Poster-Boy Perp

How Lester Pearson Became a Permanent Suspect

About three weeks into the manhunt for alleged cop shooter Lester Pearson Jr., two white detectives appeared at his father's home on a quiet block on Bruner Avenue in the Baychester section of the Bronx. That January evening, the Five-O wasn't looking for the old man; they had warned him on a previous visit that if Junior didn't surrender, he might run into a police death squad. "They told me if the others catch him they're going to kill him . . . because he is armed and dangerous," recalls Lester Pearson Sr., a 68-year-old retired Time Warner Cable supervisor who emigrated from Jamaica with his wife, Mary, in 1967.

This time, the detectives were back with a vengeance, swarming all over the two-story house. They rapped on the door of an apartment occupied by one of Pearson's tenants, a Nigerian doctor. "You must be careful," Pearson overheard one stonefaced officer caution the physician. "They [the Pearson family] have a murderer living here. If we catch him, we're going to kill him. He has a gun, and we don't know what he's going to do." (The NYPD refused to comment.) Although Pearson swore that his son did not live with him anymore, the tenant moved out.

The doctor's departure typified the pressure that had been put on the Pearsons by cops from as far south as the Carolinas. Authorities had hoped to force the family to rat out Lester—an obscure 24-year-old rapper who gets mired in trouble every time the odds of beating the system seem to be in his favor. He's always on the cops' most-wanted list—this hazel-eyed, six-foot, 200-pound poster boy perp whose description seems to fit every suspect in their dossier of unsolved crimes. Except for a conviction on a gun charge (to which he pled guilty)—and barring a conviction in a pending murder case—prosecutors and courts in several states have dropped or dismissed charges of felony gun possession, kidnapping, theft, marijuana possession, and running a drug den.

Reason to live: Lester Pearson Jr. and son Greg, five
photo: courtesy of the Pearson family
Reason to live: Lester Pearson Jr. and son Greg, five

As was reported in the Voice last week, Pearson, a hip hop artist on the brink of signing his first contract, allegedly shot off-duty undercover narcotics cop Vincent Ling on December 29 after an early-morning dispute at the corner of East Gun Hill Road and Sexton Avenue in Baychester. The 27-year-old Ling, according to one published report, is paralyzed on his right side from a bullet that pierced his spine. Pearson and Ling, who grew up on the same street in Baychester, had an intense dislike for each other that often erupted into fistfights, the suspect's attorney, Casilda Roper-Simpson claims.

Ling reportedly told police brass that Pearson shot him. But Roper-Simpson denies Pearson was armed. She maintains that Ling, who was shooting at the rapper, was hit in crossfire when an unidentified friend of Ling's unloaded a barrage of shots, seriously wounding the officer. On February 3, Pearson turned himself in to the Bronx District Attorney. At his arraignment in the December 7, 1997, killing of Kuwuan Burgess, his best friend (charges in the shooting of the officer are pending), Roper-Simpson said Pearson told prosecutors that Ling was part of a gunrunning ring and that Pearson is cooperating with Internal Affairs investigators.

The morning after his surrender, Lester's father, a born-again Christian, read a Daily News article about the case and became enraged. The story by Michelle McPhee described Lester as "a Bronx career criminal."

"The damn girl that print the thing in the News don't know what she's talking about!" Pearson told the Voice. "Junior was only convicted of one crime."

Pearson says that Bronx cops began picking on his boy in 1991 at age 15: They regularly harassed the teenager, stopping and frisking him and then letting him go without an apology or explanation. One day, he recalls, Lester spat at a police car as his tormentors drove off. They made a beeline back and roughed him up. After that incident, cops constantly were on the lookout for the kid with the "bad temper" and "fresh mouth." They kept busting him for truancy—even at times when his absences from school were accounted for. In an attempt to avoid the cops, Lester transferred from Truman High School in Co-Op City and began attending Evander High School in the Gun Hill Road section of the Bronx.

His father remembers that Lester left home early one morning to apply for a part-time job at a hospital in Mount Vernon. As he got off a train on his way back to school, cops grabbed him. They did not believe his explanation that he had permission from a teacher to apply for a job and was expected back in class by the second period. "They throw him in jail," Pearson recalls.

In another incident, cops picked up Lester and took him to the 47th Precinct station house. He told his father that the officers sat him down on a chair, cuffed his outstretched arms to two empty chairs, and interrogated him. After remaining in that position for several hours, Lester collapsed. "He suffered an asthma attack, and when he asked them to give him his asthma pump everybody started laughing," his father claims. The cops put the young man through the system as a chronic truant. The next day, a judge dismissed a complaint against him. A 47th Precinct detective told the Voice he slapped Pearson with a summons for marijuana possession in 1991. "When I dealt with him he was much younger," the cop says. "It was a minor offense that wouldn't show up on his rap sheet." After eight appearances in Family Court, one angry judge reportedly admonished the cops for harassing the teen. He won all of his cases.

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