Legal Indifference?

Cournisha DeMonick's killing in North Miami recalls the slow pace of justice for Haitians

Cournisha DeMonick won't get to see justice served in the slaying of her boyfriend, Jerry St. Pierre, one of several young men murdered in North Miami's Eastside vs. Westside Haitian gang war last summer. On March 11, an unknown assailant in a gray Ford Taurus gunned down the nineteen-year-old DeMonick, known as "Nisha" to her family and friends, near NW 2nd Avenue and 134th Street.

Earlier that day, according to police, she and three of her homies had cursed out two unknown young black women at a check-cashing store located on NW Seventh Avenue and 122nd Street. Later that evening, when Nisha and her friends came back to the store -- no one seems to know why -- their enemies showed up again, driving a white BMW SUV; when Nisha and her people tried to get loose, the BMW stayed in the rear view, obviously tailing them. Moments later the SUV disappeared, and the gray Taurus, bristling with shooters, rolled up on the DeMonick car. Two shots were fired. One bullet caught her in the head, and Nisha was gone.

Although her death appeared unrelated to the gang war that claimed her boyfriend's life last June, it is a sobering reminder of the nihilistic quality of Haitian Miami's mean streets, which now include Little Haiti itself, North Miami, unincorporated Miami-Dade, and North Miami Beach. In all these places, justice comes slowly, if ever, for the ten to thirteen victims of gun violence logged so far. Tellingly, no one has been charged in the gang-style murders of St. Pierre, Watson Chery, McCandy Saintil, and four other Haitian Westsiders, since North Miami police and other law enforcement agencies shut down what appeared to be the Eastside's gun-boy fusillade last November.

In a four-month spasm from late spring through early fall, the Eastsiders allegedly committed at least fifteen drive-bys. And the young Eastsiders were strapped with heavy weaponry: a Norinco SKS 762x39 automatic rifle -- basically an AK-47 -- a Ruger .223 automatic rifle, and an Intratech 9mm pistol, to name just some of their arsenal. That's police-level firepower.

Saintil was the first to go. After dodging a volley of bullets a month earlier, he was killed May 9 by a burst of lead from a passing car. On May 21 the Eastsiders whacked St. Pierre's buddy Chery. Hit with more than 30 rounds, Chery had bullet holes from his face to the bottom of his feet. On June 27 St. Pierre was gunned down in front of his house on NW 3rd Court and 137th Street.

To this day neither the police, the survivors, nor their friends are sure what the bloody M.O.B. (from a Tupac song, "Money Over Bitches") war in North Miami was about. Essentially the battle broke down as a Westside vs. Eastside gang fight -- with North Miami Avenue as the dividing line. Police officials say that while drugs, disputes over turf, insults to girlfriends, and ethnic pride all figure in this deadly outbreak, the motives for many of the shootings seem even simpler, and much more childish. Some people, including Cecile St. Pierre, Jerry's mother, think the trouble started in middle school in 1996; kids from North Miami Middle, at 13105 NE 7th Ave., were sent for summer school to Thomas Jefferson Middle, at 525 NW 147th St., about 25 blocks to the west. The Westsiders didn't think the Eastsiders showed their host school enough respect!

Last July a task force of 60 local, state, and federal cops, including the North Miami Police Department, arrested brothers Max Daniel, age nineteen, and Richard, age eighteen, and their Eastside associate, Edwin Toussaint, age twenty, a.k.a. "Funny E," who had an established beef with Watson Chery. The three had been held without bond in federal prison ever since. Police also rounded up several other men that morning on state charges. North Miami resident Raphael Goris Pratt, a twenty-year-old Eastsider, was held on an outstanding traffic warrant. Odley Alcy, age nineteen, was pulled in on burglary and aggravated assault charges in connection with a separate incident. They were freed on bond.

In a ten-count federal indictment returned by the grand jury in July, the Daniel brothers were charged with a variety of felonies, including the sale of crack cocaine, marijuana, and firearms to a confidential informant. Both men are awaiting trial, set for this month. Toussaint was convicted in early March on one count of conspiring to sell firearms. He got 21 months.

Meanwhile North Miami police Lt. Ron Simpson says the homicides remain "open investigations." He declined to say if any of the individuals arrested last summer will be charged with murder, or if murder charges are even imminent. Simpson did acknowledge, though, that assistant state attorney Frank Ledee, who prosecutes gang cases, came by his department recently, interviewed his detectives, and requested all the evidence on the shootings. He said Ledee was possibly looking for a connection between the North Miami trouble and other shootings in North Miami Beach, Miami, and unincorporated Miami-Dade. But he declined to elaborate. Ledee, through State Attorney's Office spokesman Ed Griffith, would only tell New Times: "We don't talk about ongoing investigations."

You get the feeling that if these murders and drive-bys had occurred in Kendall or Coral Gables, more speed and more information to the press and to victims' families would be forthcoming.

Catherine Chery, Watson's mother, still has trouble sleeping at night. "Sometimes I work overtime because I can't stand to come home," she says through heaving sobs. Mrs. Chery says she has no idea what is going on regarding her son's murder investigation. "No one has contacted me," she cries. "I keep praying to God to let me find justice. I really need it to move on with my life. But they [police and politicians] act like they don't care, and I can't find out nothing."

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