After years of calm, a brazen shooting has Jordan Downs on edge again
By all accounts, the act was brazen. At least one person walked into the Jordan Downs housing development last month and opened fire, wounding three people.
Five days later, on March 18, James "Bo Pete" Daniels Jr. died at a hospital — becoming the first person to be killed inside the once notoriously dangerous Watts housing development in nearly four years.
From 2000 through mid-2011, 25 people were killed inside the development, long the turf of the Grape Street Crips. But in recent years, residents haven't awakened to police tape or been blocked out of their homes for hours at a time for a homicide investigation, with a helicopter buzzing overhead.
The development, which used to be predominantly black and is now mostly Latino, has seen other signs of hope.
There's a $1-billion plan to revitalize the area by replacing the 700 units in Jordan Downs with mixed-income apartments and a shopping center.
Police, who once entered the development only in teams, have built relationships with residents through foot beats, community activities and outreach as part of the LAPD's Community Safety Partnership.
But the killing of Daniels, 51, has scared residents and strained their relationship with police. People are asking why officers, who were in the area at the time of the shooting, weren't able to prevent it. And they want to know what was caught on one of the many cameras that were installed in the developments years ago.
Investigators said they're looking for witnesses and declined to comment on the surveillance footage. It is unknown why Daniels, who worked in the area as a custodian, was targeted.
Daniels, a native of Jordan Downs, was well-known in the community. In recent years, he had taken advantage of programs in the area and was known as a success story.
"He was always willing to share his story with people, and that gave people hope," said Troy Vaughn, the chief operating officer for Shields for Families, a nonprofit that oversees the vocational program where Daniels worked. A conference room there has been dedicated in his name.
Robert Thomas, who had known Daniels for more than 30 years, said the shooting has people on edge.
"How safe are we?" he said. "That someone can walk up and do this?"
Orange wax stuck to the sidewalk off East 102nd Street where candles still mark where a vigil was held for Daniels. Latonya Mozek, his ex-wife, has lived a few doors down for decades.
Mozek said that Daniels, with whom she was still friendly, was a hard worker who "never bothered nobody." She wasn't home when the shooting happened, but when she got a phone call from a friend, "it was unbelievable," she said. Now, she fears more violence.
"I'm afraid to take out my trash," she said on a recent afternoon, standing near a stoop in the development.
Sgt. Emada Tingirides, who heads the Community Safety Partnership, said that when she got word of the shooting, she was sick to her stomach. The community has been shaken by the killing, she said, because it's no longer accustomed to violence.
"We haven't seen that in such a long time," she said. "It was extremely alarming, calculating, bold and brazen."
Tingirides said she walks through the development and feels the "lingering sense of fear" that she remembers years ago, but what's changed from that time is the pride residents have for their neighborhood.
The message Tingirides said she's hearing is: "We're not going to accept this type of behavior."
Still, Kathy Wooten, a gang intervention worker in Watts, worries that the hard work making the area peaceful may be on shaky ground.
"The reality is, there has been progress made," she said. "But when someone dies, it takes me back to, 'Are we doing enough?'"
In the wake of the killing, gang intervention workers in the area are talking to current and former gang members. They want peace.
Photo: (Top) A child rides his bike through Jordan Downs in February 2014. (Bottom) Donielle Johnson with her daughters at the Jordan Downs playground in February 2014. Credit: Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times