The violence occurred in a second floor hallway at 59 O’Neil St., an old factory building which houses a number of small business and workshops including a plumbing business, carpentry shop and dance studio. Behind one door, though, police said, two Kingston men had set up an illegal social club complete with a full bar, gaming tables and sound system. On New Year’s Eve, the club hosted what police believe was its debut event — a bash thrown by the Newburgh-based Street Cannibals motorcycle club. On its Facebook page, the club advertised the soiree as a “New Year’s Eve Banger” featuring free-flowing champagne.
According to city police, the club provided security for the event while the club’s owners provided bartenders and their own security, which checked attendees for weapons. Police say the party took place in two upstairs rooms which housed the social club, and spilled into the second-floor hallway. As the party was winding down around 3:21 a.m., police said, a fight broke out between two groups of women in the hallway. During the fight, which police believe involved up to 15 women, a 19-year-old Kingston woman was slashed across the face with a razor, doused in pepper spray and beaten. When the Street Cannibals president, female secretary and two male members moved to break up the brawl, police said, two male partygoers drew pistols and opened fire with at least five shots from a small-caliber semi-automatic pistol and a small-caliber revolver.
The club president was shot in the stomach and hand, a second club member was hit in the chest and a third sustained a gunshot wound to the leg, which lodged in his femur. The secretary was clubbed on the head with a pistol butt and suffered a serious head wound. All four remained hospitalized as of Monday Jan. 3. According to police, all of the victims were gone when cops arrived on the scene moments after receiving a 911 call.
The president and the member shot in the chest were driven to Kingston Hospital by friends. The man with a leg wound showed up at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Orange County some time later. The secretary was driven to Vassar Brothers Medical Center by her boyfriend, who was DJing at the party, police said.
When police arrived at the scene, according to Kingston Detective Lieutenant Tim Matthews, dozens of partygoers were observed leaving the building and heading up O’Neil toward Broadway. When cops tried to enter the building, Matthews said, Street Cannibals member Yvette Seiler, 39, of Kingston tried to prevent them from reaching the crime scene. She was charged with misdemeanor interfering with an investigating officer.
When Kingston cops, joined by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies reached the second floor, they found large amounts of blood, torn-out women’s hair weaves, and shell casings scattered on the floor.
By the next afternoon, Matthews said, police had begun to piece together a chain of events leading from the nearby Grand Slam bar on Grand Street to the blood-splattered hallway at 59 O’Neil. According to Matthews, the investigation included interviews with Street Cannibals members and other partygoers, tips from informants and a review of video shot at the party.
According to Matthews, the trouble began at the Grand Slam early on Christmas morning when Tamia Spencer, 24, Tiffany Perry, 19, and Latoya Houser, 21, all of Kingston, assaulted a 19-year-old Kingston woman, breaking her jaw. The assault was never reported to police. One week later, the assault victim, with her jaw still wired shut, ran into her alleged assailants again at the 59 O’Neil party, sparking the brawl. According to police, the woman who had her jaw broken was the same victim who was slashed and beaten at the party.
Houser, Perry and Spencer were arrested over the weekend and charged with felony counts of gang assault and assault for both incidents. On Monday, meanwhile, police arrested Jeffery “Banger J” Keith, 20, of Port Ewen. According to Matthews, Keith, an alleged Bloods Gang member was paroled from state prison on Dec. 20 after serving two years and two months of a three year sentence for selling drugs, was one of the gunmen who opened fire.
Let’s go to the videotape
In the days after the shootings, police used witness statements and a review of video shot at the party to identify three more parolees and alleged Bloods at the party. All three were charged with violating parole for being out after curfew, drinking alcohol or smoking pot at the party.
Jamal Moore, 27, of Kingston was paroled in September after serving a year in prison for criminal contempt related to a domestic violence complaint, police said. Javon “JG” Williams, 20, was recently paroled following a drug conviction, Matthews said. Demetrious “Meat” Dixon, 29, of Kingston was paroled in October after serving two and a half years of a three-year sentence for drug possession.
Matthews said that detectives were trying to determine whether one of the parolees was the second triggerman in the New Years shootings. “We are actively investigating that possibility and we do expect more charges,” said Matthews.
While police unraveled the circumstances of the shootings, authorities moved quickly to investigate the illegal social club where the violence took place. Two Kingston men, Dezmond Stokes and Kiswan McComb, both 35 and both of Kingston, were arrested on Jan. 1 and charged with felony reckless endangerment. Police say the men leased the space and had set up the illegal social club. According to Matthews, the men also took out insurance for the party through a company in Newburgh.
According to Paul Benkert, the 59 O’Neil landlord, McComb had rented space in the building to house a recording studio, Black Digital Productions, for about a year. Benkert said that there had been no problems reported at the studio during that time. According to Benkert, McComb left the space for a few months, then returned with Stokes in October to sign a lease for a larger space. According to Matthews, the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team learned from an informant in November that Stokes, who served eight months in prison for a 2005 drug conviction, was trying to set up an illegal social club somewhere in Kingston. But, Matthews said, the informant did not know where the club was located.
When police did find the social club following the shooting, they learned that the two partners had carried out extensive renovations. In addition to the sound system and bar, Matthews said, the space was outfitted with mirrors, carpeting, a jukebox, a video poker machine, and a pool table with a green felt cover which doubled as a gaming table. “It certainly appears that they put a few thousand dollars worth of work into the space,” said Matthews.
Fire Chief Rick Salzmann, who inspected the space with members of the Building and Safety Division following the shooting said that the club was a fire safety nightmare with a single narrow staircase serving as the only means of escape from the second floor. Salzmann said that when he realized that 300 people had jammed into the space (described by Benkert as about 1,400 square feet) he immediately thought of the 1990 Happyland Social Club fire in the Bronx. The blaze started on a staircase by the jilted boyfriend of a coat check girl killed 87 revelers who were trapped by the flames.
“All it would have taken was one guy to get pissed off and throw a Molotov cocktail on that staircase, and that would have been it,” said Salzmann.