Bobbi Len Taylor Mitchell-Bey's children were killed at the Clinton-Peabody housing complex in south St. Louis more than a year ago.
On Friday, she asked federal and local law enforcement officials to find out who killed them, and others.
“I’m trying to ask about all the unsolved murders out here,” she said, during a meeting at Peabody Elementary School. “‘Cuz I done lost two children down here. Not saying they was the best of kids, but they weren’t bad, so what y’all doing about that?”
Mitchell-Bey was among a couple of dozen residents of Clinton-Peabody who attended the meeting to demand better policing and better access to city services and resources.
People who live in the Clinton-Peabody apartments say they still worry about their safety, even though federal and local law enforcement officials disbanded a drug-trafficking operation that afflicted their neighborhood for two years. The U.S. Attorney’s Office organized the meeting to hear from the residents.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden expressed his condolences for the death of Mitchell-Bey’s children.
“Certainly we are constantly trying to figure out if there is additional information … in most cases, we’ve done as thorough a job as we can, but that doesn’t prevent additional information from coming forward,” he said of the department’s efforts to solve murders.
A CrimeStoppers officer approached Mitchell-Bey after her comment to talk about how to reach the agency.
A federal grand jury in July indicted 15 people on charges ranging from drug trafficking to murder. Prosecutors said three additional people have been charged in connection with the case. Four of the 18 people arrested and charged in connection to the case were Clinton-Peabody residents, U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said. The others lived elsewhere.
Residents told federal and local officials of moments when they didn’t feel safe. One woman said she frequently hears gunshots from where she works in the complex. She asked for a police substation, or a mini police station, in the area.
Hayden called the substation idea “outdated,” but said he would look into her concern.
Another resident complained to officials about poor housing conditions, including rodents. Another expressed the need for programs that help residents move out of the public-housing rental units to buy homes in the area.
The community meeting came weeks after authorities arrested and federal prosecutors charged more than a dozen people for drug trafficking, murder and overdoses resulting in death. The indictment alleges dealers and conspirators for distributed more than 400 grams of fentanyl. The narcotic can be deadly in extremely small dosages.
“The fentanyl dealt by this (drug-distribution) organization is literally poison,” Jensen said in a statement in July.
He said the arrests helped dismantle a drug operation at Clinton-Peabody that authorities believe began in March 2016. Officials said investigations into the drug ring began in December.
Many of the officials and law-enforcement agents at the meeting repeated all-too-familiar remedies to crime-infested areas, including employment and substance-abuse treatment.
“We need to keep (drug trafficking) from happening again, and we need to work with the community in order to do that,” Jensen said. “We’ve brought in resources: jobs programs, treatment for addiction, deescalation programs and many other programs.”
Pamela Emrick has lived in Clinton-Peabody for 50 years. She passionately asked officials how drug users can receive services if trust is broken between those who need help and those who give it.
“My concern is, you’re locking up the drug dealers,” she said. “But what about the drug users?”
After the meeting, Emrick told St. Louis Public Radio that officials need to pay more attention to the conditions that frustrate many in the community.
“They’re using the drugs because of the poor home they have to live in. They’re facing mice, bed bugs, mold, roaches. It’s a depressing state. And being in a depressing state … you’re going to run to drugs.
“And then they face trying to get the help, they lose they kids, they lose they house, some of them get put on probation because they want to want to come forward get the help.”
Hayden told residents that the arrests were big part of getting people the help they need.
“The big arrests … the large seizure of guns, the large seizure of narcotics; we know that there is a strong connection between violent crime, a lot of our shootings and homicides … are related to drugs.” he said. “So that makes defacto that Clinton Peabody is safer than it was before we started here. Still have a lot of work to do, but that’s going to be a huge realization as you go through the weeks and months to come.”
Charging documents outline several allegations, including selling drugs, using guns, money laundering and three deaths related to drug trafficking. Documents said defendant Demetrius Johnson reportedly gave defendant Armond Calvin a gun to kill David Bryant in December 2016. Prosecutors allege the killer murdered Bryant because someone believed he had stolen a drug customer. Prosecutors also suspect a third defendant, Christopher Rhodes Jr., was the driver of the car.
Prosecutors also said two people died on Oct. 14, 2016, and May 3, 2018, as a result of overdosing on fentanyl sold to them by drug traffickers. Authorities found one of the two people dead at the Clinton-Peabody complex.
Defendant Ashley Aiger Dickerson is also accused of laundering money to hide the source of the money received from drug trafficking. She is one of 15 people facing conspiracy charges that could lead to 10 years to life in prison. Three of those indicted could face 20 years to life in prison for murder.
Former Clinton-Peabody resident Cotina Nelson now owns a home near the housing project. She tearfully told officials that she was bothered by the public perception that residents there are all derelicts.
“Peabody is not filled with crack addicts and just people who don’t want nothing,” she said. “But the big focus is out there in the public. You just don’t have no regards to the people that are trying.”
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon.
Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.