Good Cop? Bad Cop?

An off-duty policeman was lauded for killing a robber who wounded two vendors. That was before allegations that the officer was actually protecting a gambling joint.

"I got two teddy bears for my $1,000," huffs Tiny. "He didn't even give me the ones I wanted."

As Tiny, Jonathan and Big R recall, the four white men pulled up in a trailer about 3 p.m. each day and took an hour to set up. They operated the booth until about 7 p.m., then left before dark. There was also a fifth man, an African-American, regularly on the scene -- mostly off in the wings, watching, sizing people up but quick to make his presence known when things looked as though they might get hairy.

This stuffed-animal stand was allegedly a front for a gambling operation.
Wm. Stage
This stuffed-animal stand was allegedly a front for a gambling operation.

Tiny only played the game once, but he was there every day, watching with interest. "I go by the Shell station every day, [and when] I see someone sitting in a car, no license plate on the front, I'm thinking, 'That car's either broke down or stolen.' But each day, it was the same black man in the same forest-green Infiniti. Every day they [the gaming operators] were there; he was there. First time I seen him, there was me and five other dudes. We standing around watching the action, and he came out of the car and told us to back up if we not playing the game. I'm, like, 'Who is you to tell us to back up?' And he flashed this badge, a real police badge. He had a gun, too, but he was real cool, nonchalant. Sometimes he'd be in the crowd talking to the people, sometimes in his car. When he seen people losing a lot of money, like when I started losing, he got out of the car."

"It wasn't when you walked up there that he was worried about you," says Jonathan. "It was when you left and came back." There are three pay phones just off to the side of where the concession had stood. "He had a cell phone," continues Jonathan, "but he was on those pay phones a lot."

"That was his little spot where he could see the action," says Tiny. "I understood that."

"He had an ID card hanging from his rearview mirror, so everyone know he was a police officer," says Big R. "But everybody from the neighborhood know him. He stay right up the street."

Says Jonathan, "When I went down there and at first didn't want to play the game for real, me and a friend, we asked this officer how's the game work, because he's a brother and these guys white and we was worried [that the game was crooked]. And that officer, before we even started playin', he's eggin' us on: 'I seen people win big.' And we like, 'Day-amn, po-lice in on this, too!'"

"For sure!" chimes Big R. "That young white dude was going up to people's cars: "Here, free game. Wanna play?' And that po-lice officer, he was telling people to play the game, too. He had a cheat sheet with people's names on it, and he's saying shit like 'These people won $600!' Newspaper say he was a po-lice officer, just happened to be on that lot. Man, he was there every day."

"Someone paying him," conjectures Tiny, "'cause he know the odds of what's going on. He wasn't gonna risk his life for free, I know that."

The three guys gathered in this small living room were not at the toy booth when the shooting occurred. They presume that the cop they saw there day in and day out was the same cop who shot their friend. They know him by face, not by name. They know he's a cop because, they say, they have been stopped by him on the street and searched. And they know where he lives -- some six blocks from where they now sit. Big R is the most emphatic: "I've seen that man at that house for years, coming and going, sometimes in his own car, sometimes in a po-lice car. Some woman -- his wife or mother or sister -- stay there, too."

The house in question is a modest two-family flat on Marcus Avenue, scant blocks from the Shell station where the shooting occurred.

A forest-green Infiniti is parked out front. The license plate is registered with the state under Kevin L. Jones at the Marcus Avenue address.

It is a warm October day. The front door of the house on Marcus Avenue is open. A few smart raps bring a woman, about 30, with a toddler in tow.

"Is Kevin Jones in?" After a moment's pause, she says, "No, but he'll be back later."

The woman takes the business card offered to her. Would she please have Kevin call?

"Oh," she exclaims, genuinely excited, "are you going to write a story about him?" Jones never calls back.

Mel Harlston called his nephew Will. His mother, Sheila Warren, called him Darnell, but to his running buddies he was Duck. Described as quiet and industrious, Duck had attended Gateway Institute of Technology and learned construction with YouthBuild Services. Later, he worked as a custodian for the Parkway School District. Somewhere along the line, he had had an accident and was drawing a disability check. In the last few years, he had formed a business, complete with advertising fliers and a truck bearing the inscription "Harlston's Lawn Care Service." He also had a knack for repair. "He was a wizard," says Big R. "Anything I needed fixed, he fixed it -- a toaster, a broken chair. If my car broke down, he'd fix it, make it run like new."

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