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Wednesday, February 8, 2012


With an absent father and a single mother who could not control her five sons, Shatiek Johnson fell into a world of drugs and gangs and angry shootouts long before he was old enough to vote.
His father is a convicted drug dealer. So is his oldest brother. Another brother was involved in a wild gunfight. Violence was never too far away in the Staten Island public housing projects where the family lived. Two gangs, the Bloods and the Wolfpack, competed to control the local market for marijuana and crack cocaine.
Now charged with the shooting death of Police Officer Gerard Carter, Shatiek Johnson is the teen-ager whose sullen face, framed by chocolate-colored dreadlocks, is flashed regularly on the television news. To Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gov. George E. Pataki, the 17-year-old ex-convict symbolizes the failings of the state's prison early release program. To the police who arrested him, and who mourn the death of Officer Carter, he is a remorseless thug who they say killed without conscience.

The dysfunctional picture of Mr. Johnson that emerges from interviews with police investigators, prosecutors, neighbors and friends is of a teen-ager described as once being a ''nice kid'' who loved to play basketball. But by age 15, he had been convicted of manslaughter for the beating death of a homeless man. Now, in addition to Officer Carter's fatal shooting, Mr. Johnson will soon be indicted in the killing of a rival gang leader.
On Thursday morning, when a reporter knocked on the front door of the sixth-floor West Brighton Houses apartment where Mr. Johnson lived, his mother, Betty Johnson, refused an interview, shouting, ''Get away from my door!'' Affixed to the door were two stickers from the rap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan. The members of the group were raised in Staten Island housing projects, and their lyrics depict a bitter world of ''stickup kids, corrupt cops and crack rocks.''
It is that world that residents say can be found in West Brighton Houses and a neighboring public housing complex, Markham Gardens Houses, the world that produced Shatiek Johnson. Here, there are scores of hard-working people trying to raise families. Many of the children play in a softball league organized by the police, including the late Officer Carter.
But, two longtime residents said, young men also come and go from prison in bunches, like seasonal harvests. The drug trade is so active that another tenant said customers often just drop money out of their apartment windows to waiting sellers.
So deep is the distrust of outsiders, particularly the media, and so genuine is the fear of retribution for speaking out, that few residents interviewed were willing to give more than first names. And in an eerie example of the interconnectedness of people in the neighborhood, the police and local residents say that Mr. Johnson and Officer Carter, the man he is charged with killing, were once briefly related by marriage.
Residents, police investigators and prosecutors depicted the two neighborhoods, though relatively benign in appearance, as increasingly menaced by the Bloods in Markham Gardens and the Wolfpack in West Brighton. Once considered little more than teen-age wannabes -- local girls used to mock them as ''fake'' Bloods -- these gangs had grown more violent recently, fighting over who would control turf to sell crack and marijuana.
''They know that whenever we collide out here, there's going to be a war, and there are going to be more bodies,'' said Chris, a 28-year-old resident of Markham Gardens who identified himself as a member of the Bloods. He said the Bloods sell crack in ''the Markham'' while the Wolfpack controls the drug market in ''the Projects,'' as West Brighton Houses is known. Police detectives also confirmed this balance of power.
According to Chris and to police investigators, Shatiek Johnson was a member of the Wolfpack. Until he turned 10, he had lived in Markham Gardens, but housing officials said the family moved into a bigger apartment in West Brighton Houses in March 1991. It was far from a stable atmosphere. Shatiek's father, Tony Lovett, did not live with the family; one neighbor said he peddled hats and shirts on the side of the road. Mr. Lovett was an avid Knicks fan and, according to some, a likable guy. But he also sold drugs.
The two oldest brothers, Tarsheen and Karscine, also ran into trouble. Now 26, Tarsheen is serving 6 to 12 years in prison after a string of convictions for burglary, sodomy and criminal sale of controlled substances. Karscine, 24, was linked to a 1995 shootout in front of Scotty's, a graffiti-splattered convenience store situated between the two housing complexes. He was charged with fatally shooting two men -- including Robert Young, the biological father of his baby sister, Josslyn -- but he pleaded guilty to a lesser weapons charge in 1996 after witnesses recanted their testimony. Last week, Karscine Johnson was arrested on an outstanding warrant for drinking in public.
Friends of Betty Johnson describe her as a well-intentioned mother. ''She did her best for her kids,'' said Jamila Pass, 21, who said she had known the family for years. ''She's a single parent raising six kids by herself.''
But Ms. Pass and others say Ms. Johnson could not control her family. One neighbor described loud shouting matches. On some nights, the neighbor said, teen-agers spilled out of the Johnson apartment, smoking so much marijuana that the fumes seeped beneath his closed door. Complaints had been filed with the Housing Authority, which had already banned Tarsheen and Karscine from public housing. Ms. Johnson was also threatened with eviction.
''The whole family,'' said Hilly Gross, a Housing Authority spokesman, ''seems to be problematic.''
On March 25, 1996, Shatiek Johnson and a friend, Kinte Carter, walked to a local liquor store, Papa Joe's. It was Shatiek's 15th birthday. Outside the store, the two friends fought with Richard Martin, described in a police report as a homeless alcoholic.
David Lehr, chief assistant district attorney in Richmond County, said the dispute was over $10. In his confession, Mr. Carter said he struck Mr. Martin only in self-defense; he also said that Mr. Johnson had tried to break up the fight. Mr. Martin died the next day, and though his death was initially attributed to natural causes, an autopsy found that his spleen had been ruptured and his ribs cracked.
Witnesses told the police that Mr. Johnson had helped Mr. Carter kick the victim as he lay helpless on the ground. Though not considered the aggressor, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was given a one- to three-year sentence at a youth detention center. He was denied parole in February 1997 but was released last April 10 because of state guidelines that mandate freeing any prisoner who has served two-thirds of his sentence without any major infractions in prison.
Mr. Johnson returned to West Brighton Houses and at some point became a member of the Wolfpack. ''He wasn't one of the tough guys,'' said a West Brighton Houses tenant who said he has known the family for more than a decade. ''He was a very nice guy. I don't know what changed him.'' Maybe, the tenant said, ''he wanted to be down with the guys. He got involved and he got caught up in it.''
The rivalry between the Bloods and the Wolfpack had intensified with the coming of summer, but it exploded on July 16 with the slaying of Eric Trotman at Markham Gardens. Police investigators described Mr. Trotman as a member of the Bloods. He was discovered shot 14 or 15 times.
''Trotman had a gun, this kid had a gun,'' Mr. Lehr said. ''He kills Trotman before Trotman kills him. That's allegedly what happened.'' Nicknamed ''Confidential,'' Mr. Trotman was considered a ''superior,'' or leader, of the local Bloods gang, according to Chris, the Bloods member. When word spread through Markham Gardens that Mr. Johnson was the shooter, Chris said the Bloods quickly put out a ''contract'' on him.
''We wanted Shatiek,'' Chris said.
The police released a picture of a youth suspected in the Trotman slaying. Ten days later, on the evening of July 26, Officer Carter and his partner, Eric Storch, were patrolling the courtyard in West Brighton Houses when they saw a youth who fit the description of the suspect. Police officials said the two officers kept driving, again checking the picture before returning to the courtyard. Without warning, the police said, the youth fired through the windshield, striking Officer Carter in the head.
Early the next morning, an emergency services police unit captured Mr. Johnson inside a West Brighton Houses apartment after an armed standoff. When Officer Carter died four days after the shooting, Mr. Johnson's grim image was broadcast all over New York City as a teen-age cop killer. Another suspect in the Trotman killing, Jason Walker, was arrested on Tuesday, the police said.
Charged with second-degree murder in the slayings of Officer Carter and Mr. Trotman, Mr. Johnson faces 25 years to life on each count. He is not eligible for the death penalty because he is not yet 18. His lawyer, Alex Shulman, said Friday morning that he would fight to suppress a confession in which Mr. Johnson reportedly admitted to both slayings. Mr. Shulman said he might have Mr. Johnson submit to a psychiatric evaluation. Mr. Shulman also described his client as ''respectful and cooperative.''
In the aftermath of the shootings, West Brighton Houses residents say the police are now constantly patrolling -- and harassing -- tenants. One mother said she was awakened early in the morning last week by officers searching for someone who had stolen a child's bicycle. In Markham Gardens, two young mothers said they have been stopped by police officers and asked why they were wearing red clothing, considered the color of the Bloods.
Chris, the member of the Bloods, said the police presence has pushed the gangs into hiding. But he also noted that the ''contract'' on Mr. Johnson remains in effect, even while he is in prison. For now, Mr. Johnson is under protective custody at Rikers Island, but a police detective noted that ''he's got a problem when he goes into the population of a jail.'' As for Mr. Johnson's family, they seem to want only to be left alone. His mother has avoided the media. And on Wednesday, the youngest brother, 14-year-old Ramik, rode around West Brighton Houses on a bicycle.
''Why don't you just leave us alone?'' he told a reporter. ''The man is locked up now. Just chill.''

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