To Wilfredo Torres, Midieast Studios represents opportunity, a place for people to escape and express themselves through music.
Once a music artist himself, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native moved with his family to Alexandria and opened up the recording studio on Telegraph Road 15 years ago in the hopes of helping young people pursue their passion.
However, when community members gathered at Rose Hill Elementary School on July 11 for a meeting held by the Fairfax County Police Department, Torres found himself defending his business’s existence from scrutiny in the wake of a recent shooting that left three people injured.
“I love the community,” Torres said. “…I come from nothing-- so what I have--I appreciate way more than people notice. I appreciate the surroundings, the people, and I brought my kids out here for a better life.”
On July 2, Fairfax County police officers responded to a report of gunfire in the parking lot that Midieast Studio shares with a doggie daycare center around 4:00 p.m.. There, they found a man with a gunshot wound.
Minutes later, two additional men with gunshot wounds were found at the 2700 block of James Drive. Fortunately, none of the injuries were deemed life-threatening.
According to the FCPD, detectives believe the occupants of a dark-colored Mitsubishi sedan and a dark-colored Toyota sedan exchanged gunfire in the parking lot before the Toyota occupants drove about two miles to James Drive in the Huntington area and called 9-1-1.
Police eventually located both vehicles, which are currently being processed by the department’s crime scene section.
Fairfax County police believe the shooting is gang-related, but 2nd Lt. Stephen Wallace, who supervises the homicide unit in the department’s major crimes bureau, says there is currently no reason to believe the July 2 shooting is linked to a separate shooting that occurred near Midieast Studios on Feb. 12, though that incident has also been described as gang-related.
Police announced on May 14 that they arrested two teenagers on May 6 in connection with the Feb. 12 shooting, which did not have any reported injuries. The individuals were charged with maliciously shooting into an occupied dwelling.
The two shooting incidents prompted some local residents at the Rose Hill Elementary School community meeting to question whether the location of Midieast Studios is appropriate, given its proximity to a preschool and nearby residential neighborhoods.
“That really needs to be reevaluated,” said a resident whose granddaughter attends the Daystar Children’s Center across the street. “…It’s very serious when little children are near where the shooting occurred.”
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, whose jurisdiction includes the Rose Hill neighborhood, says the property that comprises Midieast Studios and the dog day care center Reserved Barking is zoned for commercial use.
Torres and his wife, who co-owns Midieast Studios with him, say their business has no relation to the shootings other than the location.
Torres’s wife, Houda Jelbaoui, told Covering the Corridor after a July 6 community meeting at the Highland Park Pool and Tennis Club that she did not recognize any of the people involved in the July 2 shooting and that none of them entered the businesses in the strip before or during the shootout.
Midieast Studios has cooperated with police in both cases, giving detectives access to video from security cameras that helped lead to the arrests in the Feb. 12 incident and offered a clearer picture of what happened on July 2.
“We opened our doors for the police to get the footage, so most of the police was in our facility when the news reporters came,” Torres said. “…They see our door, police there, and it looks like a problem, and we were actually trying to help and trying to give them information.”
Despite that cooperation, county officials have visited Midieast Studios at least five times since the shooting occurred on July 2 to inspect the facility for code compliance violations, according to Fairfax NAACP President Kofi Annan.
Fairfax County says it has only one code complaint on record against Midieast Studios.
The Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance looked at the business after receiving a noise complaint on June 27, 2018. The studio was later found to be in compliance with county code and did not receive any citation.
The investigation lead to the discovery that Midieast Studios lacked the proper zoning permit for a non-residential use, and the business later obtained the correct permit, according to the county.
The Department of Code Compliance’s community complaint inquiry database lists a zoning complaint for the 6404 Telegraph Road complex that opened on July 3 and closed on July 8 with no violation notices issued.
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department told the Fairfax County Times that the Midieast Studios facility recently underwent a fire code inspection along with one or two follow-ups, but the initial inspection was routine, and the visits all occurred prior to the July shootings.
“This was all before the shooting, so it’s not applicable at all to that situation as far as our fire and rescue world,” Fire and Rescue public information officer Bill Delaney said.
Annan says he was concerned by the suspicious attitude that some attendees of the Rose Hill community meeting displayed toward Midieast Studios.
“It’s just a very knee-jerk reaction to this thing, and it’s just not fair to him,” Annan said. “He’s a business owner. There are other businesses there. None of these crimes were actually linked to his business, and he deserves more respect than he’s being given.”
The shooting near Midieast Studios was one of three acts of gun violence that occurred between July 1 and 3 in Alexandria.
According to the FCPD, two juveniles were shot around 11:00 p.m. on July 1 at a playground at 3026 Fordson Court. Both victims were treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
Police found 29 shell casings at the scene, and three nearby cars were hit by bullets.
Another man was shot at the same playground just before midnight on July 3 and sustained a graze wound, though he refused medical treatment. Bullets also hit two cars and an apartment.
According to Wallace, the timing and level of violence in this string of shootings led detectives to the conclusion that they stem from gang activities, though the department has provided few specifics about what gang might be involved to avoid “giving them a platform and us advertising for them.”
“I can assure you that Chief Roessler wouldn’t be saying they’re gang-related if he didn’t believe they’re gang-related,” Wallace said.
While Fairfax County is among the safest jurisdictions of its size in the U.S., the FCPD estimates that the county is home to at least 2,000 gang members and 80 gangs as of 2015.
Fairfax County police have been holding community meetings in response to the three shootings in Alexandria to ask community members for information that could lead to arrests and to raise awareness about gang activity.
A change in behavior, withdrawing from family, drug use, and a sudden influx of money can be indicators of gang involvement for youths, and members often communicate with each other on social media, according to Roessler.
“This case, where it’s three events that are connected…we don't see that as often in Fairfax County,” the police chief said. “We do see it in the region and across the country, and we want to put an end to it.”
Annan attended both the Rose Hill Elementary School meeting and one held at the Gum Springs Community Center on July 9, and he was struck by the difference in reactions.
While the predominately white attendees of the Rose Hill meeting asked questions about how to identify gang activity and what police are doing to prevent further violence, the black and Latino community members in Gum Springs raised concerns about the racial connotations of the “gang” label and the possibility that these incidents will lead to more aggressive policing.
Some attendees at the Gum Springs meeting shared stories of being falsely described as gang members in the past.
“I think a lot of people really don't want to see this used as a reason to justify bringing in some of those tough-on-crime policies that have failed their communities time and time again and would much rather see more preventative measures taken to address these issues,” Annan said, arguing that investing in schools and family and community services would be more effective long-term than pouring more resources into law enforcement.
Roessler emphasized that gang affiliation is not limited to a particular race, gender, nationality, age, or any other identity.
Racial profiling and other forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin are prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by FCPD regulations, which says that “bias based policing” by or against employees “is unlawful and will not be tolerated.”
“We will not racially profile. It’s something the chief has put forward before,” Wallace said. “We will ensure that everybody is treated with the utmost respect, no matter what race, sex, or anything that they are, and we don’t have a history of any racial profiling issues or complaints here either.”