Rapper, others face charges over use of empty building for video

Ken Yuszkus/Staff file photo The Salem Knights of Columbus Hall on Washington Square shortly before it closed last year. 

SALEM — When Salem police rolled up on the old Knights of Columbus Hall on Washington Square back on the evening of Aug. 30, in response to a 911 call from a neighbor who had seen someone climb over a fence, they found a dozen people in the basement. 

But they also found a large video camera. And lights. 

It turns out, the group, including local rapper "Chispa," was making a video for his latest song. 

But 11 of the people in that basement, including the rapper, are still facing breaking and entering charges. 

On Tuesday, their attorneys urged a judge to dismiss the charges, saying that not only were their clients overcharged in the first place — originally with felony counts that could send some of them to jail or even prison — but that there's no evidence that the site, which is being renovated into upscale condos, was posted with "no trespassing" signs. 

"Part of the building was open," argued Patrick Conway, who represents Radhmee Pena, 19, of 52 Ward St., Salem, who is known professionally as "Chispa." "This was a group of people coming together to express themselves artistically," said Conway.

Chispa has a deal with Epic Nation The Label, and has a number of professionally-shot videos on YouTube, including collaborations with Shizzy, KusshMulla and K$, as well as songs on several streaming sites. 

When police arrived, no one ran, said Conway. And police found no signs that the group was doing anything other than shooting a video. 

Meghan Taylor, who represents Corey Marston, 29, one of three defendants who was allowed to appear in response to a summons, pointed out that the lights were on in the basement when police arrived. "They wouldn't have had the lights on if they were intending to commit a crime," she suggested. 

"This is a simple trespass case and nothing more," suggested Michael Bencal, who represents Kelvin Barros, 23, of Boston. 

Tom Burke said his client, Keyshawn Rogers-Howard, 21, of Lynn, thought that someone had obtained permission for them to be in the basement. That was also the belief of several other defendants, their lawyers said. 

Gary Zerola, who represents Vincent Caruso, 24, of Lynn, said there were no "no trespassing" signs on the building, which his client and others thought was abandoned. 

Prosecutor Michael Varone, who conceded that the original charge of breaking and entering to commit a felony should be reduced to breaking and entering to commit a misdemeanor, and who agreed that there was no basis for a malicious destruction charge, said the people inside the building should still have seen the large "no entry" sign on the building, which is surrounded by chain link fencing, its windows boarded up. 

Someone had to have pried off boards from a window to gain entry, said the prosecutor. 

But lawyers for the defendants say there's no information in the police report as to who might have done that. 

Bencal suggested that police and prosecutors simply "threw mud on the wall to see what stuck." His client, Barros, was invited inside, he said. 

"There are a lot of assumptions being made here," said Leslie Salter, who represents Shondell Holloway, 20, of Lynn. "For all we know, the boards could have been removed a week ago or a month ago. There is no crime. You have to have that criminal intent. Everyone gave police the same story, that they were using it to film a music video." 

"I think it's a pretty good rap video, from what I understand," said Paul Woods Jr., who represents Julio Gamboa, 29, of Dorchester. 

Also charged in the incident were Kemoni Boone, 20, of Malden; Jordan Asencio, 23, of Roslindale; and two others who appeared in response to summonses: Michael Uribe, 34 and Randall Hawkins, 29, whose hometowns were not immediately available. 

A 12th person, a woman, was allowed to enter a youthful diversion program which, if she completes it successfully, will mean that the case against her is dismissed. 

Salem District Court Judge Randy Chapman, who denied the motion, acknowledged that "in the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst case of breaking and entering," but suggested that the police report contained just enough evidence to support the reduced charges. "The building was apparently boarded up and there was a 'stay out' sign and a bunch of people inside," said the judge. 

That doesn't mean that the evidence is strong enough to support a conviction, he said, but that will be up to a jury to decide, when the case goes to trial next March. 

All 11 of the defendants currently facing charges are out on bail or personal recognizance in the case. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

Recommended for you