2008-01-11 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Why Was Gang-Banger On Street Instead Of Jail?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

I I was all ready to trot out my handy crystal ball so that I could continue to tell you what happened to Rockaway in the year of 2008, but I got sidetracked by a police-involved shooting here in Rockaway and wanted to address that before it got too stale.

As you probably know by now, Ronnie Smalls, 22, was shot and killed by crime team officers from the 101 Precinct on Beach 63 Street early in the morning of Saturday, January 5, in the confines of the 100 Precinct.

The three-man crime team, in plainclothes and in an unmarked car, spotted Smalls, who was well-known to them and was wanted for a November incident on Beach Channel Drive near Beach 64 Street, walking with another man at about 1 a.m. in the morning.

The cops stopped the two men and Smalls walked away. Two of the cops chased him on foot and the other drove after him as he turned north on Beach 63 Street.

Smalls stopped, pulled a gun and pointed it at officers. Some sources say he fired one shot, other say he did not fire. One of the cops chasing Smalls got tangled up with him and they both went to the ground. Shots were fired and Smalls was hit twice. He died at Peninsula Hospital Center a few hours later.

A .380 caliber Beretta pistol was found laying at the foot of a tree, where Smalls had dropped it.

Reginald Small, Ronny's father, says that he was trying to get clean and that the cops had targeted him.

I'm surprised that the NAACP hasn't started screaming about police brutality and that Al Sharpton hasn't shown up at the scene.

Fortunately, Sharpton is too busy on Long Island to bother with a policeinvolved shooting in Rockaway.

If he ever does show up, however, I hope he comes to The Wave (as he once did during his "Rockaway Five" fiasco more than 10 years ago).

I would show him the record on Ronnie Smalls and his family.

The Smalls family, and particularly Ronnie, are well known to this newspaper.

In the July 12, 2007 edition, I wrote in this space, "I asked you to remember two names - Smalls and Favor. Those two names play a prominent role in the shootings that have dotted the peninsula in the past several years.

"Just last week, Justice Favor, a known GIB member was arrested for the murder of [Laton] Spurgeon. Court papers showed that he operated in tandem with Andrew Smalls, Basil Davis and Supreme Favor.

"So, next time you read about a murder or shooting in Rockaway, look for the last names of both the shooter and the victim.

"You will see a Smalls, a Davis or a Favor. That is Rockaway's version of All In The Family."

Let's take a look at the Smalls family and its bloody background here in Rockaway.

On November 16, 2003, two men walked into PHC with gunshot wounds. One of those men was Roberto Smalls. They said that they were shot by a man wearing all black clothing behind the Edgemere Houses. They would tell detectives nothing else.

In September of 2005, Kadeem Smalls, brother of Ronnie, Cedric and Andrew, known on the street as "Black," because he always wore black clothing, was shot and killed at the Ocean Bay Houses. At the time he was shot, Smalls was the prime suspect in a shooting the week previously.

In May of 2006, two rookie housing cops, patrolling the Hammel Houses, came upon four young men. One of them holding a small, silver handgun.

They gave chase and caught Ronnie Smalls holding the weapon. He tried to get rid of it by throwing the clip down the stairs and handing the gun off to his brother, Andrew Smalls, 19. Andrew tossed the weapon off the roof. Police found the weapon on a nearby rooftop.

Ronnie and Andrew were arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon and trespass.

Cedric Smalls was also present, but was not arrested.

On June 10, 2006, Ronnie Smalls was found shot twice in the back at the Hammel Houses. Smalls was uncooperative with detectives, telling them that he was shot from behind and did not know who shot him.

On December 15, Cedric Smalls was shot and killed in front of his Hammel Houses building. Police were looking for Cedric in connection with a September drive-by shooting that killed Jerome Sandforn.

On December 22, Laton Spurgeon was shot and killed in front of his brother's Wavecrest home. He was also run over after he was shot.

Assistant Chief Thomas Dale told me at the time that Spurgeon's murder was probably in retaliation for the death of Cedric Smalls.

In late January, Andrew Smalls was arrested for his part in the Spurgeon murder.

In July of 2007, Ronnie Smalls was arrested for the June shooting of a 15- year-old-girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Smalls was shooting at a rival gang member.

Court records show that Smalls and another man pointed handguns at Tylique Rollinson and others in a large group of people. They fired several shots, hitting the teenager, who was sitting on a bench nearby.

He also shot Rollinson, who was not badly wounded and was picked up by police while fleeing the scene shortly after the shooting incident.

In November, police say, they spotted Smalls with a weapon and pursued him, but that he got rid of the gun and he got away.

They have been looking for him ever since, and say they saw him on Saturday night.

I wondered why Smalls was out on the street in January after he was arrested for attempted murder in June. In fact, judging by the telephone calls to The Wave, lots of people were wondering why he was on the street.

The June shooting case, the one in which Smalls shot a teenage girl, seemed to have disappeared off the radar.

After some investigation, I found out from a person close to the investigation that the Grand Jury had voted "no true bill" in the case, effectively dismissing all of the charges.

I wondered why, with several eyewitnesses (including two who were shot in the incident) there was a vote to dismiss the charges.

A spokesperson for DA Brown said that she could not discuss any aspect of the case, because Grand Jury proceedings are sealed by law.

That DA's spokesperson said that her records show that Smalls had only two cases brought to court - a 2003 charge of possession of marijuana, for which he was sentenced, and a September, 2007 charge of resisting arrest for which he was conditionally discharged.

There was nothing on the record about an indictment for a case in May of 2006 when he and two of his brothers were found with a weapon at Hammels.

The spokesperson initally said that she could not discuss the attempted murder arrest.

That is puzzling, because the Wave archives show several cases in which he was arrested and charged with criminal activity. With all of his activity, you would have thought that there would be more on the record. When I found out, however, that the Grand Jury had failed to indict him, I did some further checking, and was told that the case was dismissed because all of the witnesses were afraid to point the finger at Smalls.

All of them reportedly feared retribution from Smalls or other members of the GIB gang.

The Smalls case may well be an indicator of what our criminal justice system has become - a revolving door for criminals who prey on their communities. And, it may well be the community's fault.

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