By Paul Duggan and Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Diane Groomes finally got home about 3 a.m. and caught maybe an hour's sleep before a familiar sound jolted her awake: her pager.
As an assistant D.C. police chief, Groomes is always on call, and she had worked for hours at the scenes of three shootings before driving home for some shut-eye. Now, at 4:30 a.m. last Saturday, her pager was beeping again from under her pillow, where she was sure to hear it. Groomes squinted at the message screen. "It said 5D was working three deceased, 1100 block of Holbrook," she recalled.
"So I jump up, and I'm like: 'What? You got to be kidding!' "
It was a triple homicide in the 5th District, a swath of Northeast Washington where police had added patrols, stepped up investigations and targeted illegal guns in response to a sudden spike in violence. Officers had been close enough to hear the shots on Holbrook Street, but not so close that they could stop the attack or catch the killer.
In nearly 18 years on the force, Groomes had experienced few evenings so bloody. The body count after the Holbrook shootings was six dead in seven hours at the start of last weekend -- and the overnight toll would rise to seven with the discovery of yet another homicide victim a few minutes after dawn. The killings were unrelated, all taking place within a two-mile radius. Only one arrest has been made.
This is a look at those deadly hours that led police to ratchet up enforcement, and an accounting of the slain: an angry ex-boyfriend killed by police after a domestic dispute; a furniture mover who might have wounded his killer in a gunfight; a street-corner dice player who rolled snake eyes for the last time; three friends, two of them mentally impaired, cut down in a hail of bullets; and an elderly eccentric butchered in the front seat of his old car.
The bloodshed on Holbrook was in the Trinidad neighborhood, where police will set up a checkpoint tonight in hopes of keeping criminals away. Police call it a tool. Critics call it a desperation tactic.
Pulling up to the Holbrook crime scene in her unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, Groomes, head of the department's patrol bureau, could see last Saturday's first gray light breaking. "As I walk down the street," she recalled, "I see bullet casings just everywhere. I see this gentleman just laid out in the street. As I continue to walk, I see another gentleman just laid out in the alley. The third gentleman, he was in the truck. He's just laid back in the seat.
"It's surreal," Groomes said. "It's like it's there, but it's not there, you know? You see human life laid out in the street, laid out in the alley. It's haunting."
The whole night.
Friday, 9 p.m.
Clyde Tinch, after arguing with an ex-girlfriend, is standing in a school field off Trinidad Avenue NE, holding a knife. Two D.C. police officers, carrying 9mm guns, eye him warily. Police will say that they ordered Tinch to drop the blade -- again and again -- but that he lunged at them, leaving them no choice but to fire.
The last time Corenthia McCutcheon saw her 52-year-old brother, he was leaving the house they shared on Lang Place NE, dressed for another of the Friday night parties he enjoyed attending at a nightclub a few blocks away.
Tinch, nicknamed "Pooh-Pooh," had a record of drug-related arrests in the late 1980s and 1990s but in recent years seemed committed to turning his life around, relatives said. He was often seen zipping about on a moped working as a messenger and had recently completed an apprentice program with Goodwill Industries, they said.
Still, at least one problem remained: Tinch had an emotionally volatile relationship with a former girlfriend, Monica Smith. In 2005, Smith had complained in D.C. Superior Court that Tinch choked and threatened her. The court issued an order, long since expired, requiring him to stay away from her.
Shortly before 9 p.m., police and relatives said, Smith called 911 to report that he was at her apartment in the 1600 block of Trinidad, threatening her with a knife.
Tinch was gone when Officers Hosam Nasr and Michael Callahan arrived minutes later. But he called Smith while they were interviewing her. "He said he was coming back to kill her," Groomes said. "And she put him on speaker. And the officers were telling him, you know: 'Why don't you do the right thing? Why don't you come back and talk to us?' And that's when he says he's right out back in the field."
Nasr and Callahan found Tinch in the field at Webb Elementary School. An investigator said Tinch would not drop a folding knife with the blade out. According to a police statement, the officers shot him because they were "in apparent imminent fear of their lives."
McCutcheon said she doesn't buy the police version. "He's not the type to challenge an officer," she said. Smith declined to comment.
Groomes, on duty since 8 a.m., had just left a community meeting when she learned that two officers in her command had killed a man. She went to the scene for a few hours, then drove home to Greenbelt. She was thinking about a late dinner when her phone rang -- a double shooting.
So she got in the Crown Vic and headed back to the city.
Saturday, 12:45 a.m.
Shannon Shamar Lewis is standing in the parking lot behind an aged three-story brick apartment house on C Street SE. What words, if any, are spoken is unclear. A gunfight erupts. A bullet catches Lewis in the chest. He will not survive.
During the day, the squeals of schoolchildren fill the air around 53rd and C streets SE, where Lewis lived with relatives in the squat apartment building. At night, residents said, the streets fill with outsiders, many of them unsavory. About 10 p.m., Lewis, 27, a furniture mover, was at work, and his grandmother called him before she went to bed.
"Be careful," she urged him, a message she imparted daily.
Less than three hours later, gunshots outside woke Lewis's mother and grandmother in the apartment, and after the shooting stopped, they ventured to investigate.
They saw one man wounded in the front of the building. In the parking lot in back was their loved one, sprawled on the pavement.
A graduate of Woodson High School, Lewis had talked about joining the Marine Corps or perhaps trying to purchase a dump truck to start a hauling business. "He did nothing wrong; he was respectful," said his father, John Tabb, a truck driver who lives in North Carolina with his wife and three other children.
But police said Lewis got into a gun battle with Jason Dale, 24, of Oxon Hill, who was later charged with second-degree murder. Dale also was wounded, police said. They found him in Prince George's County after the shooting, and he remains hospitalized. Another man was shot in the leg.
As Groomes surveyed the C Street scene, her phone rang. It was her executive officer, Cmdr. Melvin Scott, the bearer of bad news. "Male shot in the head or neck was the call I got," she said.
Saturday, 1:30 a.m.
Neighbors on Abbey Place NE gripe about it constantly: a cluster of young guys blocking the sidewalk, huddled over dice and a small pile of cash, hooting and bickering. Kevin Turner is in the game now. An argument flares. There's a gun. Shots ring out. The dice players scatter -- all but Turner. He is sprawled on the pavement, bleeding.
"So I get there," Groomes said, "and you can figure out right away that it's probably a crap game, and something bad happened."
In the 1100 block of Abbey, where the brick rowhouses are painted blue and yellow, and purple and green, and front yards are thick with pink roses and blue petunias, young troublemakers are an every-night sight, using drugs and shooting dice, older neighbors said. "We said it was going to happen," said Frederick Branch, 72, a retired Marine who has lived on the block near Union Station for 44 years. "Sooner or later, it's going to happen."
He was in bed about 1:30 Saturday morning when loud cursing on the street awakened him. Then he heard gunshots. When he looked out a window, he noticed a crowd scattering. From his angle, he couldn't see Turner, 29, dying on the sidewalk.
"You could hear the shots going off," said Tony Murray, 54, who lives a few doors away. "Seven, eight, nine shots."
Turner, who lived four blocks away on Sixth Street NE, made his living driving a dump truck, said a man who identified himself as an uncle of Turner's. "He was working. He was doing everything he was supposed to do. He was helping out around the house. . . . He wasn't harmful to nobody."
Homicide detectives canvassed for witnesses. Crime scene techs gathered what evidence they could find. There wasn't much for Groomes to do. "So then I got to go home."
She climbed into bed, slipping her pager under the pillow as always. Then came the beeping.
Saturday, 4 a.m.
As Duane Hough steers his GMC Yukon onto Holbrook Street NE, driving with two friends, maybe taking them home after a night of clubbing, gunfire ruptures the quiet. One shooter, or two, sprays the Yukon. Johnny Jeter and Anthony Mincey scramble out of the sport-utility vehicle and are shot as they try to flee.
Those were the dead men Groomes saw as she walked the scene: Mincey, 35, an amateur rapper who lived for nightclub karaoke nights; Jeter, 24, who was Mincey's closest pal; and Hough, 37, a Persian Gulf War veteran and well-liked Government Printing Office employee, a casual friend of the two.
How Mincey and Jeter, who were virtually inseparable, ended up in Hough's SUV appears to be anyone's guess. Mincey and Jeter each told relatives that they were going to a club together but apparently didn't say where. Hough's mother, Rosalind Hough, said that she last saw her son about 12:30 Saturday morning, in their home, and that he went out later, after she was asleep.
Jeter, who lived with relatives in a tumbledown rowhouse in the 1700 block of Holbrook, and Mincey, who rented a subsidized apartment nearby in Langston Terrace Dwellings, got by on occasional part-time jobs and Social Security disability checks. Jeter was much younger than his friend, but each was mildly mentally impaired and they got along great, their families said.
On the karaoke rap circuit, Mincey went by "Natural" on stage. "Just this beautiful, energetic kid," said Danny Roberts, who owns Rose's Dream, a nightclub where Mincey and Jeter were regulars, a few blocks from where they died. "He just lights the place up when he comes in," Roberts said. "Everybody here knows him. . . . This was his home, man."
It was Jeter's home, too, although the two friends weren't in the club Friday night, Roberts said. "You saw one, you saw the other," he said of the friends, adding that Jeter was usually quiet. "He'll just sit and chill, look at the girls."
Mincey had two assault charges in the 1990s, but both were dropped. Jeter's history "is completely clean," a police official said. "All John ever do is smile," said Anita Jeter, his sister.
Hough, a GS-12 information technology specialist, was arrested on drug charges twice in the early 1990s and again last summer but wasn't prosecuted, according to court records. Co-workers and neighbors described him as generous, bright and affable. He lived with his mother in a neatly kept rowhouse on Trinidad Avenue, less than a mile from where he died.
"He was my heart," said Hough's grandmother, Lendoria Hough.
The southern end of Holbrook, near Florida Avenue, is a hodgepodge of well-tended and gone-to-seed rowhouses, many occupied by elderly people who sit on stoops by day, then retreat inside and lock their doors when the sun goes down.
The shooting occurred near a BP gas station at Holbrook and Florida. One theory is that Hough crossed paths somewhere with Mincey and Jeter and was giving them a lift home. "Something happened in that gas station and spilled out into the street," a police official said. Police found more than 30 shell casings nearby.
Mincey's mother, Shirley Hough, a distant relative of Duane Hough's, said she wants no mercy for the killer. "Don't feed them when you put them in jail. Don't clothe them," she said. "It was a senseless thing . . . to do to my child."
With Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier out of town at the time, Groomes's job was to help oversee the handling of major police incidents and to keep city leaders, including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), up to date. She was busy doing that on Holbrook when Scott, her top deputy, delivered more news.
"He says, 'Chief, we got another one,' " Groomes recalled. "And I said, 'What?' And that was the guy they found stabbed."
She stayed at Holbrook, sending Scott to the newest scene.
Saturday, 6 a.m.
A neighbor steps from her rowhouse to take out trash, and sees Larry Simmons's old Mazda parked as usual on Fourth Street NE -- but feet are sticking from the driver's side window. Looking closer, she sees it's Simmons, a bloody heap in his car, stabbed in the head, face and chest.
Two miles north of Holbrook, in the Edgewood neighborhood, residents recall the 66-year-old Simmons as a somewhat peculiar fellow. From most any porch or window in the 300 block of Channing Street NE, if they hollered his name, they'd usually get an answer from an empty lot out back at Fourth and Channing streets.
Anyone who needed a car fixed, a tree sawed, a lawn trimmed -- they'd just yell.
The empty lot, a weedy oblong rimmed with jersey barriers, was Simmons's domain, and he guarded it zealously. Often he would leave the Channing Street apartment that he shared with his 73-year-old brother and sleep in his '97 Mazda Protege, keeping watch on his turf. He was a reed-thin sentinel with a billowing gray beard, a retired auto mechanic. His two brothers said he served in the Vietnam War, repairing helicopters.
Whatever moved him to do it, he left his apartment Friday night and took up his post by the lot. That's where the neighbor found him. What she saw, she said, was "too horrible to talk about."
Detective Anthony Paci said the entire attack apparently took place in the Mazda while Simmons fought desperately to escape. He still had $80 on him when detectives checked his pockets.
Now, on the shaded street, his name floats on whispers tinged with grief.
"It's Larry," people say. "They killed Larry."
Staff writers Allison Klein, Robert E. Pierre and Michael E. Ruane and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.