HOPEWELL — In two separate instances in two separate public housing communities, one three-year-old was shot by his twin brother and a young woman was stabbed to death. These two acts of violence bring to light questions for the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority, questions that pose how similar instances are able to be prevented in the future.
Steve Benham, executive director for HRHA, said since both instances the housing authority has examined its policies, procedures, and looked for way to further enhance security and communication across the board.
“We stress enforcement of the rules. We walk the grounds routinely during the day. Our maintenance people are observant to things,” Benham said. “We’ve got a good relationship with the police. I’m not exactly sure what we would have done differently to prevent the stabbing ... or the shooting by a 3-year-old. I just don’t have an answer.”
On June 9, Hopewell Police responded to the 100 block of South Eighth Avenue, the Thomas Rolfe Court housing community, for reports of a child shot in the buttocks at the playground. Shortly after police responded to the scene, the real story about the shooting started to come together.
The gun was fired by the twin brother, a small-caliber gun that was left unattended inside the residence. Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane said the shooting was accidental and a search of the apartment and the mother’s car turned up marijuana and methampethamines and a handgun.
The mother, Reashonda Jones, 28 and her live-in boyfriend, Lewis Walker Jones, 29, are currently begin held at Riverside Regional Jail, both with numerous charges, including drug charges and child neglect charges.
In the weeks following the incident, the housing authority released a statement clarifying issues brought to light including, access to residents’ apartments, felons eligible for public housing and the relationship between HRHA and the Hopewell Police Department.
“On the day of the shooting the initial report given to the Housing Authority and reported in the newspaper was that the shooting occurred on the playground. In short order it was determined by the police that the shooting actually occurred in an apartment. The change in the location of the shooting was not well communicated/understood when the Police Chief spoke with the Housing Manager. Consequently while attempting to be supportive of the police’s request the Housing Manager was not aware of any legally sanctioned reason to give the police a key. She was actively attempting to resolve the impasse but the urgency of the situation required immediate action according to the Chief. His alternative was to kick in the door, which he did,” the statement reads.
The statement also states that “anyone not on the lease is not eligible to live in our developments. Any ‘live-ins’ will be barred from all HRHA properties.”
It also reads that the HRHA has a “long history of cooperating with the police department ... court staffs meet regularly to discuss a variety of issues.”
Another violent act occurred at a HRHA property at Davisville on June 28. At 3:52 p.m. police responded to the 200 block of Davisville in regards to a domestic disturbance call involving a male and female. Upon arrival, police located a victim in the 300 block of Davisville on the ground and unresponsive. She was pronounced dead at the scene by Hopewell Fire and EMS.
Catherine Elizabeth Lipford, who lived in the 200 block of Davisville Court, was found with multiple stab wounds to her body. Keohane said that the stabbing did occur inside the residence and evidence obtained at the scene confirms the location. Police also indicated the stabbing occurred during a “heated altercation.”
Lipford ran outside asking for help and that is when the 911 calls started coming into police.
Police then began a search for Hopewell resident Ulysses Blanding Jr., 52, of the 200 block of Davisville Court. Warrants were immediately put out for his arrest with charges of first-degree murder. Blanding was apprehended within hours of the incident at a relative’s apartment in the city. He was arrested at 10:20 p.m.
Blanding does a felony conviction from 1991 in Petersburg Court, a malicious wounding and unlawful wounding conviction. However, Benham said those charges were no hinderance to Blanding’s application for public housing in 2004.
Blanding does not have a malicious wounding charge in Hopewell from 2011, as reported previously. That charge that was previously reported is of his father, Ulysses Blanding Sr.
“If Blanding had a conviction in 1990 chances are the statue of limitations over that would have been exhausted by the time he applied for housing with us in 2004,” Benham said. “A person who’s convicted of a felony, depending on what type of felony it is, that’s not held against them forever.”
Though the police identified the suspect in this incident in a short time, the security cameras that were in place at Davisville were not functioning properly at the time of the stabbing.
“There are security cameras at Davisville, Thomas Rolfe Court, and Piper Square, Kippax in fact, and those security cameras have been in since 2010,” Benham said. “They don’t provide all of the coverage we need but we do have security cameras. One of the things we found out about Davisville is that whenever there’s a power outage, and the cameras go off and come back on, they default to look at the ground. The cameras automatically start looking at the ground. We have to reprogram the cameras, so apparently the day before this incident occurred we had a power outage in the community center and that’s where the control panel is at and that camera was not reset.”
Benham said though the security cameras were deemed “not as necessary in this incident” he said steps have been taken to tighten any security measures for the future.
He also added the housing authority was not aware Lipford was living with Blanding at Davisville. Benham said “she was not on the lease, she had not applied to be on the lease and so we were not aware she had been living there. We knew she was his girlfriend but she had not petitioned to legally live there and we didn’t have any legal reason to believe she was living there.”
Another measure the housing authority is exploring is continuing to get the residents of each and every housing community to “get more involved on what’s going on with their neighbors.”
What Benham is also working tirelessly on is fighting the notion of public housing that has spread not only through the city but through the state and country as well. It was also not a notion that grew overnight and not a notion that will be fixed overnight.
“This whole notion of concentrating poverty the way it’s been concentrated and some of the ills that go along with concentrating poverty in this way occurred over a period of years,” Benham said. “And I think we as an authority and we as a city are working to try to reverse some of those trends, things that took 15 to 20 years to develop aren’t going to be unraveled in just a few years it’s going to take many in some cases.”
One of the ways that is going to be accomplished is through redevelopment, which Benham said is the best way to tackle the issue. It is a task that has already begun at Langston Park.
“There is a quality of life, quality of housing issue that attracts a certain type of activity to our community. Redevelopment is one of the best ways for us to move away from the kind of housing that welcomes that,” he said. “We’ll see it in Langston Park and we’re looking to do that same kind of thing throughout the city.”