Harlem Residents Angered, Question Police in Fatal Lenox Avenue Shootout

By Nicole Bode on August 10, 2010 2:44pm | Updated on August 10, 2010 4:21pm

A sidewalk memorial to Soto on the block of Avenue St. John in the Bronx where he lived.
A sidewalk memorial to Soto on the block of Avenue St. John in the Bronx where he lived.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

By Jon Schuppe and Nicole Bode

DNAinfo Staff

HARLEM — Anti-violence activists in Harlem worried on Tuesday that a Lenox Avenue shooting over the weekend that left a man dead, likely from a police bullet, would stoke anti-NYPD sentiment and anger across the neighborhood.

Officers fired more than 45 shots during the chaotic firefight early Sunday that killed 21-year-old Luis Soto, left his attacker, Angel Alvarez, with up to 23 gunshot wounds, and injured two cops. Police said initially that officers acted in self-defense after Alvarez shot Soto and then aimed a .38 caliber revolver on them and started shooting. The gun used was traced to Georgia, according to the New York Post.

But on Monday, reports said the fatal shot likely came from police.

“An investigation needs to be launched as to why those young people were shot the way they were shot,” said Iesha Sekou, founder of Street Corner Resources, an organization that works to develop a positive interaction between young people and the NYPD. “The truth is that something went really, really wrong.”

Sekou said the community’s anger over the shooting could undo much of the effort her organization had spent to get young people to trust the NYPD. She added she’s already seen a chilling effect this week, as significantly fewer young people ventured out to play ball in the streets for fear of being questioned by police about the shooting at Lenox Avenue between 143rd and 144th Streets.

The shooting exacerbated an us-versus-them relationship between the community and the police, said Victorial Morales, 37, of Washington Heights, a Soto family friend who came to pay her respects at a makeshift memorial on the Bronx block where Soto lived.

"There's a lot of animosity here," she said, adding that many mourners would shout and throw things at passing police cars. "Everything's going to come to light. But it'll take time, and we don't like to wait."

Back in Harlem, others emphasized the presence of a gun at the Saturday night block party.

Harlem anti-violence activists, including the Rev. Vernon Williams, led a rally Monday night at the scene of a fatal  police shooting.
Harlem anti-violence activists, including the Rev. Vernon Williams, led a rally Monday night at the scene of a fatal police shooting.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

Some witnesses told investigators Soto brought the gun in his waistband, and that he reached for it during a fistfight with Alvarez around 3 a.m. Sunday. Witnesses also said Alvarez had gotten control of the gun when police arrived.

The Manhattan District Attorney is still investigating the incident and has not yet brought charges.

Rev. Vernon Williams, who works to tamp down gang violence in Harlem, said that if Soto hadn't brought the gun, the shooting likely wouldn't have occurred.

“Soto brought a gun to 144th street,” Williams said. “My problem is, still, at the end of the day, there are illegal guns being carried by us and used by us.”

Williams said Monday’s revelations that the bullet that killed Soto likely came from police would inevitably stoke anti-NYPD sentiment in the area. But he stood by his message against illegal guns, saying the shooting didn’t have to happen.

The medical examiner’s office revealed Monday that they identified the bullet that killed Soto, which they turned over to investigators. The bullet, which was one of six that either pierced or grazed Soto’s body during the fight, entered through his torso and ripped through several internal organs including his heart, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner said.

The markings on the bullet were found by NYPD ballistics tests to be consistent rounds used by police, and not by the .38 police recovered from Alvarez, according to published reports.

Soto’s family's lawyer David Godarsky told the Daily News Soto never had a gun and said he planned to ask for an independent autopsy.

Alvarez on Tuesday remained in stable condition in Harlem Hospital, where his former lawyer John Carney visited him Monday and told reporters he was intubated but conscious. Carney said Tuesday he no longer represented Alvarez, and had been replaced by lawyer Matthew Golluzzo, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At a park across the street from the shooting scene Tuesday, young men worked out and shot hoops and didn't seem surprised by the revelations that Soto was killed by a police bullet.

They admitted that they didn't keep up on the details of the case, but said they had suspected from the start that officers were responsible.

"It doesn't change anything," one of the men said. He, like the others, would not give his name. "That's how [the police] do."

Angel Alvarez in Harlem Hospital, a day after the Aug. 8 shooting.
Angel Alvarez in Harlem Hospital, a day after the Aug. 8 shooting.
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Courtesy of John Carney

One of his friends added, "All I know is, there is no justice."

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