Three children shot; teenage suspect arrested

October 24, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

JACKSON SQ.—Three children were wounded by gunfire in the Academy Homes I housing development on Oct. 18—the same week that security cameras began going up there in response to earlier violence.

Jermeil Robinson, 17, of 265 Centre St. in the Bromley-Heath housing development was later arrested on attempted murder and other charges in the case.

The victims were one 12-year-old and two 11-year-old boys. The Boston Police Department (BPD) described their injuries as “non-life-threatening.”

Turf-war violence between some youths from Academy Homes and Bromley-Heath has been an issue for years in Jackson Square. BPD and prosecutors have not described any motive for the current shootings.

A 19-year-old man found suffering from a gunshot wound on Centre Street in Jackson Square around the same time was initially considered a suspect in the shootings, according to the Boston Police Department (BPD). The unidentified suspect was only charged with marijuana possession. It is unclear whether he is still a suspect as well.

“We’re all, of course, devastated by the violence that takes place in our community,” said David James Wyatt, vice president of the Academy Homes I tenant council, in a Gazette interview. “We’re against crime, and we’re working diligently to oppose crime.”

Those efforts include the network of about 30 security cameras in outdoor areas, formation of a crime watch and possible hiring of full-time private security guards, he said.

Academy Homes, at Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street, is co-owned by the tenants and the nearby community development corporation Urban Edge. The tenant council quickly organized a meeting with local youths to discuss the violence, and is working with Urban Edge on improvements for youth programs there, according to Urban Edge spokesperson Leroy Stoddard.

A trauma response team of residents and city workers is counseling residents impacted by the violence, Stoddard said.

A 22-year-old Academy Homes resident was shot to death in the development in May. Another resident is charged with murder in that case. In April, the development was the scene of a shooting incident that led to a police chase of two suspects through Marcella Park.

In the latest shooting, one of the victims reported that a man approached the children while they were hanging out and opened fire on them.

Robinson faces charges of assault with intent to murder; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon; assault with a firearm; unlawful gun/ammo possession; carrying a loaded firearm; and discharging a firearm near a dwelling.

Robinson was expected to be arraigned Wednesday morning after the Gazette’s press deadline. He was arrested on a warrant following a police investigation, according to BPD.

Robinson has “a couple of outstanding [court] cases” on charges made against him when he was a juvenile, which cannot legally be disclosed publicly, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Jake Wark. Robinson is legally considered an adult on the current shooting charges, he said.

The 19-year-old originally arrested as a possible suspect was found by police at 225 Centre St. suffering a gunshot wound in his foot. The suspect reported that he was walking down the street, heard a gunshot and then realized he had been shot.

As a property funded by low-income housing tax credits, Academy Homes’ physical and financial state is monitored, in this case by the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC), which helped fund Urban Edge’s 1998 purchase of the development.

In May, WinnResidential took over management of the property from Urban Edge. Gayle Simmons, an assistant asset manager at MHIC, said WinnResidential is “a company we wanted brought in,” in part for its track record of providing security.

WinnResidential quickly hired a security consultant whose plans are now being followed, Simmons said, describing Academy Homes security as “an issue over the years” and “something I wanted addressed.”

WinnResidential did not immediately return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Academy Homes “is often a place people will commit activities that have nothing to do with the property,” Simmons said, attributing most crime to outsiders. “We want people to know it’s not residents at Academy Homes or lack of people caring about Academy Homes.”

The network of cameras is the first step. Stoddard said they should be installed and operational within several weeks. Wyatt said the cameras will be hidden inside globes that make it impossible to tell exactly where the cameras are pointed. Criminologists call this the “panopticon” effect, which forces people to assume they are being watched at all times so they essentially police themselves.

“We want people to know if you step on the property, we’re going to have your picture,” Simmons said.

The camera system will be paid for out of the development’s own funds. “Those [security] steps cost money in a pretty much poverty-stricken area of Boston, at expense to ourselves,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt said that state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson is seeking state funding for security guards. He credited state Rep. Liz Malia for suggesting the formation of a crime watch.

At least 14 people have been shot on Jamaica Plain area streets this year, including three homicides. Most of the victims have been youths, with a 4-year-old as the youngest victim.

Anyone with information about the Academy Homes shooting can contact BPD detectives at 343-4275 or anonymously by calling 1-800-494-8477 or text-messaging the word “TIP” to 27463.