In wake of killings, Charleston anti-crime initiative encourages community involvement
As a resident of Ardmore, Nathaniel Payton has become accustomed to a heightened police presence in his neighborhood since a 17-year-old was fatally shot nearby.
Officers have stopped and questioned the 51-year-old about the slaying in the West Ashley community. He’s heard nothing, he has told them.
But Payton wasn’t expecting his most recent encounter around 8 p.m. Thursday as he biked home from work on Magnolia Road, which is in the adjacent Ashleyville Maryville area. Police cars swarmed around him. An officer handcuffed him and placed him against a cruiser.
The police claimed Payton fit the description of a man who tried to rob a nearby Subway. But that robber was in his mid-20s and wearing a ski mask, they later said.
Payton was the wrong guy.
The incident has been common since June 16, Payton said, when Marley Lion was fatally shot as he slept in his car outside Famous Joe’s Bar and Grill.
“That’s the problem: They can’t find who did the shooting,” Payton said. “Now they’re shaking everybody left and right.”
Instead of clashing with people like Payton, city officials hope a new initiative will help crime fighters work with residents. In announcing the effort Friday, they want to spread a community sentiment they say rose out of three recent shootings that killed Lion and 23-year-old Maliek Byers and 22-year-old William Nelson III on the peninsula.
Dubbed “Stand Up Charleston,” it will include coalitions of business, religious and community leaders. The goal is to develop informants who will report precursors to crimes, as well as clues to help investigators solve them.
“The current heartbreak and tragedy has touched people, touched their hearts,” Mayor Joe Riley said after a news conference Friday. “We need to sustain that.”
The effort’s organizer, Margaret Seidler, said she hopes to sit down with officials within weeks and draft a precise plan, which will include a hot line through which residents can get ideas for getting involved. Seidler headed a similar effort in 2010 called “Stand Up West Ashley.”
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen has no qualms about his department’s response to the June 16 killing of Lion.
The patrol force remains heightened in the Ardmore community. Such “saturation” patrols ha been standard after violent crimes in the past five years, Mullen said.
Their enforcement has included investigations into drug activity, which community leaders say remains a problem in Ardmore.In the two weeks since the shooting, officers have responded to drug reports four times in the neighborhood, according to incident records. They have arrested four people on marijuana charges, including two during an undercover sting this week.
“We want the community to feel comfortable with us,” Mullen said, “and we want to gather any information to prevent a shooting from recurring.”
Lion had pulled into a parking lot along Savannah Highway and planned to sleep because he was too intoxicated to drive.
Surveillance video shows a man prying at a rear window. A car alarm sounds, causing the would-be burglar to retreat. He returns and fires several shots, five of which hit Lion.
Citing detectives’ interviews with residents, Mullen said he was “certain that there are individuals that have direct information” about the shooting. But none of the clues they’ve gathered so far has allowed them to develop a suspect, he said.
Lion’s family has continued to pressure city officials for action on the case and on violence in West Ashley in general. They pleaded Friday for further donations to a reward fund that now stands at $12,000.
Payton, the man who encountered officers after the attempted robbery, acknowledged that the relationship between the police and residents needs to improve.
But both sides must do their part, he said.
“He roughed me up,” Payton said of the officer who stopped him. “He threw me on the ... ground, man. They got the wrong fella.”
Payton was ticketed for disorderly conduct because the officer, A.J. Thayer, said Payton refused to put his hands on the car and kept reaching into his pockets.
Paramedics treated Payton for a cut on his shoulder. His girlfriend, who lives on Juniper Street in Ardmore, said the incident was disturbing and only undercuts the residents’ relationship with the authorities. She was walking to meet Payton when she saw the incident.
“It’s very sickening and very harassing,” Loretta Brown, 48, said. “Every day, constantly: three or four times a day. You don’t have to come back to me: I’ll say the same thing all day.”
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said her office has fielded no complaints about policing in the mostly black community.
Scott said the attention Lion’s case has received is unparalleled to other homicides in Charleston during the past year.
“He didn’t deserve to be killed out there,” Scott said. “But the problem is far bigger: It might force us to answer the question, ‘What can we do now to stem the tide of killings happening in all communities? That could be the silver lining.”