D.C. police found Bobby L. Jackson early in the morning of June 25, slumped over dead and unarmed in a lawn chair after being shot in the back at least seven times. Many more shell casings were scattered nearby.
More than two months after the shooting, police have no strong suspects. Nobody in the neighborhood, a tightly packed hamlet of small homes, called 911 until almost an hour after the shots were fired, law enforcement sources say, hampering efforts to make quick arrests or gather leads. Canvassing the neighborhood has yielded little useful information.
Investigators think someone must have seen or heard a Saturday morning shooting just feet from a two-unit brick home on a Northeast Boundary street at about 1:30 a.m. But for now, efforts to crack the case have been stymied.
That has frustrated police, who are accustomed to community assistance with homicide cases.
“The change we’ve seen in the past three years is incredible in terms of people being cooperative with investigations,” said D.C police Assistant Chief Peter Newsham. “There are very small pockets of neighborhoods where that hasn’t been the case.”
Police see Northeast Boundary as one such place.
Citywide, homicides have fallen and arrest rates have risen in recent years. Because police rely heavily on community members to solve violent crimes, many in law enforcement interviewed for this story were reluctant to openly criticize residents’ cooperation.
But some in Northeast Boundary and elsewhere say police are out of touch, and they’d prefer police craft a proactive approach to crime fighting that keeps dangerous elements out. As a result, it can sometimes seem as though people discussing such issues are talking straight past each other — as they seem to be in the Jackson case.
The red-brick, barred-window building outside of which Bobby Jackson died is on a grassy hillside at the corner of 60th and Eads streets NE. No one answered the door of either unit on a recent evening, though the metal gates on the front doors were unlocked and open. Neighbors waved, answered doors and spoke with a visiting reporter, but few would attach their names to complaints about crime.
Northeast Boundary sits on the Prince George’s County line on the city’s northeastern edge. Residents can be seen after midnight chatting on stoops, talking in small groups and waiting for rides at Metro bus stops.
Economic change has come gradually to this enclave, which includes run-down apartment buildings but also well-tended rowhouses and single-family homes. A local church’s construction of a few shimmering new houses is pleasing to some who hope for more good neighbors. It’s not the city’s most violent neighborhood, but residents complain of prostitution, drug dealing and loud groups of drinkers after dark.
The Northeast Boundary Civic Association is an active group, attending meetings with police and calling elected representatives about local events. But many remain wary of police, complaining that officers who knock on their doors to ask questions make them targets for retaliation.
Newsham says the investigation into Jackson’s killing has been slowed because police weren’t immediately called and detectives have had trouble tracking down people who were in the area during the shooting. (Prince George’s police were called 40 minutes sooner, according to sources.)
According to law enforcement sources, many interviewed by detectives June 25 — including some in and near the building feet from where Jackson was shot — claimed not to have heard gunfire. Others said the shots were indistinguishable from fireworks. Investigators doubted many of those explanations, sources said.
“It’s just a shame,” said Jackson’s father, Bobby Jackson Sr., 51, of Northwest. “People inside the building couldn’t hear the shots? That doesn’t make sense.”
Neighbors expressed their own frustrations. Patrick Edmond, 42, said that while officers come when called, he wishes they would more aggressively monitor the street crime he says darkens Northeast Boundary.
“We live in a frontier environment, plain and simple,” Edmond said. “We still have drug issues, we still have prostitution issues. They can’t express a strategy to address it and for the community to respond to more favorably.”
As for not recognizing gunfire, he and other neighbors said fireworks are ever-present in the weeks before and after July 4. “You kind of become desensitized to it,” Edmond said.
D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) said she was amazed that no one called police after a shooting. Although she understands concerns about the perils of cooperation, she says residents must call 911, report crimes and testify in court in order for neighborhoods to become safer.
“If you act scared, then people will try to intimidate you,” she said. “If you’re afraid, they will prey on that fear.”
Jackson, 29, was expecting a second child, according to Bobby Jackson Sr., who said his son’s troubled childhood included dropping out of Ballou High School at 16 to work at fast-food restaurants.
Jackson Jr. used PCP, did some small-time drug dealing and faced charges for misdemeanor offenses, including joy riding in stolen cars and drug possession, according to his father.
His father was in prison until Jackson Jr. was in the second grade. After his release, the relationship between mother and father — they never married but were together for years — didn’t last.
Jackson Sr. says he tried to persuade his son to return to school and improve his reading skills but made little progress. Once in his 20s, Jackson Jr. had trouble finding steady work without a high school diploma and turned to drug dealing to support a drug habit and his son Marquis, now 6.
Jackson’s mother, Stephanie Lyles, 53, died after being hit by a car in Southeast in March. “You could say he was dealt some bad cards,” said Jackson Sr. “I’m not saying he was an angel, but who is?”
But he said his son didn’t seem to have any deadly enemies and didn’t deserve to die in the street, leaving him to field questions from Marquis about his daddy’s absence.
Bobby Jackson Sr. believes that in his last hours, his son went to happy hour and then was dropped off in the Eads Street area to visit friends. Investigators think he received no assistance between the shooting and his death, but they don’t know whether his life could have been saved.
The words “RIP Bob” have been written in black spray paint on the wall of the building in front of which he died. A makeshift memorial of Heineken beer bottles and stuffed animals sits nearby. Two vigils were held at the site, according to Jackson’s father, but he’d rather that friends and neighbors help police solve the case.
“They’re worrying about snitching or telling, but what happens when it happens to you?” Jackson said. “They can tell me and I’ll say something. Just tell what you heard.”