Victim in melee was shot

Teen charged in connection with case

By Mike Elfland and Gary V. Murray –  Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER —  Reversing an earlier determination, police say the man who died in a melee at City Hall Wednesday suffered a fatal gunshot wound. In the hours after the man’s death, police said the man appeared to have suffered from a pre-existing medical condition.

Javier A. Santiago “died as the result of a single gunshot wound to the upper torso,” police said in a brief statement yesterday afternoon.

Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst, a Police Department spokesman, did not return a phone call seeking additional comment on yesterday’s development.

Meantime, a Worcester teenager has been arraigned in connection with the case.

Javon Rodriguez, 17, of 20 Dana Ave., is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and misleading police. Police say he was one of several youths involved in a Wednesday altercation on Allen Court that spilled onto the plaza in front of nearby City Hall.

Mr. Santiago, 20, was pronounced dead Wednesday soon after a confrontation involving two groups of young men in front of City Hall. The fight occurred about 2 p.m.

At the time, police said at least one shot was fired but “the male was checked out for gunshot injuries but it appeared he was not struck by the gunfire.” He was taken to St. Vincent Hospital and later died from cardiac arrest or from complications from an asthma attack, authorities said at the time.

A spokesman for St. Vincent Hospital, Dennis L. Irish, said Mr. Santiago was pronounced dead at the hospital. “The E.R. Department does not determine the cause of death,” Mr. Irish said. “That’s the job of the medical examiner.”

It was unclear yesterday at what point police were notified of the bullet wound. They posted a news release on the department’s website at 8:03 a.m. yesterday that still did not clarify that Mr. Santiago had been shot. A subsequent release posted at 12:58 p.m. attributed the death to a single gunshot wound to the upper torso. Mr. Santiago’s family members said last night that they learned about the cause of his death from police at about 11 a.m. yesterday.

Neither police news release mentioned that an arrest had been made.

Dr. Steve Cina, a certified forensic pathologist in South Florida, said he wouldn’t say it’s commonplace that gunshot wounds would be missed by emergency responders, but that it does happen.

“At autopsies we do detect injuries that aren’t picked up right away,” said Dr. Cina, president of the Florida Association of Medical Examiners and chairman of the Forensic Pathology Committee of the College of American Pathologists.

Autopsies are conducted in controlled, well-lighted situations, where all clothing is removed from the body, he said.

“I have seen cases where it came in as one or two gunshot wounds, and there were three or four,” Dr. Cina said.

And he said it’s not unusual to suffer a gunshot wound that produces little or no bleeding but still causes severe injuries, particularly if the victim is a larger person and if the weapon is a smaller-caliber gun. He said he has been to crime scenes where a victim staggered 50 feet away without leaving a blood trail.

“Your skin is elastic,” Dr. Cina said.

At Javon Rodriguez’s arraignment yesterday, Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Quinlan said a surveillance video obtained by police showed Mr. Rodriguez running down Allen Court about 40 minutes before the shooting with other youths, including Mr. Santiago, behind him. Allen Court runs parallel to Main Street, next to the Telegram & Gazette building, across Franklin Street from City Hall.

Mr. Rodriguez pulled out a knife and waved it at several youths, according to Mr. Quinlan.

The prosecutor said Mr. Rodriguez “wound up leaving the area and recruiting help” and was at City Hall when Mr. Santiago was shot.

People identified on the surveillance video depicting the earlier altercation were members of opposing gangs, according to Mr. Quinlan.

The assistant district attorney said Mr. Rodriguez lied to police when questioned by them, saying he took the bus from St. Casmir School Wednesday afternoon, got off at City Hall, then crossed the street to wait for the next bus home.

Judge Paul L. McGill ordered Mr. Rodriguez held on $10,000 cash bail and continued his case to Dec. 19.

Mr. Quinlan had requested $100,000 cash bail, saying Mr. Rodriguez was “in the middle of the events” that led to the fatal shooting. He also said the suspect had “a lousy record” as a juvenile and posed a risk of flight if released from custody.

Michael M. Franklin, the lawyer appointed to represent him at arraignment, asked that Mr. Rodriguez be released on personal recognizance and suggested the prosecution’s bail request was unreasonable.

Police said in yesterday afternoon’s press releases that detectives continue to work around the clock to identify people involved in the melee and they are asking that witnesses who have not already spoken with them come forward.

Steven H. Foskett Jr. of the Telegram & Gazette staff contributed to this report.