By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
A minipark marks the center of an East Allapattah neighborhood, just off NW Twelfth Avenue. Gray wooden stumps, a few oak trees, and a small sandy playground dot the grassy square. On languid summer afternoons, local kids swing and slide on a blue and yellow jungle gym. Cars are parked haphazardly on sidewalks and swales. Bicycles zigzag under riders whose hands dangle at their sides.
Last year in the scorching middle of July, Leon Valentine a petite man whose wispy black mustache masked a perennial baby-face entered the pleasant scene. At 5:00 p.m., the South Miami real estate broker had just finished checking out a residence on NW 44th Street when his cell phone rang. Another broker had questions about the house.
The car caught his eye a second time when it reversed and pulled up next to him. A tall man with scars on his face signaled from the driver's seat, as if looking for directions.
Valentine rolled down his window. "I'm really not sure," he told the stranger. "I don't really live around here."
"What are you doing over here?" the man asked, producing a pistol. "This is a dangerous neighborhood."
Valentine took him for a joker. But before the broker could laugh, another gunman hopped out of the passenger side in a flash gold pants, bright red shirt and stuck a second pistol in his face.
"Don't move," said the driver, now standing in Valentine's window. "Give up your stuff and get out of the car."
As Valentine made a careful exit, the driver proffered some advice. "Just stand. Don't run. Don't scream. Or I'll blow your head off."
Gold Pants set to work scouring the front seat and glove compartment. He moved quickly, avoiding Valentine's eyes. The driver stayed close, keeping his gun trained on the real estate broker, who stood petrified in the grass.
A third thug swung the white Sentra behind the BMW and waited out of sight.
The broker's mind began to race. This guy, this driver, looked familiar. Like a comedian. From where? Friday. The movie Friday. Valentine was a fan; he'd seen it at least ten times. Sure, he thought, this guy might kill me for my phone, wallet, watch, tennis rackets, and briefcase. But he also kinda looks like the skinny wimp who's always getting beaten up by the neighborhood bully.
The notion calmed Valentine enough to make eye contact with the driver, who towered over him. "Him I was able to like," the victim later recalled in court documents.
The affable thug slid into the BMW, searching for the trunk release. He snatched a Panama hat from the back seat and placed it smartly on his head. "How do I look with it?" he asked.
"You look great," Valentine replied. "You look better than me."
"Thanks," he said, flashing a gold grin. "I'll take it."
While Gold Pants silently looted the trunk, Valentine began blathering: Can I keep a dollar? Can I have a drink? Would you please not steal my tennis rackets?
The hoodlums wondered aloud if they should take the Beemer or just the keys. Valentine suggested they settle for the latter. Gold Pants warned him he talked too much.
A trio of local women appeared just in time to see Valentine's Panama hat meet its new owner. "What are you looking at?" the bold robber asked the ladies as he snatched Valentine's briefcase. "Mind your own business."
But it was too late. One of the women, Leshon Davis, recognized him as "Orange Man." She knew him, all too well, as her godsister's ex, a high school hooligan, and a neighborhood thug just out of jail.
As Valentine and the girls looked on, the robbers piled into the Sentra and took off. Local kids followed them on bicycles. Valentine paced in disbelief. Concerned mothers wandered over from the park Had he just been robbed? Marcia Manker, the daughter of a funeral home director, offered him the use of her phone.
By the time Valentine called police, a chattering din had erupted on Manker's lawn. The 911 tape plays like a wacky skit:
"911 emergency," the operator begins. "How can I help you?"
Valentine's jittery voice strains to compete with the hennish background chorus. "They took all my stuff," he cries, exasperated. He attempts a vehicle description a white Nissan.
"Without no tag," a voice adds from behind him. "That's a fresh car."
"Orange Man got in the back seat!" another shouts.
"They call him Orange Man?" Valentine asks one of the onlookers, turning away from the receiver.
The emergency operator sighs.
"That's all I know," someone replies. "They call him Orange Man." The voices rise and fall, giggle and swear.
All at once, they suggest that Orange Man and friends will probably return for the car. "Oh man, I gotta get it towed," Valentine responds.
Then Manker pipes up. "They got your address," she crows. "They got your shit ... your keys, your house keys...."