HOW TO CODDLE A CRIP
part 2 of 2
Orlando could have gone to Denver's Emily Griffith Opportunity School to get his GED, Will says. But, she says, he was reluctant to do so. "At that time he was voicing a desire to stay away from gang influence," says Will. "He said gang members went there." Orlando nixed the Community College of Denver and Aurora Community College for the same reason, she says. Arapahoe Community College, he decided, would be a better bet, because it was farther away, in Littleton, out of the mainstream. So Will arranged for him to enroll in remedial classes there.
But Orlando didn't stick with it. "I think he only went to a couple of classes," acknowledges Will. For one thing, she claims, he was "a fish out of water" among his suburban-reared classmates. For another, she admits, "I don't think he was mentally in a place where he was prepared to tackle that. I don't think he realized that until he got into it."
In the meantime, Will says, "Operation Reconstruction was born, and he began working with them."
Operation Reconstruction, Barry Frye's anti-violence program, was designed to provide alternatives to gang members and divert them from crime. Funded in large part by the Gary Williams Energy Corporation and its associated Piton Foundation and directed by Frye, the group's aim was to provide "cultural education" and jobs to black youths. Even the organizers admitted it was a high-risk venture, primarily because they never demanded that participants renounce their allegiance to gangs. Orlando's old friend Michael Asberry was placed on the board of directors, and Orlando, according to Frye, was given a paid job organizing community events and participation. Many of the gang members were put to work rehabbing the old May D&F building in downtown Denver.
The most controversial aspect of the program--a project called "My Hood"--never really got under way, says Rich Rainaldi, a spokesman for the Piton Foundation. Under that proposal, Cellular One planned to provide cellular phones to gang members that could be used to dispel rumors and improve communication when they patrolled their neighborhoods. "The public didn't approve of gang members talking to each other," Frye says. "They thought they'd be using them to make drug deals." After hundreds of complaints were registered, Cellular One withdrew its offer and took back the phones.
More bad publicity followed when first Orlando and then Asberry were arrested. Orlando was jailed in February 1994 after reportedly resisting arrest during a routine traffic stop by an Aurora officer.
Three months later Asberry was busted for possession of $300 worth of crack cocaine. In a newspaper interview following that arrest, Frye defended Asberry as "a positive leader who wants to make positive change in the community."
It was about that time that the Gary Williams Energy Corporation withdrew its funding for the jobs portion of the program. "It was a resource issue," Rainaldi says. "We couldn't fund them anymore, and we had no more meaningful work for them." The corporation agreed, though, to continue funding the organization's after-school "Cultural Corner," a program in which young black children are taught about their heritage. "Barry," Rainaldi says, "made the decision to focus on the younger children."
But there is a rumor--rampant among police, gang members and other gang intervention groups--that Frye had personal reasons for shifting the focus away from gang members. Orlando and Asberry, says a Denver officer, "kicked the shit out of Barry Frye" in a dispute over money. "Barry was legit, but Orlando would sit home and do nothing, then go down there on Friday and try to get his paycheck. Barry wouldn't [give him the money], because he was trying to help them. An informant told me they knocked [Frye] out."
Frye denies the incident ever occurred. "That's false information," he says. "It's not true." Frye claims that both Asberry and Orlando left the group on good terms and that they departed only because the jobs program had been eliminated.
Despite his departure from Operation Reconstruction, Orlando continued to claim that he was intent on getting out of the gang business. The cops, however, remained skeptical.
"We'd still see him around places where there were going to be problems, so I don't believe he was trying to get out," says Aurora police sergeant Tim Genaro. "There are certain gathering spots, certain streets and parks, where they congregate. If you want to get out of gangs, you're not going to go places where the gangs are. He was still doing that, as far as I'm concerned.
"There were times when I remember him saying he was going to get out," Genaro continues. "But I hear that a lot. After a bad incident, I think they always think about it. There are very few times it'll stick. The problem with getting out is that you might have that intention, but the rest of the players don't know what your intentions are. All they know is what you were in the past. You're still in the mix, as far as they're concerned."
And Orlando clearly was still mixing it up in January 1995, when he shot another gang member in the leg on East 16th Avenue in Aurora. "He claimed it was self-defense, and the way it looked, that held up," Genaro says. "He said he was defending himself against other gang members." Orlando wasn't charged in the incident.
But a Denver officer says he received another version of that shooting directly from Orlando. "There was some set tripping [inter-gang fighting] going on," the officer says. "It stemmed from a homicide in the area. Orlando said he saw this guy waiting for him and that he got a gun and shot him before he could shoot [Orlando]. The other guy did have a gun, but it wasn't self-defense."
Later that same month, Little O led a group of about two dozen Denver youths on a march to the State Capitol and then to the mayor's office. The group wanted to complain about police harassment and about the death of sixteen-year-old Isaac Johnson, who was shot and killed by a police officer during a no-knock drug raid.
Orlando was vocal and controlling during the heated discussions that followed. It was he who ordered the media out of the mayor's office, an act that got his picture in the newspaper. "My whole purpose is to prevent another Rodney King situation," Orlando was quoted as saying at that meeting. "You all want trouble. It's going to get funky."
If Orlando wanted to prevent violence, he had a funny way of going about it. Within two months he had been arrested in connection with two apparently unrelated homicides.
In the first incident, which occurred March 13, Steven Hunnicutt was mortally wounded on the sidewalk in front of Orlando's rented home on East 33rd Avenue. According to court records, Hunnicutt and James Craft went to Orlando's home to complain about some poor-quality cocaine they'd bought there earlier. Craft told police he waited on the corner while Hunnicutt discussed the situation with the seller. When he looked back, he saw two men fighting in the front yard--one of the men was Hunnicutt, who was yelling, "Help me! He's stabbing me!"
Craft said that when he tried to move closer, a male voice told him, "If he moves, you are dead." Craft ran back to Hunnicutt's home, and Hunnicutt's wife phoned police. Fearful that he'd buy trouble himself over the drug transaction, Craft then lay low for a while.
Hunnicutt was alive when officers arrived at Orlando's door. He was taken to the emergency room at Denver General Hospital. It was there, police say, that Hunnicutt told his wife that there were several people at the house and he didn't know who stabbed him. But Hunnicutt told his wife that as he lay there screaming for help, Orlando had stood over him and told him to "stop crying and die like a man, or I'll shoot you."
Hunnicutt died April 1. Orlando was charged in the slaying five days later after police caught up with Craft, who told them he had seen Orlando hitting Hunnicutt in the side.
Police knew just where to find Orlando to make the arrest. By then he was already in jail after having been arrested in connection with a March 30 drive-by shooting that left one man dead and another wounded.
Charles Baker and Mikecail Edlow truly were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they found themselves on East 33rd Avenue. According to a statement Orlando's brother Angelo made to police, Orlando spotted the two men outside his house and asked them, "What's up, cuz?" When the men hurried away, Orlando and his friend Darryl Givens grabbed some guns, hopped into a black Nissan with two other friends and roared after them. Moments later, Angelo told police, he heard several "pops" coming from the area of the 3200 block of St. Paul Street.
Baker was dead, Edlow wounded. Orlando and Givens were arrested soon after. Denver police say that Angelo, who is destined to be the star witness in the case, has been moved out of town for his own safety.
The duo's preliminary hearing in the Baker murder has been set for June 6, the day of the mayoral election. But Orlando is off the hook, at least for now, in the Hunnicutt case. Craft has now backed off his identification of Orlando as the stabber, says homicide detective Mike Fiori, and it appears that another man might have committed the crime. Police are looking for that suspect, and the district attorney's office has dropped the charges against Orlando.
Orlando won't talk about his legal troubles, or anything else. His attorney, Wendelyn Deloach, doesn't have much to say for the record, either, other than that her client has "bad karma." But Darryl Givens's mother is less reticent.
"I believe they've been falsely accused because of the way these boys have lived," Alice Givens says. "Police will go to any lengths to get them off the street. The police won't let them alone." Her son, she says, had once been a gang member but was trying to get out for the sake of his two kids. She says he was going to school to get a realtor's license.
"It's a mistake to get in gangs," she says, her voice breaking, "but when they realize it's time to stop, somebody should be able to help them. But when he decided to get out, the police would harass him every time they'd see him."
The reasons Darryl Givens gave his mother for wanting to leave the Crips were much the same as those voiced by Orlando years earlier. When Orlando first began attending Chief Michaud's gang meetings, Will says, he said he was worried about his own children.
"At the time," Will says, "he had two kids, and he was concerned that he couldn't go anywhere with them in the car because he was afraid they'd get shot. And there was genuine despair in his voice."
Whether or not Orlando ever was really sincere about leaving the gangster life is a popular topic of conversation among those who have known him for years. Kelly is one who believes Orlando wanted out.
"He got it in his head that he wanted to have a life, raise his family and do the right thing," Kelly says. "But the pull of the gang always caused him to backslide. It's almost like a drug. You say, `I'm gonna quit, gonna quit, gonna quit.' But it sucks you right back in."
But Orlando was always known for telling people what they wanted to hear. According to his old neighborhood friend James Wooten, even when Little O was running with the Crips, "It was always, `Yes, ma'am, no ma'am' to my mother. He didn't sag at Red Shield. He adapted to whatever crowd he was with."
Orlando's chief defender in the police department, Judy Will, says she's still not sure whether Orlando was simply manipulating her and others who tried to help him. "I don't know if he was shooting us through the grease or not," she says.
Will adds that she's sorry things have turned out the way they have. "I'm not trying to point to him as an angel or a victim," she says in a sad voice. "But I'm just sick over this. His life is done. I believe he will sit in prison for the rest of his life."
end of part 2
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.