Two violent crimes and their aftermath dominated a Thursday night meeting between police and community members in East Germantown and West Oak Lane.
On Thursday night, Lt. Anthony Buchanico spoke to residents of the 14th District’s Police Service Area One about two fatal shootings – one involving police – that occurred in their community during the previous two evenings.
On Tuesday, May 21, at approximately 9:27 p.m., police responded to a report of a shooting on the 6900 block of Stenton Avenue. Upon their arrival, officers observed the victim, Markquine Pickett, 19, from the 5800 block of Master St. in West Philadelphia, suffering from a gunshot wound to his chest, according to police.
The victim was transported to Albert Einstein Medical Center and pronounced dead at 9:39 p.m. Subsequent investigation determined that the shooting originated in the 6900 block of Stenton Avenue, where Pickett ran from the shooting location and collapsed at the corner of Stenton Ave. and Haines St., in front of Rita’s Water Ice.
In 2009, Pickett was held for court on numerous assault and firearms charges. Never sentenced for these crimes according to court records, Pickett resumed a loose association with a West Philadelphia gang. Police say he was in West Oak Lane Tuesday night to rob a drug house on the 6900 block of Stenton Ave., an occupant of which opened fire on Pickett, striking him.
Pickett then staggered back to his accomplices, who were waiting at a nearby Rita’s Water Ice. After they abandoned him, Pickett was transported by police to AEMC.
Buchanico said on Thursday that the investigation is ongoing, and the detectives have information and surveillance footage that is being acted upon. Responding to residents’ questions about larger problems with gangs in the area, he said that police have not observed any gang-related activity in PSA-1.
‘A traumatic event’ for the neighborhood
On Wednesday, a police-involved shooting took the life of a Germantown man on Wednesday night.
As reported by NewsWorks, officers from the 14th District responded to multiple calls reporting a person with a gun on the 5600 block of Devon St. near E. Chelten Ave. at 8:47 p.m. Police responding to the scene saw a man running away on Devon Street, triggering a foot pursuit.
As officers approached the male, later identified as 35-year-old Belton Lomax, he pulled a semi-automatic Ruger handgun from his waistband and pointed it at officers. One of those officers fired his service weapon, striking the suspect in the chest. Dropping his gun to his side, the suspect collapsed on the street and was pronounced dead at the scene by medics at 9:01 p.m.
At the intersection of Woodlawn Ave. and Devon St., a large group of residents and family gathered behind the yellow crime-scene tape. A volatile and, at times, hostile atmosphere pervaded. Dozens of officers from across the Northwest Philadelphia police division were called to the scene as a result.
Residents offered NewsWorks conflicting accounts of what occurred on Wednesday night and questioned the official report regarding Lomax, who was described as a well-liked neighborhood auto mechanic and a family man.
These allegations were refuted at the scene by police, who emphasized that several 911 calls were received by dispatchers, and that responding officers were in full uniform and in a marked vehicle. Investigators recovered Lomax’s handgun within a foot of his body.
Buchanico said that police received compliments from those present on Wednesday for their restraint and professionalism. While family and residents were demonstrative with their feelings over the shooting, Buchanico said that he saw this as an expected part of the grieving process.
“It was a traumatic event for police, for the family, and for the neighborhood,” he said.
Giving residents credit for local decreases in crime
Despite the headline-grabbing nature of these crimes, crime continues its trend downward both across the city and in PSA-1.
Throughout the city, police are reporting a nine-percent decrease in Part One crimes when compared to last year, according to departmental statistics. Buchanico said sizable decreases are being witnessed in his area of responsibility.
“It’s come to the point where PSA-1 problems have become quality of life,” said Buchanico, noting a major change from earlier, more crime-prone days.
Still some crimes persist, and despite a 39-percent overall decrease in gunpoint robberies in PSA-1, the forceful taking of iPhones and other cell phones continues, a practice known as “apple-picking.”
Buchanico pointed to May 2, when four armed robberies of iPhones occurred within two hours in East Mt. Airy. Thanks to cooperation from the victims and quick action from police, the suspect was arrested after the final incident at Washington Lane and Lowber St. in West Oak Lane.
Buchanico said that the suspect had been released from jail the previous week, and police knew where to find him. Upon their arrival, police found the change of clothes the suspect had been wearing, and detained him for identification by witnesses. The suspect eventually admitted responsibility for all five robberies.
While many factors are at play, including changes in police deployment, Buchanico gave residents most of the credit for the decreases.
“My job is to instill civic pride,” he said. “It’s to get people to get together and take care of their problems where they can – we’re just part of their army.”