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Teenage violence on New London streets predates recent incidents

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published December 05. 2010 4:00AM   Updated December 05. 2010 6:48PM
Tim Martin/The Day
Sgt. Mike Strecker, leader of the New London Police Department Anti-Violence Team, waits for the K-9 officer off Willetts Avenue Friday after finding the car involved in a pursuit of a suspect during a 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift. NLPD Deputy Chief Marshall Segar said the police department's two school resource officers, its undercover vice and Intelligence section and its street crimes unit - the Anti-Violence Team - are working together to combat the problem of youth violence.
Homegrown gangs are known to police and are being watched

In the past year, groups of teenagers have attacked each other with guns, knives and baseball bats, while also carrying out random acts of violence against other citizens.

Musician Matt Potter, who was jumped on Huntington Street in March, was hospitalized for days with a head injury. A teenager stabbed a 14-year-old when two gangs fought downtown in July. Young attackers beat a homeless man in the area of Fulton Park off Crystal Avenue.

The escalating teen violence turned deadly Oct. 29 when, police said, six teenagers killed Matthew Chew just because they were "bored." Police said the youths jumped the 25-year-old restaurant worker, DJ and artist at random and left him on Huntington Street, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. The $42 he was carrying remained in his pocket as he was airlifted to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Some people who live and work in the city are frightened they will become the next victims. The families and friends of Chew and the six defendants are grieving. Groups who have been working hard to revitalize the city are frustrated, and the school community is upset.

The teens arrested in the Chew murder have not been publicly identified as gang members. Some of the other violence, however, has been carried out by homegrown gangs such as the Project Boys and Young East Side.

Homegrown gangs are nothing new in New London. In 2007, there was the Goon Squad. Some of its members were arrested after police obtained a series of videotaped street fights involving dozens of juveniles and adults. Other gangs have come and gone, with some members being implicated in assault, rape and drug-dealing.

"Along with the Bloods and Crips, which there always will be, your biggest problem is with homegrown gangs," said detective Sgt. George Potts of the New London Police Department.

The police know who the "criminally motivated packs of kids" are and monitor them, according to Deputy Chief Marshall Segar.

"It's not a recent trend," Segar said. "Their activities start in an innocuous nature but sometimes gravitate to tragedy."

Segar and others in the department are quick to point out that youth violence is not confined to the waterfront city of 6 square miles, which is home to about 26,000 people.

"It's almost an accepted thing with the youth of today," Potts said. "Society has portrayed violence as glamorous. Rappers like 50 Cent are saying, 'Hey, you get shot, and you live.' It's almost like a trophy. It's a national trend."

There are three ways to get into a gang, according to a 17-year-old from New London who spoke with The Day over the summer on the condition that he not be identified.

You can do a mission by breaking a window or hitting a random person.

You can fight somebody in the gang.

Or you can agree to a "beat down" by other gang members.

The teen allegedly was involved in both the July fight downtown and a brawl in November.

His father, who was present during an interview at his home in late August, said he could no longer control the boy, who not long before was on the honor roll. The teen had been arrested four times in the past six months and was under house arrest and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.

On the first day of school, officials at New London High School called the teen's probation officer because he wore his gang beads to school in violation of policy. He has since been expelled.

Asked why he was involved with the gang, the teen said it was for "protection." He said the feud between the Project Boys and YES group had started in middle school when people decided they just "didn't like each other."

Incidents of violence

Segar said the police department's two school resource officers, its undercover Vice and Intelligence Section and its street crimes unit, called the Anti-Violence Team, are working together to combat the problem of youth violence.

They've had a busy year.

Seventeen-year-old Idris Elahi, whom a judge identified as "the main player" in the Chew stabbing when he was arraigned last week on a murder charge, was shot in the right foot on Green Street on April 30. Police asked Elahi to identify the shooter as he was being treated in the emergency room. Elahi initially refused to talk, but at his mother's urging gave police a name - Evan Holmes, 18 - according to a police report.

Elahi said he and Holmes started playing football together as 10-year-olds. He told police that Holmes shot him to avenge a fight the previous week. Holmes is being held at the Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire while his case is pending. Elahi and the other five charged last week in connection with Chew's death are also incarcerated.

On Friday, Nov. 26, a plainclothes officer spotted three teens, ages 16 and 17, walking near Truman and Blackhall streets, carrying baseball bats and sticks and "looking for a fight," according to a police report. One teen carried a kitchen knife in his backpack. Each of the three was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon. Their names are withheld because of their age.

"There have been several past incidents where pedestrians that have been walking in the later part of the night have been assaulted and robbed by a group of males," a patrolman wrote in his report of the incident. "Several have resulted in serious bodily harm and death."

Two days later, on Nov. 28, the two 16-year-olds were allegedly involved in a brawl that took place at about 9 p.m. near Granite and Hempstead streets. Police said a large group of youths was fighting with bats and sticks. When police arrived, the brawlers fled, leaving behind knives, baseball bats and broom handles.

Lawrence & Memorial Hospital officials called police to say that three teens with baseball bat injuries - one of them a head wound - were in the emergency room. The teens refused to say who assaulted them or why. They became abusive and were taken into custody, according to police.

Law enforcement sources said the Thanksgiving weekend brawls involved teens who belonged to the Project Boys, a group of mostly African-American teens from throughout the city, and YES, a group of mostly Latino teens from New London and Norwich.

The same two groups clashed over the summer in an altercation that sent one 14-year-old boy to the hospital with a serious stab wound and another to juvenile detention. The fights were fueled, in part, by problems with girls, sources said.

The stabbing occurred the night of the annual Sailfest fireworks, outside an apartment complex at 163 Huntington St. The prelude to the incident, caught on videotape, shows a boy pulling a gun out of his waistband and shooting it into the air, according to a court official. The stabbing took place out of the camera's reach.

Police found a bloody knife at the scene and arrested a boy identified by witnesses as the stabber. The boy allegedly went to a friend's home and changed his clothes before he was caught. He was charged with felony assault and referred to juvenile court.

Police say they often receive complaints about groups of young people who have gathered in a neighborhood, but hanging out together is not illegal. Police have to decide when to intervene, and their judgments can sometimes be called into question.

In July police arrested four adults and several juveniles who were having water gun fights in the Truman-Hempstead area. They said 40 to 50 people were shooting Super Soakers at passing vehicles, and that some became unruly and refused to disperse. Some observers said the police overreacted to a group that was simply having some summer fun.

Two of the juveniles arrested that day would be charged four months later in connection with the Chew murder.

Random crime

State's Attorney Michael L. Regan, the region's top prosecutor, said street crime and gang activity are cyclical.

"You get spikes of everything here and there," Regan said. "Generally, has street crime increased from last year or the year before? I don't see that."

Regan said random violence "unfortunately" is not something new in New London.

"But it's not something prevalent. It doesn't happen every day," he said.

By the time his office gets involved, Regan said, "it's too late." He prosecutes major felonies, including murders. Regan, like Potts from the police department, is a lifelong resident of the city who has no intention of leaving.

Potts said he feels safe in New London, although he doesn't feel completely safe anywhere.

"That's just society," he said. "That's just how it is."

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