In Clay Terrace the shots ring out, first one: bang. Then over and over again. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
“You heard that?” a young man asks a 911 operator.
“Yes, I heard it,” she says. “I heard it.”
He was shot six times in the back. When emergency responders arrived, they found him fallen to the ground of the Clay Terrace parking lot where the shooting had taken place.
The 911 recording, which captured more than five minutes of a witness’s conversation with the operator before the shots rang out, was prime evidence in the trial against Rickey Pharr last month.
In closing arguments Prosecutor Reagan Taylor asked the jury to remember the call.
“You heard the six shots that killed Angelo Jones,” she said. “As you heard those shots you heard [the witness] telling you who the shooter was.”
Pharr was ultimately found guilty of first-degree murder while armed in Jones’ death.
While Jones’ family has taken solace in the conviction, they say the 911 call is also evidence that Jones’ death could have been prevented.
“When I heard the 911 call I was dismayed,” said Jones’ sister, Aisha Jones. “I was shocked and truly hurt. This person is trying to prevent my brother from getting shot and gunned down, but to what effect?”
The caller, a young man who ultimately testified about Jones’ murder, said he called 911 in order to prevent the shooting from happening. Community leaders and some in law enforcement say that had the call been handled differently, he could have been successful, that the shooting could have been prevented.
A Good Address
On Oct. 1, 2010 Jones, known to family and friends as “Lochie,” was playing craps in a parking lot off of Dix Street Northeast. It was a Friday night and he played past midnight into the early hours of Saturday morning. He wore a track jacket and blue jeans, his face highlighted with “personality glasses,” non-prescription frames worn for style.
Lots of people were out that night in Clay Terrace: there were fifty or sixty people hanging around the parking lot craps game, and others were sitting on the porches of nearby apartments. When Pharr showed up at the craps game with a gun, one of those people called 911.
911 operator: Hello?
Caller: Yeah, I need DC police.
911 operator: Where?
Caller: I’m around Clay Terrace.
911 operator: What’s the location sir?
Caller: I’m… 5339. In the back of 5339. I’m talking low because I’m like in the crowd.
911 operator: Ok. 5339. What street?
Caller: It’s ah, 53rd Street…. (silence)… hello?
But the 911 operator can’t find that address.
He tries to tell her, again and again where he is. Clay Terrace. 53rd Street. 54th Street. The number 300 is on the street sign. The house number is 5339. He can see the H.D. Woodson construction nearby. But two of the addresses he gives, 5335 53rd St NE and 5335 54th St NE, don’t exist.
“Now they’re getting into an altercation,” he tells the 911 operator.
5335 54th Street, he says again.
911 operator: That’s not a good address.
Caller: That’s what I’m right behind though. Like, right on the corner. That’s what it say on the corner. 53rd and it say thats the house where I’m by. There’s two police cars right here.
911 operator: It’s not coming up as a good address in the computer, sir.
Caller: Well, if you could come, Clay Terrace, right-
911 operator: Sir, I’m not coming.
Caller: Nah, I’m just saying, I know you’re the dispatcher. I’m just saying like you need to send some officers.
For five and a half minutes the caller and 911 call taker go back and forth in this manner. Then gunshots. Sirens. And Jones is dead.
Caller: You heard that?
911 operator: Yes. I heard it. I heard it.
Caller: That’s why I’m trying to tell you all to come quick.
Pharr, 28, was found guilty of first-degree murder while armed at a trial last month. When the young man who placed the 911 call reluctantly took the stand as a government witness he listened as his eight-minute call for help was played for the jury.
“All I wanted to do was prevent the incident from happening,” he testified. “I was just trying to prevent the whole scenario, Angelo getting killed and someone going to jail and all.”
The Streets of Clay Terrace
A total of six locations or landmarks were given by the caller to the 911 operator before Jones was shot, all within about a square mile of each other in Northeast DC. All were within a quarter mile of where Jones was found.
View 911 Call in a larger map
People familiar with the neighborhood, including MPD officers and community leaders interviewed for this story, said that while the call did not pin down a specific usable address, the caller’s descriptions were clear enough to give a general sense of where a crime was about to occur.
For those less familiar with the neighborhood, it’s possible to put the locations into Google Maps for a rough estimate of the streets the caller is describing. All but one of those locations fall within a four block section of Clay Terrace.
“5400 block and 5300 block, police could have just went through the alleys went through the blocks,” said Ron Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics. “There’s someone out there with a gun, that’s like you know a Code Blue, you respond to the emergency. He was trying to stop a crime and the system didn’t work. That is horrible and could have been prevented.”
It’s impossible to know what could have been different that night, what set of circumstances then could have meant Jones being alive now.
Jennifer Greene, director of the Office of Unified Communications, the intake center for the District’s 911 calls, said that system upgrades put in place since Oct. 2010 could have helped in the Clay Terrace shooting. Those upgrades, she said, allow 911 operators to enter dispatch locations by searching landmarks. When the caller mentioned that he could see H.D. Woodson High School, the 911 operator could enter that location as a landmark, Greene said. But those upgrades weren’t in place in 2010.
But even with the system OUC used in 2010, the 911 operator could have done more to find out where the young man was calling from, Greene said.
“She was trying to put in 5339 53rd street, which is not a good address in the system,” Greene said of the operator. “In her efforts to try to find a good location she kept trying to use that address with 53rd or 54th street; she probably should have asked for a cross street.”
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier declined to comment about the call, saying that OUC did not come under her purview.
A source familiar with the call said that after hearing the recording, MPD made an official complaint to OUC about the operator’s handling of the call. Greene, who took leadership of OUC three months after the Clay Terrace shooting, said she was unaware of the status any complaints, if there were any at all, made in relation to this specific case.
Greene said the operator’s statement that she was “not coming” to help was “unprofessional,” and that the call was “certainly not something that I would have liked to have seen or heard.”
Pharr’s Defense Attorney, Jason Downs, said it was “incompetent” and “rude.”
Prosecutor Reagan Taylor told the jury, “It was inexcusable. It is a sad reflection of what one would hope for when they call for help.”
But it’s Aisha Jones who’s most angry about what she heard in that young man’s 911 call for help.
“My brother could still be alive,” she said. “This murder could have been prevented.”
Listen to the 911 call by clicking the orange arrow in the audio player below.