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Rucker Park Shooting Leaves Five Hurt

By  Trevor Kapp and Alan Neuhauser | July 26, 2012 7:32am | Updated on July 26, 2012 11:23am

HARLEM — A shooting at Harlem's famed Rucker Park basketball court left four men and a teenager hurt Wednesday night, just four days after a 4-year-old was shot and killed at a Bronx hoops tournament.

The Harlem shooting, captured on cell phone video later published by WorldHipHopStar.com, apparently followed a courtside argument over a referee's call, police said.

Among the fans at the game who scattered after the gunfire was former New York Knicks star Nate Robinson. He was not injured, police said.

Hundreds of hoops fans had packed the court to watch a game between Team 914 and Polo Grounds in the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC), which pits some of the best street ball players against each other from June through August.

Entertainers Basketball Classic posted this photo of former New York Knicks star Nate Robinson, who was in the stands when shots rang out during Wednesday night's game in Rucker Park July 25, 2012. Robinson escaped unscathed.
Entertainers Basketball Classic posted this photo of former New York Knicks star Nate Robinson, who was in the stands when shots rang out during Wednesday night's game in Rucker Park July 25, 2012. Robinson escaped unscathed.
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Entertainers Basketball Classic

"I heard three shots," said Sean Amaker, 29, who lives in a halfway house on Frederick Douglass Boulevard that overlooks Rucker Park.

"Everybody was running. It was panic. People were screaming, 'Oh, my God!' and 'Move! Get out the way!' People were trying to climb the fence. It was crazy."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly confirmed on Thursday that an argument sparked the dispute.

"Someone in the stands heckled the Polo Grounds team," Kelly told reporters at an unrelated press conference Thursday announcing a firearms and motorcycle trafficking case.

"Someone wearing a green shirt, we have on film a lime green shirt, took out a gun, shot four people in the vicinity of the basketball court, one of them being a player, and chased another individual across the street and shot that individual."

A 16-year-old boy and four men in their 20s were each struck once by bullets, police said. They were shot in the ankle, leg or arm and rushed to local hospitals, where they were in stable condition.

Police recovered three 22-caliber shell casings at the scene.

"We have an issue with guns, too many guns, guns that are in the hands of young people," Kelly said. "This is a national problem."

Dajuan Bennett, 21, was shot in the leg, said his mother Rhonda Bennett.

He was treated at St. Luke's Hospital and released, the mom said.

"I'm just disgusted," the older Bennett, 43, said of the violence. "We can't never have a peaceful time anywhere without people doing all this violence.

"People need to put these guns down," she added. "This makes no sense.''

A police source said the shooting stemmed from "a dispute," adding that an argument over the ref's call was "possibly what led to it."

EBC commissioner Greg Marius, who visited Rucker Park Thursday morning, said the tournament's security guards had attempted to escort the gunman from the basketball court earlier that night.

"We were escorting a guy that was kind of rowdy out of his mouth," Marius recounted. "We could tell he was drinking. We don't allow that in here, so we told him he had to leave."

As security tried to walk him from the court, another fan punched the gunman in the face, Marius said.

"That's what escalated everything," he said. "Everybody ran out of the park, then all of a sudden you heard people running back in, then you heard shooting.

"It seemed like they ran outside, got a gun, came back and started shooting."

A police source confirmed that the gunman was punched before he started firing. He said he could not say if the shooter retrieved a firearm from outside the court.

Video footage shows a crowd gathering at a corner of the basketball court, then ducking when two loud shots ring out. A person near the camera shouts, "Oh!" with each bang.

"There was a big commotion, big argument in the corner," said one 54-year-old witness who saw the incident from a window in the Polo Grounds but declined to give his name.

"The commissioner tried to defuse it, then it started again. Somebody came from the back of the park and started shooting.

"At first, I heard four shots inside the park. Then a few minutes passed because everybody was running, then three outside the park."

The shooter allegedly walked across the street to a deli and began firing into the crowd, a witness told the New York Daily News.

"He just walked away," said Rodney Harris, 47. "He didn't even run. My friend, a basketball player, got shot in the ankle."

Marius said t a lack of police officers allowed the dispute to escalate.

"I can't even blame the police because they always work with us," he said.

"But they couldn't even give us the barricades that we normally have." He said only two officers were present Wednesday night.

The NYPD said it could not immediately confirm if officers were at the court when the shooting occurred, or if it brought barricades to the tournament in previous years.

On Sunday night, 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan was struck by a stray bullet and killed after a gun battle broke out during a memorial basketball tournament on the Forest Houses basketball court in the Morrisania section of The Bronx.

Rondell Pinkerton, 17, and Courtney Kelly, 26, who was injured in the exchange, were charged in that shooting. Police are seeking a third suspect.