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Cops: Rivalry role in killing

Both Albany slaying suspect and his alleged victim are 15; gang connection in gun homicide scrutinized

Published on 8/31/2007 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST and JIMMY VIELKIND, Staff writers, Times Union

ALBANY -- In the city's first slaying of the year, police needed to look no further than high school for the victim -- and now the youth they allege is the killer.

Nahjaliek McCall, 15, was arrested late Wednesday and charged with second-degree murder in the Aug. 18 death of Shahied Oliver, also 15, who was gunned down in the early hours at a birthday party in a crowded Lark Street apartment.

"There are two lives ruined and families deeply affected by it," said Detective James Miller, a police spokesman. "It's truly senseless."

On Thursday, police said they knew no specific motive but believed the killing was linked to long-simmering tensions between residents who live in so-called uptown and downtown neighborhoods -- a euphemism for loosely organized gangs based in Arbor Hill and West Hill and the South End.

But, recently, the teens lived within five blocks of each other.

McCall will be treated as an adult but was arraigned as a juvenile Wednesday night in City Court and sent without bail to the secure detention center for minors in Colonie, Miller said.

Police previously said as many as 25 people may have been inside the home at the Skyline Gardens Apartments at the time of the shooting. According to the mother of one teenager who was at the party and was later interviewed by detectives, McCall was one of several people investigators were asking about earlier this week.

The case also highlights the violent circles in which some of the city's young people travel. McCall's older brother, Nakeem Stratton, was charged last fall along with another young man with a West Hill shooting that wounded four people, including an innocent bystander.

Stratton, who authorities said has the same mother as McCall, is now serving a state prison sentence for assault. There was no answer Thursday afternoon at their row house-style home just south of Rensselaer Street, where children excitedly recounted the mammoth show of police muscle that descended on the block Wednesday night.

At the time of his death, Oliver himself was facing a felony assault charge in connection with a March shooting that left a 21-year-old man paralyzed. His mother lost another son, 17-year-old Javonn Morton, in a 2002 shooting also linked to uptown-downtown tensions, less than a year after he narrowly survived another.

The arrest comes less than a week before the start of school, which will see classmates of Oliver and McCall return to an ramped-up code of conduct that will ban T-shirts memorializing friends lost to killings believed to be gang-related.

McCall was a ninth-grader at Albany High School last year but did not complete the year, said Ron Lesko, a city school district spokesman.

Lesko said the district is not taking any specific precautions for the start of the school year other than measures, such as the new code of conduct, that was drafted before Oliver's death.

"On a certain level, it's not possible to make sense of such a horrific set of events," said Common Council member Barbara Smith, who represents the Fourth Ward, where Oliver was killed. "I went to Shahied Oliver's funeral, and to be at a funeral where I would say the majority of the mourners are teenagers, I've not been to one of those before. ... What we need to talk about is what can we do to address this crisis and these realities, what can we do to change it."

A group of more than 60 set out to do just that. Smith attended a meeting at the North Albany YMCA Thursday night that began as a small planning session for a larger forum to discuss youth violence. But the standing-room only planning meeting drew many interested in discussing the larger issue, and participants spent half an hour discussing just what to address.

"I said come and voice your opinions tonight as to how to address this issue," said Victoria Slade, 36, from Arbor Hill. She left the forum as facilitator Roxanne Wright guided it toward its intended topic, and brainstorming as to the best way to conduct activities that will truly reach youth ensued.

"There's a tension of immense proportion -- and any wrong is going to be blown out of proportion," said one man said during the ad-hoc brainstorming session.

Those present listed a number of things to consider when trying to reach youth, which many seemed to agree was an appropriate way to address the issue: such as offering safe spaces in neutral territory, guaranteeing anonymity and confidentiality for those involved in sensitive discussions and provide support services. And food.

Prosecutors have pointed with alarm to the young age of several people charged in recent months in shootings, saying it may reflect an recognition that a willingness to shoot is a fast way to boost their reputation on the street.

Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, who called for the creation of a Gun Violence Task Force in Albany, said violence prevention efforts should begin targeting younger people.

"The sad thing is ... these kids are getting younger, and it begs the question: how are they getting these guns?" he said.

A "mindset change" away from violence is necessary, he added, noting that "it may be too late for some of these older teens. It's going to have to start with the younger people." Oliver's mother, Darlene Morton, declined to comment Thursday through family attorney Eugene Z. Grenz, who was representing her son in his criminal case and who once also represented Oliver's slain brother.

Grenz said the arrest brought some solace to Morton, whose older son's murder remains unsolved.

"Last night, she said," Grenz recounted after speaking with Morton, "was the first night since Shahied was murdered that she was able to get some rest."

Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@ timesunion.com.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.