Police and residents of the Hidden Valley neighborhood are trying to rebuild bonds – and the neighborhood’s safety – in the wake of a teen’s death in a shootout with police.
Both police and residents say they’ve worked together to reduce crime in a north Charlotte neighborhood that had been plagued by gangs and violence. But Tuesday’s shootout in the parking lot of Hidden Valley Elementary, followed by a drive-by shooting nearby late Wednesday night, have renewed concerns and fears.
“Hidden Valley has improved 110 percent, and one incident brings it right back down to where it was 10 years ago, to the bottom of the barrel,” Wanda Gipson, a 40-year resident of the neighborhood, said Thursday, referring to the public image.
But she says a meeting with police alleviated her fear that officers had overreacted in the shootout that left 17-year-old Jaquaz Walker dead. Instead, she said Thursday morning that she now believes the problem is young people with guns and parents who don’t do enough to head off their children’s criminal activity.
“Maybe some other kid will learn from his death,” said Gipson, pastor of Freedom Ministries of Jesus Christ International. “That’s all we can do. The community is going to bounce back.”
About 50 Hidden Valley residents met with police Wednesday at Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church to talk about the shootout.
Capt. Rob Dance, commander of the North Tryon Division, said Thursday he understands residents’ frustration, especially when police can’t give details of an ongoing investigation. Eventually, he said, all questions about what happened Tuesday will be answered.
“The community has worked so hard in the last five years,” he said. “People are frustrated without being able to have facts.”
Around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, police got a report of a drive-by shooting in the 1400 block of Tom Hunter Road, near the Sugar Creek exit of Interstate 85, about a mile from the elementary school. A victim who was shot in the stomach and is expected to survive offered only “a vague description” of a shot fired from a passing SUV, police said.
Dance said Thursday there is “no indication whatsoever” that the two shootings are related or that Wednesday night’s incident is directly connected to the neighborhood.
History of trouble
Walker and 17-year-old Davion Drayton, who is charged in connection with the shootout, both have arrest records and were assigned to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools programs for troubled students. Police say both teens took part in a drug sale at the elementary school involving undercover police. The sting turned violent when someone shot a confidential informant. Police returned fire and killed Walker. The informant survived.
Police said the alleged drug dealers intended to rob the informant.
According to sheriff’s department records, Walker had been arrested twice in the past year, including for robbery with a dangerous weapon. Police originally gave a different spelling of his first name, but a spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the arrest reports are for the youth who was killed.
Walker faced two felony charges connected with a robbery in July 2012, according to the records. A month before the fatal shooting, he was charged with breaking into a motor vehicle, misdemeanor larceny and resisting an officer.
According to CMS, Walker’s most recent assignment was to Right Choices, a six-week program that the CMS website describes as “a more structured setting … for aggressive students.”
Drayton was charged with felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He is now charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill in connection with Tuesday’s incident.
Drayton was assigned to Turning Point Academy, an alternative school for students with a history of discipline problems.
Faced with the news that a teenager had been shot in a marijuana deal, Gipson’s initial reaction was skepticism and anger at police. In an email asking others to join her in Thursday’s meeting with police, she questioned whether police went overboard, and whether a drug bust would have been handled differently in a more affluent part of town.
“I feel the authorities have a low opinion of life expectancy and an under-exaggerated value of life for many of us blacks in these areas they called troubled,” Gipson wrote.
But after meeting with Dance and Lt. Ken Schul, Gipson said she has renewed confidence in working with them to revive Hidden Valley’s reputation.
“Our community has been completely cleaned up. It’s like Ballantyne,” she said. But in a follow-up email to her supporters, she said residents still have work to do.
“Many criminals still live (in Hidden Valley) and work outside of the Valley. They must know the CMPD is watching and they must stop this destructive behavior or the same fate may await them,” she wrote. “Teach them, parents – question them, know where, what and how they do what they do. If the kids are in our home it behooves us to find out all we can about what they are doing.”
Dance said he knew crime was down, but in reviewing stats after Tuesday’s shooting, even he was shocked at how big the drop was. Auto thefts have dropped 83 percent over the last five years, he said, while residential burglaries are down 20 percent.
“It is amazing to see a community come together like that,” he said. “This incident was unfortunate, but it’s not going to take that away.”
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