Gunfire calls in Henderson nearly tripled in three years

By  of The GleanerGunfire calls in Henderson nearly tripled in three years

Beth Smith / The Gleaner This map locates every 'shots fired' call received by Henderson police in the East End from February 2013 through February 2016. Orange points represent incidents from February 2013 through February 2014. Red points represent incidents from February 2014 through February 2015. Blue points represent incidents from February 2015 through February 2016.

Beth Smith / The Gleaner This map locates every ‘shots fired’ call received by Henderson police in the East End from February 2013 through February 2016. Orange points represent incidents from February 2013 through February 2014. Red points represent incidents from February 2014 through February 2015. Blue points represent incidents from February 2015 through February 2016.
Posted: March 20, 2016

By Beth Smith of The Gleaner

On Feb. 7, Henderson police responded to Methodist Hospital where a 19-year-old man was being treated for an injury caused when a bullet grazed his shoulder.

According to authorities, the shooting occurred in an alley in the part of the city known as the East End. The victim told police he didn’t know who shot him, but that it could have something to do with an “ongoing feud” between him and other individuals. No arrests were made.

On Feb. 22, city police were dispatched to the area of Lawndale Court, also considered part of the East End, after 911 calls began rolling in regarding gunfire. During the investigation, it was discovered that two vehicles had been damaged by bullets, and authorities said they found five 9-mm casings. Witnesses said two black males were seen, and one of them fired a handgun toward Fagan Street. No injuries were reported.

On Feb. 24, officers arrested Samuel Green, 18, 1400 block of Powell Street, while investigating an incident of shots fired on Lakeview Drive. HPD’s K-9 unit found a revolver in a crawl space nearby and a shell matching the revolver was found in Green’s pocket, city police said.

The number of calls involving gunfire within the city has almost tripled since 2013, according to Henderson Police Chief Chip Stauffer, and during the last year has moved from sporadic locations throughout Henderson to primarily the East End.

Geographically, the boundaries of the East End include Meadow Street to Atkinson Street and Washington Street to Sand Lane or Madison Street, he said.

“When we see a trend like this, we look to see if there’s a commonality of where the incidents are occurring,” Stauffer said. “We try to isolate the area of town and gather information or intelligence — especially if we see an increase like we have — of who might be involved.”

“The number of ‘shots fired’ calls is not exact,” he said. “But after looking for 911 calls just within the city coded as ‘shots fired’ or suspicious circumstances in which the term ‘shots’ was in the text, we were able to determine that between February of 2013 and February 2014, there were 27 of those calls. From February 2014 to February 2015, there were 52 calls and from February 2015 to February 2016, we’ve had 69 of those calls.”

Stauffer said the police department is not only aware of the violent movement, but is digging into the cause — despite resistance from the victims themselves and some community members who are reluctant to get involved.

Although information has come in slowly, Stauffer said police have discovered the display of firepower is a form of “intimidation” between two groups in the East End feuding over issues related to the illegal drug trade in the city.

“When these incidents happen, there’s not a lot of information that people will provide. We know of one instance, which wasn’t reported to us, where a person was struck by a bullet and received a nonlife-threatening injury. The victim didn’t report it,” Stauffer said. “We’ve had two other incidents which were reported to us where people have sought medical attention, but victims didn’t want to cooperate with the investigation.”

“What we’re finding, with the information we have, is that most of the time, these ‘shots fired’ calls are associated with some type of intimidation, like ‘I’ll show you’ type of thing,” he said.

“I hate to use the word ‘gang,’ but young people are identifying with other young people from the same geographic area … We deal with two different groups and somewhere along the line the groups have clashed or had an issue and a lot of the issues develop over illegal drugs … someone they knew bought drugs and got shorted, or they bought drugs that were bad … Before long, one group starts talking about the other group and then they pull out guns just to show they aren’t scared.”

“Historically in Henderson, when we have a lot of ‘shots fired’ calls, this is what we find to be the cause,” Stauffer said.

“Several years ago we had two opposing groups, not from Henderson, who came into Henderson. We had an increase in ‘shots fired’ calls. It had to do with illegal drug trade. The groups were each trying to take over (distribution) and there was a rub with local groups who are involved in trafficking illegal drugs.”

Stauffer said the majority of guns circulated among these groups have been stolen.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people who own firearms leave them in unlocked vehicles, and they get stolen,” he said. However, “We’ve seen an increase of thefts of guns in general” whether from vehicles or residences.”

“Now we’re seeing the (stolen) guns in the hands of teens and young adults ranging from ages 14 to 19,” Stauffer said.

“Typically, guns become a commodity,” he said. “My belief is it’s pushed from the addictive culture that we have, the addiction to legal substances and illegal substances. The addict needs his/her vice and a gun becomes a potential commodity to get what he/she needs. So when illegal drug trafficking is occurring and you don’t have money, but you have a gun, you can get your drugs for the gun. All of a sudden, you have these folks dealing drugs who are getting guns, because it’s a form of payment. I think some people are stealing guns, but I also think they are being used as a system of bartering to get what they want.”

The number of “shots fired” incidents has quieted down recently, which Stauffer attributes to the arrest of Green and a 15-year-old. But, Stauffer said, the fear is that the feud between the groups will ignite again and innocent people will be hurt.

“Samuel Green is in one of the groups and the 15-year-old is in the other group,” he said. “They were allegedly firing off rounds in the block where the other group is living. Bullets were being fired into the air or into the ground,” which generated several of the 911 calls.

“However, the fear is that it is going to escalate. If someone gets shot, the belief could be ‘If they shot one of mine, I’m going to shoot one of theirs,’ and it gets more violent and you have more victims, potentially innocent victims.”

Without the community’s cooperation, Stauffer said, law enforcement is greatly limited in its ability to investigate crimes and ultimately protect the residents in the affected areas.

“Most recently, we’ve been told ‘You’re the police. That’s your job.’ I won’t argue it’s not our job,” Stauffer said. “What I would argue is that individuals who reside in these areas of town, this is where they live all the time. It’s important for us to provide safety and reassurance that we’re going to be there when they need us, but at the same time, we need open communication to help us investigate these crimes. The big fear is that an innocent individual gets hurt. Then everything changes.”

“What if it was your family member who got hurt? Would you want community members who had information to step forward? Generally, people will eventually give us enough information that we can start building a case. The unfortunate thing is usually they know that information immediately, but it takes weeks for us to develop it, as opposed to minutes or hours. When we have the information the investigation speeds up and we can make an arrest,” he said.

“Right now is, there’s not any cooperation,” Stauffer said.

For example, last June when Henderson resident Isaiah Ruby, then 19, was shot in the head during a dice game at the John F. Kennedy Center basketball courts, no one called 911, despite a large crowd being present, Henderson Police Detective Eric Ramsey said during court testimony on the matter.

Ruby, who survived the shooting, was taken to the hospital in a private vehicle, officials said. Medical personnel notified police they were treating someone with a gun shot wound.

Police said out of the large group at the ball courts that night, only two witnesses stepped forward. They helped investigators identify the shooter as Devin Johnson, also of Henderson.

Johnson was arrested and pleaded guilty to a charge of third-degree assault under extreme emotional disturbance. He was sentenced to five years, but served only 42 days before being granted shock probation. Prosecutors told The Gleaner, that the decision to agree to shock probation stemmed primarily from the lack of cooperation by the victim and witnesses.

Stauffer said the violence won’t stop without a community/police partnership.

The police department is working with city officials and organizations to develop a program similar to one called Safe Communities.

“Safe Communities,” said City Commissioner Robby Mills, “is an effort to raise awareness and do more community policing and get neighbors to talk. We really need communication. Because until people start talking and get tired of seeing drug dealing on their streets, then the police can only do so much.”

Stauffer said the program is very much in its infancy.

However, he said, the community can still help stymie the flow of crime.

“Be our eyes and ears,” he said. “Be willing to talk to us. You can call the police department, use social media and leave a message through Henderson County Crime Stoppers.

“The community sees things that we don’t,” Stauffer said. “They are present when we are not. That one little piece of information that they think isn’t a big deal, could be the one thing that ties an investigation all together — whether it’s as simple as ‘I heard the sounds, looked out and saw a red car.’”

“At that point, we may know who the players are but we don’t have a vehicle. Suddenly a red car gives us a possible vehicle and it could be tied to other things going on,” he said. “So share the information.”

“It’s hard because in today’s society no one wants to get involved. But we as a community and as a society have to step up and say, ‘We are going to get involved. We’re not going to let these people ruin our neighborhoods and scare our younger children. We’re going to take an active role. And we’re not going to be bullied, whether it’s a block, the East End, an apartment complex.’ The community is going to have to take a stand. When the community takes a stand, we as the police can focus on who we believe is causing the problem. Then everybody wins.”

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