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Banger on the loose

Or, how an attempted murder and parole violation suspect got free to, police say, shoot again

by Jesse J. Smith
July 21, 2011 02:14 PM | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jeffrey “Banger J” Keith.
Jeffrey “Banger J” Keith.
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On Jan. 4, 2011, a 21-year-old parolee two weeks out of state prison was arrested and charged with attempted murder — accused of shooting a man and pistol-whipping a woman at a New Year’s bash at an illegal social club.

On April 20, he walked out of the Ulster County Jail after posting $100 bail. On Monday, July 11, police say, he and an accomplice unleashed a hail of gunfire outside a house on Smith Avenue which left two people seriously wounded.

A trail of court documents show that Jeffrey “Banger J” Keith, an alleged Bloods gang member, dodged felony charges and a potential parole violation linked to the New Year’s Eve shooting.

The story begins at 3:20 a.m. on New Year’s Day in the hallway of an illegal nightclub set up inside a converted factory building at 59 O’Neil St. The party, hosted by the Newburgh-based Street Cannibals Motorcycle Club was in full swing when a fight broke out between two groups of women. When a contingent of Street Cannibals members tried to break up the melee, police say, Keith and another, still unidentified, man pulled out pistols and started shooting. Police believe Keith shot one of the bikers in the chest and repeatedly slammed the gun into the head of a female club member, causing “serious physical injury which required emergency surgery …” Altogether, three club members were shot and a female party-goer was beaten and slashed with a razor.

Kingston Police detectives identified Keith as one of the gunmen and arrested him on Jan. 4. He was arraigned in Kingston City Court the same day. He was charged with attempted murder, felony assault, criminal use of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon. City Court Judge Larry Ball set bail at $100. It is unclear whether the bail was contested by the District Attorney’s Office.

In any case, the amount of the bail was irrelevant at the time; Keith, who was released from state prison on Dec. 20, 2010 after serving two years and two months for drug sales, remained jailed subject to a “parole hold.” Parolees who are arrested on new charges cannot make bail until they have a series of hearings to determine whether they violated their parole. The final hearing must be scheduled within 90 days of their incarceration. In Keith’s case, he faced parole violations not only for the new arrest, but for being out after his curfew and present in place where alcohol and drugs were used. In the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve shooting, police reviewed revelers’ cell phone videos and arrested three parolees who turned up on the videos. One of them, alleged Bloods member Demetrious “Meat” Dixon, had his parole revoked in January and served 90 days in the state prison system’s Willard Drug Treatment Campus.

Witnesses clam up

With Keith behind bars, Kingston police and the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office continued their investigation into the New Year’s Eve shootings. District Attorney Holley Carnright said that the prosecution initially appeared to be on track. But then, Carnright said, the case began to crumble as key witnesses backed off on their stories.

“The witnesses who were originally interviewed by police changed their stories and did not provide enough evidence for us to obtain an indictment,” Carnright said. “It’s an ongoing problem that we have with cases involving gang violence in Midtown Kingston.”

The District Attorney’s Office Chief of Investigations William Weishaupt said that the case hinged on a single witness, one of the victims, who got cold feet after a witness in another gang shooting case was identified in local newspapers after giving testimony in open court.

While prosecutors tried to salvage the case against Keith, parole officials probed alleged violations of the conditions of his release. According to Carol Weaver, spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Keith waived his right to a preliminary hearing in the case and remained in jail awaiting a final hearing. By April 6, however, Weaver said, the department had received no evidence from the DA’s office or police which could serve as the basis for parole revocation. With the 90-day time limit expiring, the hearing was canceled and the parole hold lifted. The only thing between Keith and freedom was $100 bail.

“There was no witness, no evidence,” said Weaver. “We had nothing to go on.”

Maybe a misdemeanor

Back on the streets, Keith still faced the original attempted murder, assault and weapons charges. It was not until June that prosecutors, running up against the time limit to obtain a grand jury indictment and still lacking a cooperative witness, began the process of moving the case to city court where, Carnright said, they believed there was enough evidence to support a misdemeanor assault charge. On June 17, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harp wrote to Judge Ball and the Ulster County Public Defender’s Office advising them that they planned to prosecute the case as a misdemeanor.

“After investigation, it is the opinion of your affiant that this matter should be returned to Kingston City Court,” wrote Harp. “By reason of the fact that your affiant believes that this charge could be more properly prosecuted as Assault in the Third Degree …”

The same day, Carnright filed a “Prosecutor’s Information” officially charging Keith with misdemeanor assault (defendants can be charged with misdemeanor crimes at the discretion of the DA without a grand jury indictment). On June 21, County Court Judge Donald Williams signed off on Harp’s motion officially moving the case to Kingston City Court. Keith never got there.

On July 11, a little after midnight, police say Keith and Jones, armed with a .357-caliber lever action rifle and a pump shotgun, approached a group of people standing outside a two-family home at 173 Smith Ave. In the crowd, according to KPD Lt. Egidio Tinti, were members of the rival Crips gang who lived at the house. Police believe Keith, Jones and accomplice Eric “E-Rock” Moon were seeking revenge for an altercation that occurred a day or two previously outside the Grand Slam Tavern. The pair, Tinti said, opened fire on the crowd.

A 19-year-old woman was struck below her hip, in the back and in the neck. A 25-year-old man was shot once in the back. Neither victim, police believe, was the intended victim of the attack.

“[The victims] just happened to be in a group of people that they had a beef with,” said Tinti. “They were not the targets.”

As the crowd scattered, police said, Jones, Keith and Moon (whose role in the attack was not specified) ran to a waiting car and drove away from the scene. All three men were arrested without incident on July 13. According to Tinti, the weapons recovered in the attack were turned over to police by a person with knowledge of the attack, but who was not involved.

All three men are charged with felony assault, gang assault (an assault carried out by three or more participants) and felony conspiracy. Keith and Jones are also charged with felony criminal possession of a weapon and felony criminal use of a firearm. All three men were arraigned in Kingston City Court and jailed. Moon’s bail was set at $100,000; Jones was denied bail altogether. This time, Keith’s bail was set at $100,000 and he is, once again, on a parole hold.
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