By Michael Birnbaum, Paul Duggan and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 20, 2008
D.C. police yesterday resumed controversial checkpoints in the troubled Northeast Washington neighborhood of Trinidad after a series of overnight shootings and stabbings across the District left at least 11 people wounded and two dead, including a 13-year-old boy from out of town who was visiting relatives.
In announcing the checkpoints, police said they were searching for three suspects in the Trinidad attacks and a gold 2002 Dodge Intrepid that was allegedly used in at least one of the incidents.
The violence, on a brutally hot summer night that frayed tempers and kept people out on the street late, unfolded over an eight-hour span that ended at 3:30 yesterday morning.
In Trinidad alone, at least six people were shot in separate incidents. Police working at one shooting scene could hear gunshots being fired elsewhere, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at news conference.
Late yesterday, investigators appeared to be sorting out the details of the incidents, offering differing numbers of victims at several of the shootings.
"I just think it's tragic," said ShaDonna Stevenson, a mother of six in Trinidad. "You've got too much violence going on in this neighborhood. I just really hope that it gets better. Because if it doesn't, a lot of the little kids you see out here playing today, you're not even going to get to see them grow up."
The latest incidents were disturbingly similar to an earlier spate of violence in and around Trinidad that occurred over a nine-hour span from May 30-31 and left seven men dead. Five of the killings are unsolved.
Trinidad's streets were quiet yesterday. Residents mostly stayed inside or on their porches as the sun beat down and police cars, out in force, patrolled the neighborhood. A red bag marked "biological hazard" sat on the street where the young boy was killed, left there, according to residents, by emergency medical units that had been working hours before.
Lanier announced at a news conference that officers were putting up checkpoints just east of Gallaudet University and bordered by Trinidad and Florida avenues, and Mount Olivet and Bladensburg roads. The checkpoints were to be operated until 7 p.m. July 24. In placards around the neighborhood, however, police said the western boundary was West Virginia Avenue, not Trinidad Avenue.
Police had established checkpoints for six days starting June 7 -- questioning people about why they were entering the neighborhood -- after the previous surge of violence. There were no killings in Trinidad while the checkpoints were in place, prompting city and police officials to declare them a successful tool in tamping down violence. But some residents complained that they were intrusive, and the nonprofit Partnership for Civil Justice sued and asked U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on July 9 to block the use of checkpoints, while the case worked its way through the courts.
Lanier, who was accompanied at the news conference by City Administrator Dan Tangherlini with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) out of town, defended the checkpoints yesterday as legal and a useful police tool. "Until a judge orders me to stop, I'm going to do everything I can to protect the people in Trinidad," Lanier said.
The two fatalities occurred in separate shootings.
At 11:33 p.m. Friday, Keith Ricardo Hines, 29, was found shot in the head. Police said his body was found lying in the 900 block of Allison Street NW, where he lived.
Later, 13-year-old Alonzo Robertson was shot and killed in the 1500 block of Holbrook Street NE in Trinidad. Police said at the news conference that Alonzo was with his mother, who was also shot and wounded, and another man who was hurt. However, a police memorandum from the 5th Police District commander said four individuals were shot at that location.
Neighbors said the boy was visiting from a southern state -- they could not recall which -- and seeing relatives. According to Tony Parks, who was visiting a friend in the same two-story apartment complex where Alonzo had been staying, the boy was sitting outside on a fence shortly before the gunfire.
Parks said the youngster was talking to a man, who was teaching him riddles and trivia games. Parks said he went inside just after 2 a.m. and heard shots about 20 minutes later.
Lanier said that police believe three suspects came from outside Trinidad and began robbing random groups in the neighborhood. Police said they planned to release descriptions of the three soon, and that they were searching for a car the three had been in, a gold 2002 Dodge Intrepid.
According to police, the car entered Trinidad between 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. and proceeded to the 1200 block of 16th Street NE, where one or more of the suspects opened fire on a group of people standing there.
It was difficult to tell how much of the violence investigators think the suspects in the car were responsible for. A police description of 11 violent incidents showed that Alonzo was killed at 2:30 a.m., and two more incidents occurred after that, one in Northwest.
The police memorandum said that the suspects used at least one car to go to four different locations in Trinidad and to flee the scenes after each shooting.
Some Trinidad residents said yesterday that they supported new checkpoints as a way to stop further violence; others said even if they did, the trouble would resume when the checkpoints end.
Lanier has taken steps in recent months to try to stem violence that has claimed 99 lives this year. That is the same number of homicides in the same time period as last year.
Police have installed sensors in Trinidad to connect the community to the ShotSpotter network around the city, which detects gunfire and alerts police. Lanier also said that some patrol officers will be armed with semi-automatic rifles. And she has an initiative called "All Hands on Deck" in which officers flood a neighborhood for a specific period of time.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said the violence underscored the need to maintain strict gun control laws that comply with the Supreme Court's ruling last month, which knocked down the city's handgun ban as unconstitutional. He also said community policing -- where police officers maintain a regular presence in an area -- was key to stopping the violence.
"I think the next six to eight weeks are a critical time because kids are out of school, it's hot and there are a lot of people out on the street," he said. "I like the chief's 'All Hands on Deck' idea, but I don't know what happens on those days when people are off."
Staff writer Matt Zapotosky and researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.