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Suspect in Hidden Valley shootout dies of injuries

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Steve Lyttle
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

As administrators and parents prepared for summer programs inside Hidden Valley Elementary on Tuesday, police were conducting an undercover drug buy outside to build a case against gang members.

The suspects tried to turn the deal into a robbery, police say, and gunshots were exchanged.

After the gunfire ended, one man had been shot in the head and another in the shoulder, according to police, who faced criticism from neighborhood leaders over the location. The suspect shot in the head died Tuesday night of his injuries.

The shooting broke out after an undercover police officer and a confidential informant bought drugs from two suspects – part of what Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe called a larger operation in the neighborhood where Interstate 85 meets Sugar Creek Road.

The confidential informant’s injury to his rear shoulder was not life-threatening, and he was being treated at Carolinas Medical Center.

One of the suspects, 17-year-old Jaquez Baltimore Walker, was shot in the head. Walker was pronounced dead at about 10 p.m.

On Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said Walker was enrolled in Right Choices, an alternative program for "aggressive students." The district's records show his name as Jaquaz Altimore Walker.

From the CMS Web site: Right Choices is a six weeks placement that provides a more structured alternative setting, with support services from various human services agencies, for aggressive students.

Meanwhile, police were still looking for the second suspect Tuesday night, a 15-year-old who Monroe said was armed with a gun. He encouraged the youth to turn himself in.

“We’re not looking for another confrontation with a 15-year-old,” Monroe said. “We believe he fired several shots.”

As they learned the facts surrounding Tuesday’s shootout, leaders in the neighborhood questioned why officers would conduct a drug operation in the parking lot of a school where parents, teachers, administrators and students were registering for summer programs.

“That scares me,” said Ella Williams, vice president of the Hidden Valley Neighborhood Association. “Why would they pick that spot to do a drug deal? … I just wonder if they could have chosen a better spot.”

Monroe emphasized that no one inside the building was injured and said officers took precautions to protect the public.

“In working these undercover operations, you kind of flow,” he said. “The location was determined by the individuals setting up the drug deal. We believe we had ample protection for those inside the school as well as those within the area.”

Richard Lichten, who testifies in court as an expert on police practices, said officers doing undercover operations frequently make snap decisions where they have to balance the public safety against the need to build a case.

“If I saw that school was in session or there were kids, then I’d have a problem with this,” he said. “Was it better to have it in the school parking lot or would it be better to have it in a library parking lot or a Walmart parking lot?

“If an officer says I’m only going to deal with you at 3 in the morning when no one’s around, no drug dealer is going to do that. Drug dealers aren’t stupid.”

On Tuesday, the large police presence following a shooting was a disheartening sight to members of the Hidden Valley community. For decades, they’ve suffered from violent drug crime connected to a homegrown gang with a stranglehold on the northern Charlotte neighborhood.

In 2007, authorities arrested a sizable chunk of the Hidden Valley King’s leadership, dealing a nearly fatal blow to the gang. Since then, the community has rebounded, although neighbors still worry about a concentration of crime on the Sugar Creek Road and Interstate 85 corridors.

Monroe declined to comment about the current case and wouldn’t say whether it involved the Kings.

Williams, the neighborhood leader, said statistics show Hidden Valley’s crime has decreased.

“I’m blown away by this,” she said, looking at the flashing police lights and crime scene tape. “We’ve made such great strides.”

The series of events began when the undercover police officer and the informant arrived at the parking lot to buy drugs from two men, as part of an ongoing undercover operation to combat gang activity. Several other officers were stationed nearby, observing the transaction.

Monroe said the officer and informant had completed the purchase and were walking back to their car when the two suspects apparently tried to rob them and began firing.

The undercover officer and an officer stationed near the drug deal returned fire at the two men, Monroe said. One suspect was shot in the head and rushed to the hospital.

Monroe said the two officers who fired weapons were Franchot Pack and Jonathan Lecompce, gang unit officers with the department for six years.

After the shootout, the 15-year-old suspect drove off. Shortly after the shooting, police radio reports indicated authorities were looking for a black sedan.

Video from WCNC-TV’s helicopter showed a white Nissan Maxima with all four doors open in the parking lot of the school.

A gun lay beside one of the open doors, a few yards away from a street sign for Friendly Lane.

The Observer’s Davie Hinshaw and Ann Doss Helms contributed.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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