In what police called the first step toward justice for a 16-year-old Oceanside High School student who was murdered during a brawl last week, seven Long Beach teens were arrested Friday on felony gang assault charges for their roles in the killing.
Twelve days after Khaseen Morris was stabbed to death during a melee outside an Oceanside strip mall over a girl, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, District Attorney Madeline Singas, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick announced the additional arrests on the same day as hundreds gathered at a funeral service for Morris in Oceanside.
Nassau County police arrested the main suspect, Lido Beach resident Tyler Flach, 18, days after the Sept. 16 incident and charged him with second-degree murder in Morris's death. Flach, who is being held without bail, was indicted on murder and weapons charges on Tuesday.
On Friday, police arrested Haakim Mechan, 19, of East Fulton Street; Marquis Stephens Jr., 18, of East Pine Street; Javonte Neals, 18, of East Pine Street; Taj Woodruff, 17, of East Fulton Street; Sean Merritt, 17, East Pine Street; and two 16-year-old juvenile males who were not named because they are minors.
The suspects were arraigned in First District Court in Hempstead and pleaded not guilty. They were being held on $25,000 bond or $12,500 cash bail.
The prosecution asked that Mechan's bail be set at $40,000, saying that he kicked an unidentified second victim in the head while the victim was lying injured on the ground.
“Some of the questions start to get answered today,” Ryder told reporters at a news conference at police headquarters in Mineola before the arraignment. “But what we’ll never answer is why a young 16-year-old man had to die on the streets here in Nassau County, stabbed during a brutal attack. That’s unacceptable.”
Despite the gang assault charge, Ryder clarified that the incident was not gang-related and sought to ease concerns at a community meeting in Oceanside last week.
“There was not a gang issue in Oceanside; this is not an organized gang,” he said. “The concern was do we have a gang problem in Oceanside? The answer is no.”
At the arraignment, Sean Merritt's lawyer, Dennis Lemke, said that his client had nothing to do with Morris's death. He asked why the other teens fighting alongside Morris weren't facing similar charges.
Several of the defendant's lawyers have distanced their clients from Flach's actions.
“Nothing more than a pre-arranged fistfight between two groups, but unfortunately one individual took it to another level,” Stephens’s lawyer, William Kephart, said. “We will have to separate ourselves from that individual.”
Police sources in Long Beach said that Nassau County police were out “in full force” on Friday searching for the suspects at homes on East Fulton Street and other areas. At least two of the suspects currently attend Long Beach High School, a source told the Herald.
On Thursday, Flach’s attorney, Edward Sapone, confirmed that his client has been charged with second-degree murder and a count of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Flach is currently waiting to be arraigned in Nassau County Court on the indictment. He pleaded not guilty at his initial arraignment on Sept. 19.
Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the NCPD's Homicide Squad, said at a news conference on Sept. 19 that the dispute between Flach and Morris was over a girl who had recently broken up with one of Flach's friends two weeks before the altercation.
Fitzpatrick said that Morris and the girl were friends and that the girl’s ex-boyfriend, who was not identified, may have been jealous. Fitzpatrick added that Flach and his friends went to the strip mall to fight Morris. Flach, he said, took it to the “next level” and stabbed him. Another teen suffered an arm injury. Video of the brawl went viral on social media.
Ryder said that police received 14 911 calls reporting the incident on Brower Avenue at 3:45 p.m. that day, and about a dozen calls were made through Nassau County Crime Stoppers. Morris, who police said was stabbed multiple times, was taken to South Nassau Communities Hospital, where he died of his injuries.
“That started a very intense homicide investigation,” Ryder said.
Fitzpatrick said that Flach was the “most violent” of the group. He added that one of the minors who was arrested was the ex-boyfriend of the girl who befriended Morris. Flach and the other seven teens were active in the attack on Khaseen and his friends, “physically beating and throwing him to the ground.”
“She broke up with him, and this fight happened as a result of jealousy that Khaseen was seen with the girl,” he said. “They came with the intention to seriously hurt them, and Khaseen got killed as a result of that.”
Flach was in a rap video that was posted on YouTube last month under the name BabyTy called “When the Trap Call,” which was shot in parts of the North Park area, near the Long Beach MLK Center and on Pine Street. It features Flach performing backed by a large group of teens and young adults. Fitzpatrick said that all of the suspects arrested on Friday appeared in that video.
Curran praised Nassau County homicide detectives, Singas and the Oceanside schools for their roles in the investigation.
“It has been a very difficult time for [Khaseen’s] family, for the community of Oceanside, for our entire county,” she said.
Police officials said that the investigation is ongoing and that they’re still looking at other potential suspects.
Singas said that the teens could face additional charges after evidence is presented to a grand jury. She called it a violent and atrocious attack and asked for more community cooperation.
“We believe there still is video out there. We still believe there are witnesses who can come forward,” she said. “It’s imperative that we get this information so that we can seek justice for Khaseen and his family and for the Oceanside community.”