Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

Justice as a life force

There are many history lessons to be learned in the successful prosecution of a drive-by killer using a ghost gun

Photo by Richard Asinof

The impromptu memorial on Olney Street in Providence for Miya Brophy-Baermann, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2021.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 2/5/24
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PROVIDENCE – On Monday morning, Jan. 29, it was easy to drive by and miss the impromptu memorial on Olney Street to the 24-year-old woman, Miya Brophy-Baermann, who had been gunned down and murdered in a drive-by shooting on a hot summer evening in 2021.

The memorial, which consists of a bouquet of plastic flowers strapped to a telephone poll and a broken glass vase filled with dead flowers, was obscured by the bright green garbage containers sprawled in the street in front of the ceremonial marker to a promising life cut short.

On that Monday morning, Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office had resent the news release that had originally been disseminated on Friday, Jan. 26, when Superior Court Justice Robert D. Krause had sentenced Isaiah Pinkerton to double life in prison, plus 50 years, the first 10 years of which are non-parolable.

Much hullabaloo had been recently made about the repair of the gilded Independent Man statue from atop the State House, as a symbol of Rhode Island’s enduring legacy of hope.

Perhaps a more inspiring tribute to the legacy of hope would be the commemoration to the successful prosecution and sentencing of a murderer who had used a ghost gun in a drive-by shooting, a testament to the diligence of law enforcement to combat gun violence and domestic violence.

The conviction and sentencing of the shooter provided a tragic reminder of the loss. “It has been more than two years since Miya lost her life, and while we are painfully aware that nothing can return her to her family and friends, I hope today’s significant sentence brings some semblance of peace to everyone impacted by this unnecessary and tragic loss,” said Attorney General Peter Neronha, as quoted in the re-issued news release

A walk to end gun violence, domestic violence
Imagine how impressive it would have been for an entourage led by Gov. Dan McKee and legislative leaders, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, to walk down Smith Street from the State House to the Roger Williams Memorial along South Main Street, then to trudge up the hill to Olney Street. The impromptu memorial for Miya Brophy-Baermann is located about halfway up the hill, 200 yards south of Hope High School, across the street from the University Heights housing complex.

The elected leaders could then have paid their respects to the life cut short by what happens when gun violence and domestic violence are wedded together in a tragic death.

Perhaps Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and Cranston Mayor Kenneth Hopkins could have been invited to join such a trek in order to call attention to the plague of domestic violence, gun violence and misogyny.

And, perhaps the news media – could exercise their legs and not just their mouths and join in such a walking entourage.

A history lesson for 2024
Some 50 yards further up the hill, on the other side of Olney Street, is the commemorative bronze marker for the Snow Town race riot in 1831, a race riot in which mobs of whites attacked the homes of Black residents. The riots resulted in R.I. Gov. James Fenner having to call out the militia to quell the violence, in which four rioters were killed.

Three decades before the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, racial violence marked the history of Providence and Rhode Island. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Parsing the racial divide in Rhode Island.”]

The re-release of the news release on Monday, Jan. 29, from the Attorney General’s office detailed the determined investigation into the murder of 24-year-old Miya Brophy-Baermann. It is worth quoting the news release at length:

  •      “On June 29, 2023, following the conclusion of a nine-day jury trial before Judge Krause, the jury found the defendant guilty of one count of murder; one count of conspiracy to commit murder; one count of discharge of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, resulting in death; one count of committing a drive-by shooting; two counts of possession of a ghost gun; two counts of carrying a pistol without a license; two counts of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person; one count of assault with intent to commit murder; and one count of discharge of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, resulting in no injury.”

The news release provided further details of the police investigation:

  •    “On the morning of Aug. 1, 2021, Providence Police responded to reports of a shooting on Olney Street and arrived on scene as rescue personnel were transporting the victim, Miya Brophy Baermann, to Rhode Island Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.”

The news release continued: “In the days following, investigators obtained surveillance footage which showed a dark colored sedan driving past the scene of the crime, opening fire upon Miya and Sheron, and then fleeing. They also recovered two 9mm cartridge cases in the roadway and one fragmented bullet from the victim’s vehicle, all of which were sent to the State Crime Lab for analysis. During the course of the investigation, detectives were able to obtain a combination of surveillance, phone location data, DNA, and ballistics evidence.”

The diligence by police investigators paid off, according to the news release: “Four months later, on Dec. 12, 2021, Providence Police conducted a routine motor vehicle stop of a Hyundai Elantra, of which the defendant was a passenger. Officers located a backpack that was tossed from the vehicle prior to the stop, which contained a ghost gun. The defendant was then brought into the police station where he consented to a buccal swab to obtain his DNA.”

The news release continued: “Investigators ran the ghost gun through the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network [NIBIN] database, which indicated that the gun was a possible match to the gun used during the Aug.1, 2021 shooting. Experts did further analysis to confirm the accuracy of the findings and they determined that the spent casings from the scene on Olney Street were expelled from the recovered ghost gun.”

The diligence of the police investigation found the DNA evidence connecting the defendant to the shooting, according to the news release: “Prior to sending it for analysis, investigators took swabs of the gun to submit for DNA analysis. Shortly after, they confirmed the presence of the defendant’s DNA on the gun, magazine, and the backpack it was found in.”

What worked in solving the murder was the collaborative partnership between the Providence police and the Attorney General’s office, according to Providence Police Chief Oscar Perez. “The men and women of the Providence Police Department commit themselves every day to performing police work that keeps the public safe and holds those accountable who harm others in our community,” said Chief Oscar Perez, as quoted in the news release. “I want to thank our officers who investigated this case, specifically Detective Sergeant Timothy McGann and Detective Theodore Michael, and thanks to the Office of the Attorney General for their continued partnership.”

Halting the violence  
It is not as if the gun violence in the commission of domestic violence has disappeared, despite the teamwork of the Providence police and the Attorney General’s office.

The case of the hair braiding stylist, Jocelyn A. DoCouto, a 33-yer-old mother of two, who, on Friday, Jan. 19, was allegedly stalked and then gunned down by Michael J. Fernandes, despite a restraining order against him, shows how prevalent such despicable violence is.

Last week, the Providence City Council approved the application for the state’s first harm reduction center, to be run by Project Weber/Renew and VICTA, in a building on the edge of the campus of Rhode Island Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital.

The building on Willard Avenue ironically, had once served as the corporate headquarters for Care New England, before it was sold. The money to support the harm reduction center came from the legal settlements obtained by the Attorney General Peter Neronha and his legal team against the manufacturers, distributors, and marketers of opioids, including Purdue Pharma, McKinsey & Company, and CVS.

The money supporting the creation of the harm reduction center was disbursed by the Opioid Settlement Committee administered by the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

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