Jose Montero has lived in his house at the corner of East 11th and Wallace streets for 15 years. For much of that time, he was the self-appointed watchman of his corner, shooing away people he thought were up to something.
“This neighborhood used to be pretty bad,” he said. With vacant houses all around, he said, “there was nobody else here to take that role.”
In recent years, however, Montero has seen improvement in the neighborhood. Fewer violent crimes seem to take place near his home.
But on June 12, 2015, Montero became the victim of a crime without ever leaving his home. He was washing dishes at his kitchen sink in the early afternoon when a stray bullet from a nearby shooting crashed through a window, deeply grazing his left cheek and ear before lodging in a wooden cabinet.
More than a year later, the bullet’s upward path can still be traced from a hole that remains in the window screen to a notch that’s still left in the cabinet. And, of course, from the faintly visible scar that crosses Montero’s cheek.
Montero, a 65-year-old retired landscaper, doesn’t have any ill will toward the teen who admitted to firing that bullet.
Jameel A. Lindsey, 19, pleaded guilty in November to charges in the shooting and is set to be sentenced in early February in Erie County Court.
Montero said he did not plan to attend the sentencing before Erie County Judge Stephanie Domitrovich. But he does have opinions about the sentence Lindsey should receive.
“I think he should do some time,” Montero said. “I hope he gets some kind of help, and hopefully this will make him a better man.”
Montero considers himself lucky to have survived. He saw a flash when he looked out the window that day, and turned his head away just in time.
“If I wouldn’t have turned my face, I’d be dead,” Montero said.
His wife called 911 and he received stitches at UPMC Hamot. He has no lingering medical or psychological issues, he said.
“I thank God that it did not have any impact on me,” Montero said. “I don’t have any trauma from it.”
Witnesses told police Lindsey fired six to eight shots that day, apparently aiming at two young men who ran north on Wallace Street and escaped uninjured.
Erie police Capt. Rick Lorah, who investigated the case, said police respond to calls for shots fired into houses in the city “every week.” These cases can be difficult to solve, he said, because witnesses are often uncooperative.
“Normally the level of cooperation in the areas that this happens is very low,” he said. “It just so happened that this time we were able to have not only a witness come forward, but a witness that was willing to cooperate and help out the investigation.”
A U.S. Postal Service worker who witnessed the shooting testified at Lindsey’s preliminary hearing in March and identified him as the shooter.
Lindsey is set to be sentenced Feb. 6 on one first-degree felony count and one second-degree felony count of aggravated assault, which include firing at the two young men and striking Montero, and one third-degree felony count of carrying a firearm without a license. His sentencing was originally scheduled for Monday.
He faces a possible maximum penalty of 37 years in prison, according to court documents. His sentence, however, could be much shorter under a plea agreement in which the Erie County District Attorney’s Office agreed not to seek a minimum sentence greater than three years in prison and not to object to overlapping sentences on the charges, court documents show.
Lindsey, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, was wanted on charges in the incident for several months, until he was arrested in December 2015. He has remained in the Erie County Prison since then on $7,500, or 10 percent of the full bond amount of $75,000.
Montero said easy access to firearms was to blame for the shooting.
“I think about it and it breaks my heart that these children have guns and are going around shooting,” he said. “It could have killed me or done worse. He could have killed that boy he was shooting at.”
Despite the shooting, Montero said he still feels safe in his corner of Erie.
“The neighborhood is 100 percent better than it used to be when we first moved here,” he said.
Lorah echoed Montero’s belief that crime has been dropping in his neighborhood. He credited the Erie Bureau of Police’s detectives, patrol officers, saturation patrols and Neighborhood Action Team for a decline in gun crime in the city from 2015 to 2016.
“We’re able to map where crime is becoming more of a problem and we’re able to send these units into these areas,” Lorah said.
Montero also credits the change to families moving into the neighborhood and homeowners purchasing surveillance cameras.
“With families moving in and people being more accountable, … it has definitely dropped down considerably,” he said.