Arrests Made In Town And Campus Gun Incidents

Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.

Suspects involved in two unrelated gun incidents have been arrested by SUNY New Paltz’s University Police Department (UPD) and the Town of New Paltz Police.

UPD apprehended 19-year-old Marquis Bernard from Brooklyn the evening of Monday, April 14 for “menacing two students with a handgun,” according to a press release sent to the campus community by UPD Chief David Dugatkin the next morning.

New Paltz Police arrested 21-year-old Basheem Bennett of Poughkeepsie for the murder of 29-year-old Ryan Gray, also of Poughkeepsie on Tuesday, April 22. Bennett also wounded a 26-year-old woman. The woman remains hospitalized and is in stable condition.

Bernard was visiting his girlfriend, a SUNY New Paltz student, at the time of the campus incidents, the press release said. The altercation began at an off-campus party on Route 32. Bernard was involved in a fight with an off-campus student, and afterwards left the party with his girlfriend.

After returning to the area of the party, Bernard “confronted” a different student on campus property. Bernard aimed a handgun at the student on the sidewalk near the basketball courts by Bevier and Deyo Residence Halls. The victim said Bernard pulled the trigger of the gun twice, though the weapon did not fire, the press release said.

According to the victim, Bernard approached another student earlier. The victim told police Bernard also “fired the weapon with no discharge” at the unknown student, according to the press release.

Dugatkin said no further details about the shooting could be released due to the ongoing investigation.

“We cannot say for certain what happened with the gun since it’s still under investigation,” he said. “All that we know is the victim said the trigger on the handgun was pulled and there was no discharge.”

UPD arrested Bernard in his girlfriend’s residence hall five minutes after the victim alerted his residence assistant of the incident, according to Dugatkin.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said there have been no gun-inflicted homicides in the campus’ history, though there have been past incidences of gun violence. Christian’s Chief of Staff, Shelly Wright, said two prior instances of gun violence occurred, once in the 1990s and once in the 2000s.

Christian said gun violence in New Paltz is “extremely rare,” but not out of the realm of possibility on an open campus like New Paltz.

“You would like to have none of these incidents happen, but when you look at it and see there’s a 10-year interval between the last, it’s pretty remarkable,” Christian said.

Bernard is currently being held in Ulster County Jail. His original $50,000 bail has been reduced to $10,000. He is charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, an unlawful possession of a weapon on school grounds, and second-degree menacing.

Six days later, in the early morning hours of April 20, a shooting took place at Murphy’s Restaurant and Pub on Main Street. Some time before 2 a.m., Bennett allegedly shot Gray and wounded the unidentified woman. Like Bernard, Bennett is being held at Ulster County Jail, but without bail.

Bennett faces a charge of murder in the second degree, and another charge of assault in the first degree.

Town of New Paltz Police Chief Joseph Snyder said this is the first time a shooting has taken place in a New Paltz bar, but that instances such as this are to be expected over time.

“We’ve had shootings from domestic incidents, but never in a bar,” Snyder said. “There’s no town, village or city without crime. What matters is what we do in the aftermath to keep that to a minimum.”

Snyder also said police believe the shooting was in retaliation to the death of Alvin Hayles this past November in Poughkeepsie. Snyder and other police officials could not comment on the relationship between Gray and Hayles.

Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright said social media played a role in the investigation, but would not comment on the extent of social media’s use in the case.

While no definitive preventative measures have been discussed or decided upon, Carnright encouraged the implementation of surveillance cameras on Main Street, despite concerns of “Big Brother” sentiments.

“My office has been a champion of suggesting video cameras on the streets,” Carnright said. “Many town boards are resistant for all of the intelligent reasons, but video cameras are a commonplace preventative measure. A lot of establishments have their own video cameras, which is great going forward.”

Dugatkin also encouraged the use of video cameras, and said they are one of the most important tools UPD uses in their investigations.

“It would be extraordinarily successful,” Dugatkin said. “I was always in favor of that, even when I worked for the town police. There isn’t a week that goes by where we [UPD] don’t find ourselves using a surveillance camera-recorded video to solve a case. They are instrumental in today’s policing world.”

New Paltz Town Police are still taking tips from anyone who was at Murphy’s during the shooting. Snyder also said that the incident was not a random act of violence, and that the bar was not at any fault for the incident.

“There was a window of opportunity that allowed this incident to happen,” Snyder said. “This was not an attack on the college town and there is nothing indicating it was random.”

Calls to Murphy’s were not returned as of press time. Dugatkin said neither the town, Murphy’s, or SUNY New Paltz should receive criticism for two “very rare and isolated incidents.”

“The Murphy’s shooting was an overflow of prior events in Poughkeepsie,” Dugatkin said. “No one’s reputation deserves to be tarnished because of this.”