A pair of shootings overnight Wednesday brought to two dozen the number of victims in the city in the last two weeks – a figure that elevates the amount of recent gun violence to a possibly unprecedented level.
The tally, compiled by the Journal Star and confirmed by the Peoria Police Department, includes the public suicide of Bernell Alexander last week in South Peoria, but not the slaying of his ex-wife in Creve Coeur just minutes before he took his own life.
The most recent victims included a man who was shot in the shoulder at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday in the 3400 block of Sunburst Lane in the Lexington Hills apartments and a man with a gunshot wound to the neck who was taken by private vehicle to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center at 3:13 a.m. Thursday. The second victim told police he was shot while he was a passenger in a vehicle driving through Harrison Homes.
The second shooting marked the 24th victim of gunfire since June 16, when a pair of afternoon shootings kicked off a 12-hour spree of violence that resulted in one fatality and five other people being wounded, including two children who were sleeping on the floor of their North Valley home.
Just a few days later, six people – all teens between the ages of 16 and 19 – were shot during two incidents less than a couple of hours apart.
Several days with multiple shootings and the city’s 15th and most recent homicide have since transpired, leading Lt. Vince Wieland of the Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division to label the period the worst in terms of local gun violence in decades.
“I haven’t seen two weeks like this in my 23 years,” Wieland said Thursday. “I can’t remember two weeks that have been this packed with such a number of violent acts.”
Compared to last year, however, the number of shootings so far this year does not appear to be abnormally high. Through June 22, the city had recorded 58 shootings, compared to 45 over the same time period last year.
“When we’re looking back to June 22, there isn’t that much of an increase, it’s just how it’s coming – it’s coming in bunches,” Wieland said. “It’s getting everyone’s attention because there’s been so many so quickly.”
Several of the shootings appear to be connected and gang-related, and the police have responded in part by temporarily reassigning an officer to a gang intelligence position that was cut at the beginning of the year to ease a $14.5 million citywide deficit.
Wieland called that position critical for investigations of shootings and a better way for the police to keep tabs on what’s happening on the streets. So far, the gang violence appears to have been generated by people and groups familiar to investigators, though some ground was lost when the gang intelligence position was vacant.
“We did lose some vital information that we were tracking,” Wieland said.
Though the recent spike in gun violence has caught the attention of authorities and onlookers for its unusual frequency, it remains, to a certain extent, part of a pattern that repeats every year.
Elaine Frye, executive director of emergency medical services at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, acknowledges the unusually large cluster of shootings in the last two weeks but also notes that more victims of violence tend to visit the level-one trauma center as temperatures rise.
“There is a seasonality to it – when the weather is nicer, more people are outside and roaming,” she said. “We see it every year. When the weather breaks, we see more stabbings, shootings and violence.”
The recent level of violence, she said, has not affected emergency operations at the hospital
A man who gained notoriety for firing upon a fellow student in a crowded Peoria high school hallway – then had his prison term for the crime significantly reduced on appeal – has been arrested in connection with a recent wave of gun violence.
Dione Alexander, 21, with a last known address of 921 S. Folkers Ave., turned himself in to police Wednesday. He was questioned and arrested in connection to shootings June 16 at 1916 W. Marquette Ave. and Sunday at 1204 W. Millman St. He was booked on charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated discharge of a firearm, armed violence and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon in each case.
Police also have made three other arrests – Dietrich J. Richardson II, 22, of 217 S. Western Ave.; Tristan L. Shelton, 19, of 2817 W. Marquette Ave.; and an unidentified juvenile – related to two weekend shootings.
Deandte M. Lewis, 19, of 510 W. McClure Ave. additionally was arrested Saturday for allegedly shooting Darian T. Johnson in the buttock June 16 in the 2800 block of West Wiswall Street. Lewis was released from Peoria County Jail on Monday with a notice to appear in court, though it is unclear what charges he will face.
Alexander was a 15-year-old freshman at Woodruff High School in January 2005 when he opened fire on a boy with whom he had been feuding. No one was injured, but the school and neighborhood were locked down for hours and increased school security measures followed the incident.
The intended target, Omar Porter, also has made headlines in the years since the incident for gun and drug crimes for which he has repeatedly been sent to prison.
Peoria County Judge James Shadid sentenced Alexander to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of the Woodruff shooting in 2006, but that term was later overturned by the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa. When the case returned to Shadid’s courtroom for a new sentence, he again imposed the 24-year term.
The identical sentence prompted the appellate judges to take the rare step of imposing a new, vastly reduced term of six years for Alexander because the judges insisted Shadid had not properly considered the shooter’s troubled childhood and put too much emphasis on the location of the shooting, at a school.
Judges Mary K. O’Brien and Mary McDade agreed in the 2-1 decision that the reduced term was appropriate, while Judge William Holdridge dissented. By the time that decision was handed down, it essentially amounted to an order for early release, and Alexander was paroled in July 2009.
Police now believe he was involved in a shooting about 3:10 p.m. June 16 at the Marquette Street address. A man was shot in the lower calf as he sat outside his house.
He is also suspected in the shootings at a South Peoria house party early Sunday. Authorities were called to 1204 W. Millman St. about 12:15 a.m. after shots were fired from a vehicle – possibly parked on Butler Street behind the Millman address – into a group of about 50 or 60 teenagers. When police arrived, no one claimed to have been shot.
But a second call of shots fired came in about 2 a.m. at 2129 W. Wiswall St., and police found six people there with gunshot wounds. Two of the victims apparently were shot during the first incident and went to the Wiswall Street location. None of the victims – aged 16 to 19 – was seriously injured.
Peoria police issued a notice for officers to arrest Alexander in connection with the shooting on Millman Street late Tuesday, and he was nearly apprehended in Peoria Heights within a matter of hours but escaped.
A Peoria Heights police officer spotted Alexander walking from 804 E. Paris Ave. with 19-year-old resident Jacqueline Bullins to a vehicle parked outside the home just after 12 a.m. Wednesday. The officer attempted to apprehend Alexander, but he fled on foot and escaped.
Officers took the driver of the vehicle, Shelton, into custody and found several small packages of marijuana in his pocket. On the passenger seat of the car was a loaded handgun, which police also seized.
Shelton’s connection to the shooting on Millman Street on Sunday is unclear, but he was booked on a charge of attempted murder for that incident. Charges related to the incident during which he was apprehended in Peoria Heights include armed violence, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, possession of a firearm without a valid firearm owner’s identification card, possession of a firearm projectile, possession of 10 to 30 grams of marijuana and possession of 10 to 30 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver.
Shelton was convicted in 2008 of possession of between 30 and 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Prior to that, he had served stints in juvenile prison on stolen vehicle and weapons charges. According to the Department of Corrections website, he was not on parole at the time of the alleged shootings.
The second arrest related to the Sunday shootings occurred in South Peoria on Tuesday and appears unrelated to the incident in Peoria Heights. Richardson was taken into custody near his home after an armed robbery about 4:40 p.m. in the parking lot of JJ Fish and Chicken, 913 S. Western Ave.
A customer was robbed at gunpoint of his wallet and cell phone, and police took Richardson into custody while investigating that crime, though he is not suspected of participating in the robbery.
Richardson was booked on charges of six counts of attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm in an occupied vehicle, felon in possession of a weapon and obstructing justice. The charges are connected to both Sunday shootings. He was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in August 2008 and sentenced to two years of probation and 30 days in jail. The probation was scheduled to lapse in less than two months.
The size and scope of Carlos “Bader” Williams’ drug ring was so large that it even amazed U.S. District Judge Joe B. McDade who has presided over hundreds of similar cases in his 17-year career.
“You were a major drug dealer,” the judge said Friday. “This is one of the largest drug conspiracies I have seen.”
Conservative estimates linked Williams, 35, to 20 kilograms of crack cocaine, a staggering amount considering a standard dose is about 0.2 grams. The drugs were sold over a decade and had an estimated street value of about $2 million.
The numbers and the statements came at Williams’ sentencing, where he received a 30-year prison term, which was at the bottom of his guideline range. He had faced up to life.
Two others in Williams’ organization also were sentenced. William E. “Pookey” Sproling received five years behind bars and Daryl “Buck” Miller got 20 years, the mandatory minimum under federal law. All three pleaded to the same count, drug trafficking conspiracy.
More than 20 people filled McDade’s courtroom for Williams’ hearing. His attorney, Ron Hamm, sought the 20-year mandatory minimum, saying his client had a rough childhood and grew up to idolize his brothers, who were in prison on drug charges.
Williams himself gave a passionate and articulate plea, saying he learned and wanted to be a youth counselor when he got out of prison to teach people about the evils of fast money. McDade was touched by his statements but noted that Williams had a chance to do right and chose the easy way out.
But the judge also noted that everyone has a good side, taking note of those in the audience. Williams, he said, would have been hailed as a “hero” had he pursued a legal endeavor.
“What a waste. You have organizational skills. You have leadership, and now all of that is wasted,” the judge said.
The judge also lamented the draconian federal sentencing guidelines, which severely punish crack cocaine crimes.
“Anyone who wants to get into the drug business, anyone who sells crack cocaine is stupid,” the judge said, noting that with one prior drug conviction, there’s a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. Two priors could get a person life in prison.
And then there was the money aspect. “In all my time here, I have never seen (it) except in maybe one or two cases. Where’s the money? It is all gone, and all that risk, all that hard work is for nothing.”
The arrests were part of Operation Rockclimb, a federal effort against the Black P. Stones street gang. Unlike past operations such as Crackshot, which took on the Gangster Disciplines in the mid-1990s, Rockclimb has made extensive use of wiretaps to build cases. More than two dozen people so far have been indicted.
And one of those made her first appearance in court on Friday, hours after Williams was sentenced. Tyrissa Carruthers, 26, of 2121 W. Starr St. was charged with drug trafficking conspiracy and to using a telephone to further the conspiracy.
Her indictment was returned Wednesday but sealed until she appeared in court. According to the charges, she rented an apartment for Williams to store drugs as well as delivered crack for Williams.