had averted her gaze. Across the courtroom, wearing a trim dark suit, the defendant, Rodrigo Neri, 28, looked away as well.

Prentiss testified that she and Neri, her boyfriend of three years, were on their way to a friend’s house when they spotted an acquaintance, Jamell Mungin, standing outside of his apartment building at 863 Melrose Avenue near 161st Street. They saw Mungin run inside and come out again and Neri told Prentiss he thought Mungin had a gun, she said in her testimony. The two men began exchanging blows in a fistfight that Prentiss captured on her pink and white iPhone 4S.

The DA also played two other video clips, both from surveillance cameras outside of the victim’s building.

Together, the footage clearly shows Mungin swinging at Neri with a knife and stabbing him through his jacket before Neri shoved him down the concrete steps in front of his building. Mungin hit the pavement and lay there motionless. Neri, wearing Timberland boots, stomped Mungin’s head half-a-dozen times. Then Neri went up the stairs, calmly walked back down, and sliced Mungin’s face from his ear to his mouth. Mungin later received treatment for a fractured orbital socket and 60 stitches, according to the criminal complaint. Mungin has not been charged in the incident.

“I’m an animal,” Neri can be heard saying in iPhone the video.

Prentiss’s voice can be heard throughout the three-minute brawl, too. “Get that nigga, babe,” she said while continuing to film the altercation. “Get that bitch. Fuck him up.”

For egging her boyfriend on, Prentiss was also charged with assault and attempted murder. She pleaded guilty to the felony of assault with intent to cause serious physical injury, agreeing to testify in his trial in exchange for a sentence of five years probation.

The couple was also arrested for giving a false report to police on the day of the incident.  Leaving Mungin lying unconscious in a pool of blood, they took a cab to St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan –rather than going to nearby Lincoln Hospital — after Prentiss noticed that Neri was “leaking blood,” from stab wounds, according to her testimony. They told police at the hospital that Neri had acquired his wounds in a fight at a train station in the area.

At issue in the assault and murder case is whether Neri attacked Mungin with the intent to cause serious injury or to kill. The prosecution will argue that once Mungin was lying unconscious on the pavement and was no longer a threat, Neri crossed the line from self-defense into violent crime.

During a break in the trial on Wednesday, Neri dandled his young son, Princeton, on his hip for a few minutes before handing him over to a babysitter. After Neri left the area, Prentiss held Princeton and then pushed him in his stroller through the airy halls of the courthouse.

Prentiss said she and Neri are still a couple, but by court order, they are not allowed to see each other.

“It was nerve wracking to get up there and show people that video and have them paint whatever image they’re going to see of me based on that,” she said. “But the truth is the truth.”

Prentiss also faces a year in prison for an unrelated charge of assault against a friend, which violated the terms of her plea deal in this case.

 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, CrimeComments (0)

A memorial to Zulisker Redvetoski went up in front of 2414 Beaumont Ave. (ALICE GUILHAMON/ The Bronx Ink)

Belmont neighborhood shaken by killing of 22-year-old man

A memorial was put up in front of 2414 Beaumont Ave. (ALICE GUILHAMON/ The Bronx Ink)

A memorial in front of 2414 Beaumont Ave. for the latest victim of gunfire. (ALICE GUILHAMON/ The Bronx Ink)

On Thursday, nearly a week after a local 22-year-old man was fatally shot in the Belmont section of the Bronx, friends and neighbors gathered at a makeshift memorial in front of 3414 Beaumont Ave., where he had been gunned down. They had piled up dozens of candles, flowers and teddy bears in remembrance of Zulisker Redvetoski, whom they knew as “Zully.” Some left notes bidding him to “rest in peace” and they discussed their longstanding concern about shootings in the neighborhood.

Redvetoski was killed on Friday September 5th around 9 p.m., according to police. He was found with a gunshot wound in his torso on Beaumont Avenue at East 187th Street, and pronounced dead at St Barnabas Hospital. There were no arrests and the investigation is ongoing.

At his wake on Wednesday, friends, relatives, and neighbors flowed continuously in and out of the D’Bari funeral home. There was not one empty seat and many mourners had to stand in the back as scores of people passed by to pay their respects and comfort Redvetoski’s mother.

Friends and acquaintances wear this badge in remembrance of Zully (ALICE GUILHAMON/The Bronx Ink

Friends and acquaintances wear this badge in remembrance of “Zully.” (ALICE GUILHAMON/The Bronx Ink

After the wake, childhood friends and other acquaintances regrouped around the small memorial on Beaumont Avenue. On Thursday, a couple of young men stopped by, wearing large badges around their necks with Redvetoski’s picture on them. “We wear it to show our respect,” one of them said. Zully’s mourners categorically refused to share their names. Some tensely explained that they wanted to avoid trouble.

Redvetoski lived near Freeman Avenue with his mother. Neighbors said he was the father of a baby girl staying with her own mother. They described Redvetoski as “outgoing” and “a nice guy.” According to police, he had been arrested at least nine times for possessing marijuana and once for assault.

One of the slain man’s friends, Chris, said there is “a lot of heat between the blocks” around the neighborhood. He added that another one of his friends, John, met the same fate as Redvetoski two years ago.

Gang feuds have been raging in Belmont for a long time. A 1992 New York Times article  reported on that an attack took place at the same street corner more than 20 years ago. In the past year, there have been 14 shooting incidents in the 48th precinct, which covers Belmont. The local community board has listed Belmont as part of an “impact zone” — a high-crime area where extra police are deployed.

Across from the memorial, a man sitting outside one of the buildings, wary about revealing his name, said the disputes usually involve drug trafficking, especially around neighboring Prospect Avenue. A similar case of an unresolved shooting took place at the corner of Prospect Avenue and 187th  Street in 2012.

Some residents said that people were moving out of the neighborhood to escape the violence. In the nearby Vincent Ciccarone playground, Italian grandmothers complained about the absence of their children who moved upstate to raise their families in what they consider a safer environment. A young man who passed by the crime scene said he comes to Belmont to visit his mother, but that with the shootings around the area, he preferred to live elsewhere.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, FeaturedComments (0)

Skepticism over East Tremont Initiative to Fight Crime with Whistles

East Tremont residents have been worrying about the rising crime rates in their neighborhood, but they’re not too thrilled about a new plan for fighting the bad guys: whistles.

On July 27 on the steps of Borough Hall, community board leaders and elected officials — surrounded by cameras and expectant seniors — proudly launched their latest proposal: “Senior Citizens Whistle Blowers Public Safety Initiative.” The program aims to distribute whistles that elderly citizens will blow if they are in danger.

The first set of emerald-colored safety whistles were paid for by the medical group Healthfirst. (JUANITA CEBALLOS/The Bronx Ink)

The medical group Healthfirst paid for the first set of emerald-colored safety whistles that showcase their logo on the strap and the whistle. According to Laura Vialva, Healthfirst public relations manager, “roughly 11,000 whistles have been distributed.” Each whistle cost the company 95 cents.

But residents like Rebecca Alexander, 67, a long-term East Tremont resident, are skeptical. “Are they planning to solve the issues we have with a bunch of whistles?” said Alexander.  “It´s just a waste of time and money. Senior citizens will probably leave the whistles at home when they go out.”

That attitude isn’t the only problem. Yolanda Negron, director of social services at Casella Plaza, a housing facility that is home to over 1,000 seniors, is still waiting for the whistles that Healthfirst promised would give to the senior facility. “We gave them advertisement in exchange for 20 whistles,” said Negron. “It’s not my job to chase them and beg for the whistles they promised. If you start something, you have to finish it.”

When asked about Negrons’ complain, Laura Vialva said that there “has been a delay in the delivery of the whistles.” She said that instead of sending the whistles to directly the senior centers, Healthfirst sends them to the Community Boards. “If they don’t receive the whistles they can contact us or Ivine Galarza, Community Board 6 District Manager,” said Vialva.

Residents like Grayling McGinner, 56, say there wasn’t much publicity for the initiative. “I have not heard anything about it,” she said. “And now that I know, I can say that it has no sense. How are senior citizens supposed to blow a whistle if many of them have asthma and other respiratory diseases?”

Larcenia Walton, Bronx Borough senior services director, said community awareness is critical. “Kids play with whistles all the time,” she said. “If residents don’t associate the sound of a whistle with a senior in danger, this program is simply not going to work.

East Tremont retirees like Grover Fuller, 64, a member of Tremont Community Garden, is suspicious of the Community Board’s motives. “Initiatives of this kind are merely distractions from what is really going on,” he said. “It is just politics, nobody really wants to tackle the problems.”

Hellen Leda, director of Mt. Carmel Senior Citizens Center, agrees with Fuller. “It can be a good initiative as long as it is not a political strategy,” said Leda. “At this stage of the year,  you have to be really skeptical about politicians.”

Ivine Galarza, said that the raising crime rates numbers led her to launch the initiative. “I came up with this program because of all the crime that has been taking place in our community, particularly in the areas surrounding senior citizen buildings,” said Galarza.

Neither Galarza nor officers in the 48th Precinct have heard of a case where a whistle was used by a senior citizen to prevent a crime.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, East BronxComments (0)

Bronx Court Officers Honored for Stopping Gunfight near Yankee Stadium

Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz, Jr., center, praised court officers for heroic acts beyond their daily duties, including stopping a vendor gunfight in late August.

 

It was lunchtime on a sunny day outside Yankee Stadium  last month.

Bronx Supreme Court Officer Raymond Mercado had just picked up his Spanish takeout meal when he heard the piercing pops of gunfire and watched a crowd of people fleeing in panic.

 “Everyone was running away from the gunshots,” said Mercado, 42. “I was just looking for the shooter.”

He was one of six court officers who rushed to the scene Aug. 23 after an angry vendor opened fire on the busy corner of 161st Street and Gerard Avenue. Mercado picked up the revolver the shooter had flung on the sidewalk while his fellow officers chased down the suspect. “We did what we were supposed to do. We acted on our training and we acted as a team.”

On Thursday afternoon, Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz Jr. honored the court officers for their acts of heroism in a small ceremony inside Diaz’s office in the Bronx County Courthouse on the Grand Concourse. Besides Mercado, Diaz gave accolades to Bronx Criminal Court Officers Paul Tammaro, Vincent Allis and Wascar Herrera, and Civil Court Officers Steve Snyder and Katie Dalton.

“You make your job so effortless that we don’t realize that you’re prepared, you’re trained and you  have the heart and the courage really can take charge of the situation,” Diaz told the officers, who stood side by side in a small conference room while proud family members clapped and captured the moment on their cell phones.

Seven family members, mostly siblings, of Officer Katie Dalton, 48, said they were not surprised by their sisters’ bravery.

 “No one messes with Katie,” Dalton’s sister, 46-year-old Jennifer Russell, chimed in.

Court Officer Katie Dalton, 48, hugs her sister Thursday shortly after Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. commended her heroism during an Aug. 23 vendor shooting.

The alleged shooter, 52-year-old water stand vendor Horace Coleman, is accused of firing three to six rounds of ammunition  at a newspaper seller after getting into a big argument with him the day before over a turf war, witnesses told The New York Post.

By the time Dalton made it to the shooter, fellow officers had the suspect pinned down on the street, so she scrambled to help the victims. The shooter hit 60-year-old newspaper vendor Douglas Watkins and 41-year-old Clarence “Clay” Pearson in their torsos. Dalton knelt down by Pearson as officers waited for medical aid.

Dalton recalled Pearson saying, “‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she said. “I  just tried to keep him calm,  just tried to help him out, to make him feel better.”

Pearson died on Aug. 25, and Watkins survived. Coleman, who had sold sunglasses and bottled water, is facing murder charges.

Bronx County Administrative Judge Douglas McKeon commended the court officers for helping prevent the erratic gunfight from escalating further.

“Their commitment doesn’t end or begin at the courthouse steps,” McKeon said. “They truly epitomize the kind of characteristics that we need in officers today. When money is tight, they’re asked to do more.”

Amid budget shortfalls, the New York State Court system has eliminated more than 1,300 positions through layoffs and attrition over the past few years, including court officers from all ranks.

Mercado said he has aided police in a handful of similar scuffles during his eight years in the court’s civil division. He can’t help but feeling a little uneasy these days on his lunch break, and he tries to be extra vigilant as he strolls the crowded thoroughfares near the stadium.

 “It’s a little nerve-racking,” he said. “You don’t feel it while it’s happening; you feel it afterward, and then you start thinking you have a family.”

Mercado’s 5-year-old son, Justin, smiled wide as his dad shook Diaz’s hand and accepted his certificate. If he doesn’t cut it as a singer like Justin Bieber, Justin Mercado wants to become a cop or court officer like his father, Mercado’s wife, Jane, said.

“He looks up to his dad tremendously,” she said. “It’s exciting for him.”

Court Officer Raymond Mercado strives to be a good role model for his 5-year-old son, Justin.

Thursday’s awards ceremony also honored several other court officers for their acts of heroism in two other incidents. On June 19, Capt. Anthony Manzi, Sgt. Ramon Dominguez and court officers Jose Reyes and Carlos Rivera helped catch a man accused of burglarizing several vehicles in the area. Court Officer Angel Ripolls of the criminal division helped save a 1-year-old who was choking on Sept. 3.

“It’s cool for me to know that everyday people who are doing their jobs are here in our borough, and are also our heroes,” Diaz said.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, CrimeComments (0)

Bronx Robber Threatens Five More Victims with Hypodermic Needle

A robber who uses a hypodermic needle to threaten his victims was linked to five more incidents in the Bronx. The recent robberies make a total of eight reported incidents in the East Tremont area.

The police released a video of the man who is described as about 40 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall and 120 pounds. His victims, all male, and as young as 14 had iPads, cell phones or other electronics stolen when they were stopped, NBC New York reports. The man was last seen wearing a black leather Yankees hat, a black hooded sweatshirt, gray jeans and black sneakers.

Anyone with information in regards to these incidents is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS or atNYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

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Family Mourns Unsolved Murder of Bronx Woman

Pamela Graddick, a daycare worker, was last seen by a friend who shopped with her at the Gateway Center mall near Yankee Stadium. Relatives quickly took action two days after she vanished on August 11, posting flyers around Highbridge for clues of her status.

On September 4, Graddick, 26, was found stuffed in a trash bag near the Bronx River Parkway, the New York Daily News reports. Graddick was the youngest of four children. Family and friends mourn the loss of a woman who, according to her father, Bernard Graddick, was an excellent student and a star basketball player at Walton High School. She continued her academic and athletic career at Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York.

The NYPD and Yonkers detectives are investigating her death.

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