By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Immediately following the shooting, many Vanderveer residents and witnesses told the papers and the police that the cops had been wrong to fire at him, but only a week later very few of them were even willing to admit they had seen anything. The Voice found that a number of Vanderveer residents who were witnesses have since relocated, and most of those still living there were too fearfulespecially of officers of the 67th Precinctto allow the use of their names.
The Vanderveer community views this fatality as another case of a police shooting targeted at them, another case of white cops perceiving a threat from dark-colored skin or labeling a person as criminal, citing the earlier cases of Abner Louima and Patrick Dorismond. Witnesses who brazenly gave their accounts to the police, the Daily News, and Newsday have now retracted their statements, said one police spokesperson. But one is sticking it out.
"He came to my door begging for help," explained Janet McQuillar, a former Vanderveer resident, whose third-floor apartment Louisgene entered. She recalled that her regular soap, One Life to Live, which airs at 2 p.m., was just starting when he came to her door. Initially thinking from his size and locks that he was one of her son Darnell's friends, she let him in. Scared at first when he flailed into her apartment, battered and bloodied from his attackers, she grabbed an 18-inch wooden stick with a little hook on itshe described it as a grappling hook. Soon she realized he was "in search of refuge," and she offered to call the police. McQuillar said the fact that her nephew had been beaten and murdered in an Albany housing project may be why she had sympathy for Louisgene. When she asked him if he wanted her to call 911, she said, he emphatically agreed and begged her to do so.
"When my son walked into the room with the phone, [Louisgene] ran to him, because he was scared, you know, because the boys outside had just attacked him," McQuillar said. Louisgene, likely mistaking Darnell for one of the attackers, held Darnell down, and Janet began to beat him on the back with the lightweight wooden stick. McQuillar said he didn't even seem to feel it, and was eyeing the front door, terrified of attackers coming in after him. So she opened it.
"Soon as I opened it, he started crying and saying, 'Shut the door! Shut the door!' " she wailed, imitating him. An instant later he grabbed the stick, and a 12-inch serrated kitchen knife that was lying nearby.
"Mind you, he did not take the weapons to hurt anybody. He took [them] to protect himself, because he was scared to go out there." Then, she recalled, he ran down the stairs, saying, as if he "was a tough guy now: 'Me not no botty man.' " (Botty man is a slang term for gay.)
McQuillar said she could barely understand him because his jaw appeared to be broken. She said the attackers were outside waiting for him, adding that she knew the men as "those boys" who hang out above the parking garage below the Foster Avenue courtyard. So far, McQuillar said, she's spoken with a lot of reporters, mostly from Haitian papers, and has received few police inquiries. Sam Rodriguez (not his real name) was a downstairs neighbor of hers at the time and saw the incident through his window, including the gang beating Louisgene and his shooting by police.
"They just hit him, and hit him, and hit him," said Rodriguez, who had never seen Louisgene before, though he recognized the attackers. Anita, his wife (not her real name), said their dog barked and she opened the door and saw Louisgene face-to-face as he headed down from McQuillar's apartment.
"He was coming down the stairshe just stared at me, scared, and went outside." She said he was obviously in a daze from the beating, and he was bleeding at the mouth, head, and ears. He was not a threat to anyone, she insisted, certainly not as much as guns being fired in a courtyard with children all around. Once Louisgene was outside, said Sam, the police fired from 10 to 12 feet away, after telling Louisgene to drop his weapons.
"He was reaching up with the stick, to gesture to the men behind them," he said, explaining that Louisgene's attackers were standing behind the police, who were in the wide entrance to the courtyard. Early reports and police sources claimed the cops were "backed up against the gate."
"He was begging them to help, said something like, 'Those are the guys behind you! Arrest those guys!' to the officers," he said.
The cries from the yard came as soon as his body hit the ground. "Why did you do that! You didn't have to shoot him!" onlookers shouted at the cops, said Jermal Alexander, who reluctantly admitted he was one of those objecting. According to Alexander, Louisgene was warned to drop his weapons, but was busy motioning at his attackers while he was walking toward them. He obviously thought they had come to help him, and, crying, he approached them. When the first shot hit him, he kept motioning wildly, and moved closer again. When the last bullets hit, he was down for good, and the outburst came from witnesses.