The Police Investigation
Police Officers Carlos Hernandez and Sirlister House responded to a "10-30 man shot" radio call at around 1:33 PM, at Frederick Douglass Boulevard on January 27, 1998. Upon entering the building, they found Albert Ward lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to his head and a gun between his legs. Officer Hernandez immediately called for Emergency Medical Services. Officer Hernandez then spoke to a witness who reported that the shooters were two black males, one with a green jacket and one with a yellow jacket. Hernandez called in the description of the perpetrators to "central."
The Crime Scene Unit conducted a search inside the numbers spot and recovered one spent round, two spent shells and one live round. The .38 caliber revolver belonging to Albert Ward was recovered and was found to contain one spent cartridge casing and four live rounds in the cylinder. three pieces of duct tape, a roll of duct tape, two pieces of paper, two envelopes and a bundle of 13 envelopes were removed from the scene for possible fingerprints. It was determined that there were no prints of value on these items. Additionally, two latent palm prints were lifted from the mirrors, another latent palm print was lifted from the edge of the bar and a single latent fingerprint was lifted and later submitted to the Statewide Identification System (SAIFIS) and determined to be the print of Phillip Jones, one of the witnesses.
Upon learning that the victim was a retired Member of The Service, the NYPD immediately established a Field Command Post on Frederick Douglas Boulevard between West 125th and 126th Streets. The command post was in place by 5:00 PM on the evening of the shooting and four lieutenants, eight sergeants, and thirty seven police officers from the 28th Precinct and Manhattan North Task Force were assigned to the post to conduct enforcement activity at known narcotics locations. Fifteen arrests and seventyfive summonses were issued. By the evening the police had interviewed five of the nine witnesses present at the location of the shooting, had leads on the whereabouts of the remaining four and had approximately 150 debriefings of individuals.
At 5:00 PM, the NYPD notified Citywide Communications Unit to broadcast a description of the two perpetrators. The description given of the shooter was "male black, light complexion", 20-25 yrs, 5'7 - 5'9, 150 - 155 lbs., beard, mustache and goatee, braids, wearing yellow or orange bubble jacket." Hospitals throughout New York City, Northern New Jersey, and Long Island were canvassed to check for individuals with gunshot wounds, based on the information they had that, although Albert Ward had fired his gun, no bullet had been recovered at the scene.
At 11:00 PM on January 27, 1998, witness Robert Jones was taken by the police to police headquarters and a sketch was drawn of the shooter based upon a description given by Mr. Jones. The sketch was distributed to the surrounding precincts on a "WANTED" poster that described the shooter as "male, black, 20-25 yrs old, 5'7 - 5'9, 150 - 160 lbs, braided hair, light complexion, thin mustache/beard, wearing an orange / yellow 3/4 length jacket."
Sweeps of police locations revealed that there were several unreported robberies of these spots that may have been perpetrated by the same individuals. A robbery at one of these locations - 1412 Fifth Avenue - was found to have similarities to the incident in question and it was reported that one of the witnesses to the robbery identified the person in the "WANTED" poster as being the perpetrator.
Police Receive Tips Regarding "MUSTAFA" And Other Leads
The Police Receive Tips Regarding "MUSTAFA" And Other Leads
On January 28, 1998, one day after the homicide,the police debriefed Robert Copney, who they had arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance. When presented with the sketch of the shooter, Mr. Copney told the police he recognized the person depicted as "Mustafa." Mr. Copney said that he knew "Mustafa" from around the neighborhood and that he had been known to frequent the St. Nicholas Projects. He also stated that he had seen "Mustafa" in a numbers spot on the east side./p>
Most significantly, Mr. Copney stated that at 10:00 AM that morning (the day after the homicide), he was having breakfast with friends at a coffee shop at E. 123rd Street and 3rd Avenue and that one of his friends, Chuck, told him that he knew who it was that committed the homicide at the numbers spot at 2335 8th Avenue. Mr. Copney stated that when he saw the sketch he immediately knew the man to be "Mustafa."
On the following day, January 29, 1998, the police interview another individual, Archie Phillips, who had been charged with a number of drug offenses. Phillips, having no known connection to Robert Copney, stated that he was at a smoke shop at W. 145th Street and 8th Avenue buying marijuana when he heard people inside the store stating that "Mustafa" shot a guy at a numbers spot on 125th and 8th Avenue. Phillips stated that he overheard one of the smoke shop employees state, "that mother fucker is crazy." Phillips further stated that he know "Mustafa" and that he always saw him buying his marijuana at that smoke shop. He also informed the police that "Mustafa" sold blue bags of crack on W. 125th, 126th, and 127th Streets on 8th Avenue near the location of the homicide. Phillips said that the last time he saw "Mustafa" was on January 25, 1998, two days before the homicide, in front of the smoke shop. When asked where the police could find "Mustafa", Phillips replied that he thought "Mustafa" lived in the St. Nicholas Projects. Phillips also gave the police the following description of "Mustafa": "male black, 30 years old, 5'8 - 5'9, 170 lbs", mustache/goatee Black Dread Locks."
Additionally, a third source, independent of Copney and Phillips, contacted the police and informed them that he knew the shooter - "Mustafa." This is confirmed in police notes that were turned over to the defense attorneys prior to Mr. Velazquez's trial that read: "C.I. called states Shaq was down with robbery/ ?? at the spot, ran from loc - knows shooter -". Immediately under that is written, "Mustafa, M/B 5'9, 155-160 lbs, 34, thin sideburns go around like beard, hair braids, brown / tan complexion, pumps dope, 127 & 8 Ave, into doing robberies." Police records reveal that "Mustafa" was a "Primary Target" of the investigation.
Significantly, not only did Robert Copney identify the individual in the police sketch as "Mustafa", but the description given by the confidential caller is virtually an exact match to the sketch and the physical description printed on the bottom of the drawing.
In addition to "Mustafa", the police had received information with respect to two other individuals who were said to have information about the homicide. On January 29, 1998, two days after the incident, the police received a tip from Crimestoppers that an individual had called identifying himself as codename "Rattlesnake" and stated that the person who ordered the hit on Albert Ward was a man named Victor Gibson. The police ran a check on the name and two individuals with the name Victor Gibson were identified. Both individuals were black men with braids. Based upon the DD5s, it does not appear that the police did any further investigation regarding Victor Gibson.
The police also received information from a confidential informant that an individual named "Shaq" was involved in the robbery/homicide at the numbers spot, ran from the location and knows the shooter. It appears from the police notes that the also stated that "Shaq" worked for a guy who sells "Elite" heroin and that "Shaq" had been arrested two or three months earlier between W. 127th and W. 128th Streets for selling "Elite Heroin". Based upon the DD5s, it does not appear that the police did any further investigation regarding "Shaq".