Unlike a lot of people in his position, Malcolm Hines left prison in 2007 with a plan to avoid ever going back.
Before his 2003 conviction on cocaine-dealing charges, Hines had invested about $10,000 in blue-chip stocks — Exxon Mobil, Hewlett-Packard, Sirius satellite radio. By the time he was released, the D.C. native had doubled his money, which he then invested in a much riskier proposition: a shoe shop in Congress Heights.
Hines kept out of trouble and built City Beats into a thriving business on retail-starved Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, selling the latest styles from New Balance, Timberland and Nike, even though the store was hit by a string of burglaries and holdups.
But now Hines, 40, is back behind bars, awaiting sentencing on felony gun charges after police found a loaded shotgun his sister-in-law had stashed inside his shop for protection.
The conviction has Hines, his wife and neighboring business owners frustrated. They complain that dozens of gun-related crimes in the area go unsolved, while an otherwise upstanding entrepreneur faces three years in prison.
“Most of the stores on the avenue have guns in them,” Hines said this month from inside the D.C. jail. “That’s the way it is on MLK.”
Hines, as a twice-convicted felon, is prohibited by federal law from owning a firearm. Still, shop owners say, a review of crime statistics in the area around City Beats makes it clear why a business owner might want to be armed.
The police service area has seen more than 110 gun crimes in the past year, including robberies, assaults and killings. The commercial stretch of MLK Jr. Avenue where the shop sits has seen 15 gun crimes in the past year, including the Oct. 17 slaying of a gas station attendant.
The business owners who have endured the violence — up about 10 percent in the area over the same period the previous year — said that police protection has been inadequate and that they understand why those running a cash-heavy business such as City Beats would arm themselves.
“We need protection,” said Hamdu Mukhtar, 33, who has run a pair of King Gas Convenience stations across the street from City Beats for more than two years.
His brother, Mohammed Mukhtar Abduselam, was working after his shift had ended to help stock chips and drinks the evening of Oct. 17. Two men walked into the store. Friends say Abduselam, 32, saw that one of them had a gun and went outside to call 911. One of the men followed and shot him dead.
Cmdr. Joel Maupin, who heads the D.C. police department’s 7th District, said he has moved to put more police on foot patrol in the area, both on the commercial blocks and in the area around the Congress Heights Metro station, which has recently experienced a spate of muggings.
Mukhtar said that after his brother was killed, about 10 gas workers at his two stations quit rather than risk their lives. Teenagers or youths — some as young as 12, Mukhtar said — regularly bring guns into the store and flash them to intimidate employees.
“Maybe we must sell the shop or move,” Mukhtar said. “My brother is gone for nothing.” He said police have told him they have a suspect, but no arrest has been made.
Paul Davis, 77, runs Expert Barber Shop, a business that, like City Beats, can’t exist behind the plexiglass that protects many of the neighborhood’s other businesses; customers must wait outside to be buzzed in. But that didn’t stop a group of men from robbing him at gunpoint last week — the fourth time he’d been targeted.
Davis said he understood why Hines would want a gun on the premises. “You can’t blame him,” he said. “The man is trying to survive.”
Like several other business owners in the area, Davis said he would arm himself if he could.
Business owners are free to own long guns — rifles and shotguns — if they are legally purchased outside the city and properly registered with the police department. But handguns are another matter. The landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling overturning the city’s long-standing handgun ban held only that an individual’s constitutional right to bear arms extended as far as the home, and the D.C. Council went no further in its subsequent revision of city law.
Hines was arrested March 28 after a dispute with a customer. A teenager bought a pair of New Balance 2000 sneakers. But Hines mistakenly gave him a mismatched pair — one from an adult pair, worth $140, another from a child’s pair, worth $70.
The customer returned to the shop and got into an argument with Hines, who asked to see a receipt before providing the match for the more expensive shoe. The boy didn’t have one and left, saying, “We’ll be back, you’ll see,” according to Hines’s telling.
The teenager came back with his father and another man. According to court documents, the father said Hines stepped into a closet next to the cash register. The man said he heard the racking of a shotgun slide and saw a barrel peeking from the closet door. Hines said he stepped into the closet after seeing the teenager hold his hand in his pocket as if he was holding a pistol — Hines had been robbed at gunpoint five days earlier — but said he didn’t even know the shotgun was there.
After the three left, they alerted police, who got a search warrant and discovered the shotgun hidden at the back of the closet, tucked behind a water heater.
During a three-day trial in October, Hines’s sister-in-law testified under an immunity deal that she had purchased the shotgun legally in Maryland and brought it to City Beats for protection. She said Hines did not know the gun was in the shop, but a jury convicted him. Sentencing is set for Dec. 9 before Superior Court Judge Robert I. Richter; Hines faces a minimum sentence of three years.
Maupin said that Hines’s arrest was “unfortunate” but that officers had no choice.
“He had to know that having this weapon could be very detrimental for him,” Maupin said. “We have some sympathy for him . . . but we can’t advocate persons not eligible to have weapons possessing weapons.”
Since Hines’s arrest, there have been some changes at City Beats. Cameras monitor the sales floor. No one works alone in the shop.
But, Hines said, people in the neighborhood know there’s no longer a gun inside. “They gotta have in their mind that if they come in the store, you can’t pull a gun on us,” Hines said. “Without people thinking there’s some repercussions . . . they would definitely try to take advantage.”
On Sunday, his wife, Sherita McLamore-Hines, closed the shop as usual at 5 p.m., then proceeded to review inventory with her son and nephew.
About two hours later, a familiar customer knocked on the shop’s glass door, cash in hand. McLamore-Hines let him in, hoping to make one more sale. But after the man stepped in, three men wearing ski masks came in behind him. One of the men held a gun to McLamore-Hines’s head and cleaned out the cash register as she crouched behind the counter.
Police had not made any arrests in the case.