For the past two years, a drug gang has rampaged through Opa-locka, clashing with a network of local dealers. The resulting violence has left at least seven people dead, though law enforcement and street sources say the actual number of fatalities may be more than that. Another half-dozen people have been wounded.
While most of the murders remain unsolved, a Miami-Dade County grand jury last week indicted 22-year-old Quentin Williams (known on the streets as DQ) for killing two men with an assault rifle this past May. Authorities hope those charges may signal the beginning of the end of a frighteningly violent period in a perpetually impoverished city.
But Opa-locka sources say the mayhem really stopped when Williams allegedly pulled the trigger on his AK-47 assault rifle that spring afternoon and his victim, Kevin Trought, fell dead in a fusillade of bullets. One other man was killed in that attack; a third was wounded. Trought (pronounced trout) reportedly headed a notoriously brutal Carol City crew that was muscling its way into the Opa-locka drug trade and mowing down anyone in its path. Trought's reputation earned him the street name Itchy, a reference to his trigger finger. He was as easygoing as all outdoors, always laughing and playful, says one acquaintance who asked not to be identified. But once he got hold of a gun, I guess he turned into a monster.
Trought, 25 years old at the time of his death, was known on the streets as a jitterbug, a condescending term old-school gangsters apply to the young and jumpy thugs who lack discipline and harbor little value for life -- which in Itchy's case included his own. He amassed a chilling history of violence in his short life. At age fifteen he logged his first attempted-murder charge (he was adjudicated as a juvenile), and following that was arrested eight times for felony crimes, including armed robbery in 1997 (charges dropped), cocaine trafficking in 1997 (charges dropped), and throwing a deadly missile in 1992 (sentenced to two years and six months).
News of last week's murder indictment against Quentin Williams troubled some of the gold-toothed young men who cluster outside the Duval Street convenience store in Opa-locka, where two separate shootings have taken place. As far as they're concerned, Trought got what he deserved. He was one dangerous nigger, muttered one man.
Williams was purportedly retaliating against Trought for a previous string of murders that began two years ago. During that time Opa-locka's Triangle, a nine-block wedge of territory at the city's eastern border known as a no-man's land of drug use and violence, was witness to a bloody cycle of murder, vows of revenge, and more murder.
It started with the imprisonment of the Triangle's most charismatic outlaw figure, Rickey Brownlee, who owned restaurants and apartment buildings in the neighborhood, handed out turkeys at Thanksgiving, covered residents' medical bills, and otherwise acted as a sort of benevolent overlord. (Brownlee was the subject of a New Times cover story, Our Hero the Drug Dealer, April 23, 1998.) In 1999 he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to sell cocaine. Sentenced to two life terms, he is now incarcerated at a federal penitentiary in Texas. His codefendant, Dolphins wide receiver Tony Martin, was acquitted.
In Brownlee's absence Trought and his group ventured down from the middle-class black suburb of Carol City, north of Opa-locka, to sell drugs. They ran up against a local crew of dealers led by a man known as Little D, with whom Quentin Williams was aligned. Both sides boasted 20 to 30 young men. Brownlee's friends believe that had he been around, he never would have allowed such violent confrontations to take place, especially near his businesses. He commanded such respect (and elicited such fear) that he would have been able to mediate a truce between the competing groups.
The feud erupted into violence, sources say, over a matter more intimate than drugs or turf. One of Trought's men was dating Little D's sister. At some point she accused him of stealing a watch, which apparently prompted her brother's involvement. Trought responded with lethal firepower. Most knowledgeable sources cite October 18, 1998, as the first incident. That was the day Cleo Martin was gunned down on the corner of Duval Street and Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of the Triangle. According to local sources, Martin, an ex-con with a history of drug and burglary charges, was Little D's uncle.
Confined to a wheelchair because of an earlier gunshot wound, Martin wasn't the only victim; his son Antwon also was killed. Four bystanders were injured. Police searched the area and found Kevin Trought hiding in a shed. Detectives, however, were unable to develop sufficient evidence to charge him. Eventually one of the suspected shooters, 22-year-old Arwin Simmons, surrendered and now faces two counts of first-degree murder.
Opa-locka residents, led by several ministers, marched to protest the recurrence of violence in the neighborhood. It did little good. A month later, on November 15, 1998, Robert Smith and Jamall Gainer were shot at the same intersection. Twenty-five-year-old Smith, known as Yellow Man, died on his way to the hospital. Gainer survived. Opa-locka sources believe Trought's group committed the crime in an effort to gain control of the Duval Street corner, a busy spot for drug dealing.
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On December 20, 1999, 37-year-old Tommy Pookie Bush, who had a history of drug charges, was shot and killed in front of 2196 Ali Baba Ave., in the Triangle. Again Trought's group was suspected. Then this past May 23, twenty-year-old Anthony Legget was shot in his new Chevy Impala after dropping off a friend at the Westview Terrace Apartments on NW 27th Avenue, just south of Opa-locka. Legget had no criminal history.
I worried about him all the time, says Legget's mother, Valerie Givens, from her home in the Triangle. He had problems with those boys who came over from Carol City and took over. He told me a long time ago that they approached him. He was trying to stay away from them. I hate all this. I hate that it happened to my son. (Though Trought and his minions are suspected in the deaths of Smith, Bush, and Legget, the victims' ties to Little D, if any, are unknown.)
Itchy was making a big move in the area, confirms Trought's acquaintance. But his ambitions to control the Triangle's drug trade were cut short at 12:51 p.m., May 25, in front of a Public Storage facility at 15760 NW 27th Ave., just north of Opa-locka. Trought and his two companions were there to move furniture, according to an affidavit filed by a Miami-Dade detective, when Quentin Williams drove up in a green Dodge Durango and rattled off nineteen shots from an AK-47. Twenty-six-year-old Trevor Burlap Clayton died at the scene. Eighteen-year-old Shondrick Johnson received a minor gunshot wound. Trought died at Jackson Memorial Hospital's trauma center later that afternoon.
At the eastern point of the Triangle, under the expansive canopy of a banyan tree, elderly men drink beer and play dominoes near a shuttered building that once housed a grocery store and restaurant owned by Rickey Brownlee. One of those men, whose street moniker is Greedy Man, ponders the convulsive violence that has rocked his neighborhood. He rubs a scruffy white beard and pushes back the straw hat on his head. Peeking out of his shirt pocket is a homemade crack pipe. Why is there all that killing and shooting and kidnapping about the drugs and money? he asks. There's enough under-the-table money out there for everybody. It's ignorant and stupid.