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Police brief West Hyattsville residents on recent violent crimes

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Posted on: September 26, 2016

BY KRISSI HUMBARD — Two recent violent crimes — a triple shooting and a homicide — have West Hyattsville residents concerned about crime in their neighborhood. The Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) held a “Community Crime Awareness Meeting” on Aug. 24 to discuss the two cases and address residents’ concerns.

Officers from HCPD, an officer from Prince George’s County Police Department (PGCPD), Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, City Administrator Tracey Nicholson, city employees, and council members attended the meeting, held at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. Approximately 25 residents also attended.

PGCPD Detective Jonathan Hill spoke about the homicide of 20-year-old Brandon Sorto, who was found in a secluded, wooded area on July 30 after suffering from multiple stab wounds to his upper body. He was pronounced dead on the scene. This was the first homicide in the city since 2014.

“[There are] several leads,” Hill said. PGCPD is “currently, aggressively investigating [them].” Hill said he was working with HCPD and other agencies, including federal agencies, on the homicide case. But he also called for residents to help. “Any type of information [related to the case] is useful,” he said.

Citing gang activity in Langley Park, a resident asked if Sorto, the victim, had been affiliated with a gang. Hill said Sorto was an interesting victim and explained that there was evidence that he was linked to a gang in the past and had friends who are active gang members, but that he was not affiliated with any gang at the time of his death. Hill said it seemed as if Sorto was trying to get away from that lifestyle when he was killed.

HCPD Detective Mark Filuta, with crime investigation, addressed the triple shooting that occurred Aug. 9. Officers responded to a report of possible gunshots fired in the 5800 block of 35th Place. Shortly after, two men who had upper-body trauma flagged down an officer for help and were sent to the hospital. It was later learned that a third male victim with gunshot wounds was taken to an emergency room in a private vehicle.

Filuta said that there are multiple people involved in this case and that all individuals have been identified. He said HCPD is utilizing all resources to solve the case, including working with Homeland Security and federal agencies. He said officers continue to believe this was “not a random attack.”

HCPD said a silver Honda that is connected to the case has been found, recovered and processed for evidence.

Thinking the two cases could be connected because they occurred within two weeks of each other, officers from PGCPD and HCPD compared notes. Hill went to the hospitals with Filuta to speak with the victims. At this point in the investigation, Hill said, “it doesn’t look like there is anything connecting the cases.”

Jen Kubit, a West Hyattsville resident at the meeting, asked whether the triple shooting was in retaliation for the homicide. Both Hill and Filuta responded, saying there was “no connection at this time” between the cases.

Both investigations are ongoing. No arrests have been made in either case.

HCPD Chief Douglas Holland called on residents for information: “Police officers don’t solve cases alone. We need your help.”

Crime Statistics

Alexi Boado, another West Hyattsville resident in attendance, asked about the “3 or 4 recent armed robberies” in the city. “Is there a pattern? Is it random?,” he asked. A detective with crime investigation said there are “no similarities” in the recent robberies.

Chief Holland, looking at the year-to-date crime comparison, said “there are two areas that concern us: citizen robberies and assaults.” He noted that citizen robberies have had “a significant increase” over last year. From January through July 2015, there were 23 citizen robberies; in the same period this year, there have been 45 citizen robberies. Strong arm robberies — a robbery using force but no weapon — have seen the biggest jump, going from 9 last year to 23 this year.

Breaking the statistics down, ward by ward, year-to-year, for citizen robberies, Ward 1 and Ward 3 have seen an increase, whereas Ward 5 has seen a “significant increase,” Holland said. Citizen robberies in Ward 4 have gone down slightly, and had the same number from year to year in Ward 2.

Lt. Frank DonBullian, patrol commander, said most of the citizen robberies happened between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Most of the victims, he said, were alone at the time of the crime. He also noted that the robberies were widespread; the incidents are not isolated to one part of the city.

Overall, total crime is up about 10 percent over last year. DonBullian talked about measures the department has taken to address the increase in crimes. He said the department is going to start an extra patrol program — which will involve some undercover ops. “You might not see us, but we are out there. We will begin doing extra patrols very soon,” he said.

CCTV Cameras

Another topic on the night’s agenda: CCTV cameras. Lt. Chris Purvis talked about the CCTV system, which consists of about 16 cameras in place in Hyattsville. The program started in 2009 as a partnership with Target. Cameras are placed in commercial areas and parking lots around the city, but not in residential areas. A few gas stations that have had crime issues have partnered with police to place cameras at the stations.

Purvis said they are trying to add additional cameras, specifically in West Hyattsville along Ager Road and Lancer Drive. But these cameras would not be in residential areas.

A resident who lives on 35th Place asked why the cameras were not in residential areas. “The community suffers” after events like violent crimes, he said.

Chief Holland said that when the program was first put in place, they avoided putting cameras in residential areas because the department didn’t “want to risk the possibility of mistrust,” adding that they had concerns of privacy violations.

The CCTV cameras are not monitored 24/7 but the monitors are located in the department’s  communications center. Officers also have access to the cameras and can pull up specific views. The system records 24/7 and holds video for 30 days.

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