Cook: Long, slow shooting of Keoshia Ford

Cook: Long, slow shooting of Keoshia Ford

September 26th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Keoshia Ford, 14, lies in bed below a board covered with well-wishing cards and letters from friends in this file photo.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

The bullet that was fired on a tragic March night into the head of 13-year-old Keoshia Ford, leaving her comatose, took milliseconds to travel from barrel to brain.

But in a way, the crime began months before.

"If they had done something then ... that girl would be walking," said Willard Talley.

Talley lives on Bennett Avenue, the street where Keoshia was shot. Next to him is 2012 Bennett Ave., now vacant. For months, it was occupied by Horisa Trotter, a 35-year-old mother of eight, who was renting the house through a Section 8 subsidized voucher.

Keoshia was outside Trotter's home the night of the shooting.

Across from Trotter is Rosamond Baldwin, a cat lover who grows flowers on her front porch and makes her own sweet tea. She's a voracious note-taker, keeping diaries about the events in her neighborhood, especially at 2012 Bennett.

For months, residents on Bennett Avenue -- led by Baldwin -- tried to evict Trotter. They claimed she and the people who visited her ruined the street. Playing loud music late into the night. Parties with so many people the street was blocked. Throwing things at other homeowners and their pets. Tossing furniture off the porch. Drugs. Kids kept out of school.

A hub, a beehive of trouble.

"She was terrorizing the neighborhood. There was no peace whatsoever," Baldwin said. "I couldn't walk outside my door without her cussing [me] ... or have people drive by my house and say, 'That's the [expletive] you need to take care of.'"

I called Trotter on Monday.

"What do you want and how did you get my number?" she said. "I don't have nothing to say. Nothing to do with none of it. Please do not call my phone or I will put a harassment charge on you all."

The afternoon after Keoshia was shot, Bennett Avenue exploded again. Baldwin, 43, called police, fearing for her life.

"I have a woman in the street threatening to kill me," Baldwin told the police dispatcher. "She has said I'm lucky if I live through the night ... and I believe her."

In the background of the call's recording, voices curse and shout.

Minutes later, Chattanooga police officers arrive and arrest Cotillyah Marsh, 29, and a friend of Trotter's. On the day of her arrest, Marsh had an outstanding warrant and this morning she appears in front of Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern, facing an assault charge, the most recent of 14 charges on her criminal record.

"I'm not pleading guilty to something I did not say," Marsh said Monday.

Baldwin said Trotter and Marsh threatened her life.

"That's it [expletive]. 'I'm going to tear your house down brick by brick,'" Baldwin recalled Trotter saying.

Three days after Keoshia was shot, residents filed a nine-signature petition with the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which issues the Section 8 voucher for 2012 Bennett Ave.

"Highly disruptive household ... school-aged children often not in school ... screaming, fighting ... harassment and intimidations ... Ms. Trotter's irrational behavior and threats affect the entire neighborhood of proud home owners," the petition reads.

Last fall, Baldwin said she began contacting agencies: the Chattanooga Housing Authority; Chattanooga Police Department; CHA Chief of Public Safety Felix Vess; City Councilman Andraé McGary; Partnership for Families, Children and Adults; the District Attorney's office; Human Services Department.

With each call, Baldwin made the same request:

"Please put them out. Please put them out. They're making my life hell," Baldwin said.

Last November, responding to an email from Baldwin, CHA investigators knocked on Trotter's door.

"The lady [Trotter] has eight kids. If each one had a friend over, that's 16 kids plus adults. The fact that there were large amounts of people was not hard to believe. We did not find any kind of illegal activity or anyone there not living on her [Section 8 housing] voucher," said Lt. Jennifer Wright.

Baldwin made repeated calls to John Holden, president of Pioneer Credit Co. in Cleveland, Tenn., and owner of 2012 Bennett Ave.

Holden and his staff said they presented Trotter with three "Notice of Intent to Evict" warnings, none of which are legally binding. It was after Keoshia's shooting that they began seeking legal means to evict Trotter.

Apparently, she left first.

"The tenant actually came to the office and requested to move," said Wright. "I'm assuming she moved with her voucher." (Officials at CHA are not allowed to release addresses.)

After Trotter left, Holden, who owns 32 properties in the area, sent general contractor Terry McDowell to the property. He was shocked.

"The house was totally destroyed," McDowell said. "The filth in there was incomprehensible. I couldn't imagine children being in that house."

Or in the yard. Or on the street where Keoshia was shot.

"I could never speak to anyone at CHA after repeated calls and petitions. I have yet to this day to hear back from anybody," Baldwin said. "Every time she threatened me, I couldn't get the police to arrest her, even when I had witnesses. They said it was my word against hers.

"If they had done something to get her out of there, that poor girl wouldn't have been there to get shot."