Gunfire broke out around midnight on Monday, July 11 outside of a two-family house at 173 Smith Avenue. According to police, a group of people was hanging around near the front door of the residence when another group approached. At least two gunmen opened fire.
A 19-year-old woman fell to the ground with gunshot wounds to the chest and lower abdomen. She was taken to Kingston Hospital by ambulance and later airlifted to Albany Medical Center.
A 25-year-old man was hit once in the chest. He was driven to Kingston Hospital by friends before being flown to Albany for further treatment.
Both victims remain hospitalized in stable condition.
Rosita Morales, who lives next door, said that she was awakened by gunfire and ran to her bedroom window in time to see a light-skinned black man running through the front yards toward Cornell Street. Outside, she said, a small woman (Morales initially believed it was a child) lay on the ground bleeding while a man knelt over her crying and a woman dialed 911 on a cell phone.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Morales. “It’s always so quiet here.”
Kingston city detectives and members of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team and district attorney’s office worked around the clock developing leads in the case. By Wednesday, July 13, cops had three men in custody.
Jeffrey “Banger J” Keith, 21, of Port Ewen, and Bryan “BJones” Jones, 24, and Eric “E-Rock” Moon, 22, both of Kingston, were each charged with felony assault. As of press time, all three men were being held at Kingston police headquarters awaiting arraignment.
Kingston Police Department lieutenant Egidio Tinti said that detectives were still following leads and there could be more arrests.
Police believe that the shooting was related to a previous dispute at the Grand Slam bar. According to Tinti, residents of the 173 Smith Avenue who were not among the victims had gotten into a fight with one or more of the suspects at the tavern in the days before the shooting. That account jibes with the story of a man who said that he was familiar with the dispute. The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Moon had been involved in an altercation with two brothers who reside at the Smith Avenue address.
“They beat his ass,” said the man, who was not present at the shooting. “So I guess E-Rock went and got his boys.”
District attorney chief of investigations William Weishaupt, meanwhile, cited “gang retaliation” as the motive for the crime.
Keith, who police identified as one of the triggermen, is one of two men who police say opened fire at a raucous New Year’s Eve party at an illegal social club at 59 O’Neil Street. Three members of the “Street Cannibals” Motorcycle Club, who hosted the party, were shot in the melee. A fourth was pistol whipped.
Keith, who had been paroled from state prison after serving two years and two months of a three-year sentence on drug charges, was charged with attempted murder and assault in that case. The New Year’s Eve shooting, like the Smith Avenue attack, was allegedly linked to a previous altercation at the Grand Slam. According to police, the violence at the illegal social club broke out during a confrontation between two groups of women over a Christmas-morning brawl at the tavern.
According to Weishaupt, the attempted murder case against Keith collapsed after one of the victims, the only witness willing to cooperate with the investigation, backed out of the prosecution. Without a witness willing to identify Keith as a shooter, Weishaupt said, prosecutors were left with no choice but to transfer the case to city court and “quietly try and force a plea deal” on a misdemeanor charge.
Weishaupt said that the victim had stopped cooperating after he read a March 4, 2011 article in the Daily Freeman which identified a key prosecution witness in another gang-related shooting. Curtis “Black” Williams was acquitted of weapons possession charges stemming from a November shootout on Henry Street with alleged Bloods gang member Jarrin “Phat Boy” Rankin. The Daily Freeman and Kingston Times both printed the name of the witness, who testified in open court, over the objections of district attorney Holley Carnright, who argued that identifying the witness could put his life in jeopardy.
“The [witness to the New Year’s Eve shooting] saw this informant’s name all over the newspaper and said, No way, I don’t want anything to do with this,” said Weishaupt.