Concerned neighbors discuss violent crime near Stallings Playground

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 29, 2013 at 10:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 29 at 11:01 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS- It’s seen a murder, a double shooting and several gun arrests in recent years.

Now, Stallings Playground is slated to get a face lift. But neighbors wonder if enough is being done to deter crime.

Alex Book was robbed at gunpoint in his own driveway while walking home with his girlfriend around 1:50 a.m. Tuesday. The two had just been dropped off from a day at the beach.

Book says five people inside Stallings Playground, located across the street from his home, walked toward him. One of them had a gun.

“He came around the corner and he cocked his gun and he said, ‘Get on the ground’ and ‘Where's your money at?’” said Book. “He had his finger on the trigger.”

Book said he and his girlfriend got on the ground while two teens frisked them. Three others stood as lookouts.

Book will never forget the way the gun felt against his head.

“It was right here on my temple, and I can still feel it. I mean it was cold steel,” he said.

Book said the robbers took off with his girlfriend’s cash, credit cards and cell phone.

An off duty police officer saw the five suspects walking shortly after the robbery, and called for backup. One 14 year old surrendered, but the others fled.

Later Tuesday, Book saw three of the suspects inside Stallings Playground again and called police. Police captured two 17-year-olds.

A manhunt began when a third teen dropped a gun in the playground and fled. Police captured that teen Wednesday evening. Morris Guerin, 19, is the suspected gunmen.

A female lookout is the only suspect still at-large.

“Those are the kids that should be in here part in positive activities and not in here with weapons and not terrorizing the neighborhood,” said Morgan Clevenger, president of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association.

“We need to create a space in this playground that those young men will feel comfortable coming in here and will have opportunities to do something else.”

Neighbors say there have been problems inside Stallings Playground for years.

“It is still not a place that I feel safe enough to bring my kids,” said Kermit Roberson, with the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association

Stallings Playground is slated to to get $375,000 in capitol improvements.

City officials held a meeting inside Stallings playground Wednesday night to ask neighbors how they would like to see that money spent. It's meant to fix playing fields or improve lighting, but the conversation quickly turned to crime.

“We need more resources beyond capitol improvements,” said Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association President Morgan Clevenger. “We need to provide programming, we need to provide opportunities for people to come.”

Neighbors said the park is not well lit and has been left unsecured at night for years. They say drugs, alcohol and weapons have been issues inside the playground.

“We heard what the people said, we had representatives from the police department here,” said Vincent Smith, the city’s director of capitol projects. “We're going to take that information back and then obviously we need to have more conversations about how we address and attack those issues.”

“I think a lot of teenage guys that commit crimes in this area, they may run to this area, we've had some crimes like that in the past, armed robberies where we have apprehended some suspects in the park,” said New Orleans Police Det. Shawn Jenkins, First District.

Still, police don’t believe the park itself is the issue.

City officials plan to continue meeting with the community to plan improvements for the park’s infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Book plans to move elsewhere in the neighborhood, while police continue to investigate the armed robbery.

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