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Get Out of Jail Free 

In the process of taking down the city's baddest gangsters, prosecutors and cops set some very scary people free.

Wednesday, Jul 26 2006

Page 5 of 5

Since 1993, Holden told the court, he'd lived a dual existence, moving large amounts of coke while at the same time funneling information to the cops. For much of the '90s, Holden acknowledged, he'd pushed two to four kilos of coke per month. And while collaborating with the police force, he continued to behave brutally. In 1995, cops arrested Holden for allegedly kidnapping another dealer, beating him severely and locking him in the trunk of a car, before trying to extort the dealer's family for ransom money. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges in the case. In fact, between 1994 and 2001 the authorities busted Holden 10 times for various offenses, many of them felonies, but they chose to prosecute him only on a couple of occasions. Holden's bond with the SFPD kept him out of prison, explains a law enforcement source knowledgeable about the dealer. "He's a vicious motherfucker," the source says, adding that the man's name came up during investigations into two homicides in the mid-1990s.

"Curtis Holden did all kinds of bad shit," says Tamor. "He played the system well. He got paid. He was able to run around and be a kilo-sized drug dealer. ... If some of the allegations about Holden are true, is it right to give him a pass and let him do what he was doing before?" the lawyer asks. "Is that right? I don't know. As a defense lawyer, I think it's the lazy way to do police work."

When it comes to the Big Block and Westmob cases, court records show Holden was a key witness, providing testimony about numerous allegations. And for this help, Holden got a nice reward: Though he could've spent anywhere from 20 years to life in prison for his crimes, he walked out of prison a free man in April.

We were unable to contact Holden, and his lawyer, John J. Jordan, did not return our phone calls seeking comment.

In the eyes of Gruel, the ex-prosecutor, "Informants are the lifeblood" of an organized-crime case. "You need somebody who can tell you how the organization works, who the players are, how to get inside. ... If you want to get the management, the upper echelon of an organization, you need informants."

A third Big Block figure who got a major break is a man who pled guilty in 2004 to illegally possessing a 9 mm Ruger pistol and received a 24-month sentence. Court documents filed by prosecutors reveal that this person, whom we'll call John Jones, cooperated with the government. They also reveal that he participated in the drive-by slaying of 32-year-old Tyrone "Bump" Laury in 2001. According to the legal briefs, Jones "admitted his own and the others' involvement in Laury's murder — identifying himself as the driver" and two other people "as the shooters." Prosecutors — at either the federal or local level — have yet to charge anyone for Laury's murder.

SF Weekly was unable to locate Jones or his legal counsel. (We've opted to keep his identity secret for his own safety.)

Federal prosecutors wouldn't comment specifically on their use of Jones or any other informants in the Big Block and Westmob cases, though spokesman Macaulay says "in organized-crime cases we do use members of the organization because they're qualified to explain or describe the history and operations of the organization." According to Macaulay, prosecutors don't merely rely on the claims of informants, but corroborate their statements independently. Asked whether the feds were probing the slayings of Nitty and Laury, he declined to comment.

Five years after he died in a storm of bullets, Laury's death continues to haunt the residents of Westpoint Road. "I think about him every day," Terrell Porter, one of Laury's best friends, says. Porter, who has "BUMP" tattooed on his forearm in large black and red letters, is wearing an outsized T-shirt and sagging jeans. His voice is soft, little more than a whisper, his face blank. "He was a stand-up guy. He wasn't a gangbanger. He was trying to stop the violence." At the time of his slaying, Laury was helping a friend, filmmaker Kevin Epps, produce the documentary film Straight Out of Hunters Point; Epps wound up dedicating the movie to Laury and featuring his funeral prominently in it.

Laury's murder "tore me up," says his sister-in-law, Tessie Ester, an environmental activist and president of the local tenants' association. His sister, Barbara Bell, says,"It's still painful — losing my little brother. I feel very hurt." Bell is troubled by the deal prosecutors made with Jones. "I don't think that's right. How are you going to give him immunity for killing somebody?"

There's another thing that disturbs folks here on the hill: Little has changed in the years since SFPD and feds swept through and cuffed Stepney, Mathews, and all the others. Despite all the time and money the task force invested in the Big Block and Westmob cases, bullets are still zinging through the projects on a regular basis as the feud — or echoes of it — grinds on. One recent victim was Laury's son, Tyrone Laury Jr., 14, who goes by the nickname "Lil' Bump." An unknown assailant blasted Laury Jr. one afternoon this spring as he stood on a graffitied stretch of sidewalk near the intersection of Middlepoint and Hare Street. The bullet tore through Laury Jr.'s torso, shredding his intestines, before punching a hole in his arm, according to the boy's mother, who asked that her name not be used in this story because she fears for her life. Thanks to five surgeries, her son survived but is now reliant on a colostomy bag.

Ester is thoroughly disenchanted. The anti-gang strategies of the feds and SFPD "aren't solving nothing. If they can pick up the dope dealers, then they can pick up the shooters with the guns. The police here are useless." She speaks while standing on a Hunters Point street corner, and as she talks an unmarked police car, a jet-black Ford Crown Victoria, rolls by.

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