Security cameras, social media led Hartford police to teens charged in drive-by shooting death of 3-year-old, records show

Zach Murdock, Hartford Courant
·5 min read

New court records reveal how Hartford detectives used a series of police surveillance cameras and social media searches to track down the two teens accused of fatally shooting 3-year-old Randell Jones in a drive-by early last month in the North End.

Jaziah Smith, 19, and Tyquam Malone, 16, were arrested late last month and charged with murder and the case has sparked outcry from longtime local activists and top elected officials, who have redoubled their efforts to reduce urban gun violence in its aftermath.

The teens’ arrest warrant affidavits, unsealed and released publicly for the first time Tuesday afternoon, detail how police used the department’s extensive network of city surveillance cameras and information on pseudonymous Facebook accounts to identify all of the people believed to be involved in the shooting.

A third person seen on video in the stolen car used to commit the drive-by shooting, who has not been charged in shooting itself but was charged for stealing the car, also helped police identify Malone and Smith, the records show.

That person “was arrested for the charges [police] had probable cause for at the time,” Chief Jason Thody said Tuesday. “This investigation is still active and may result in more arrests as the detectives continue to develop and verify information.”

Randell was killed the afternoon of April 10 while he was sitting in the backseat of his mother’s car near 182 Nelson St. behind his mother and uncle and next to his 4- and 5-year-old sisters.

A black Honda Accord with three people inside then pulled up next to the car Randell was in and one shooter opened fire on Randell’s uncle, who scrambled over the driver’s side seat and out onto the sidewalk while multiple bullets whizzed passed him and into Randell’s arm and torso, court records show. His mother, Solmary Cruz, sped away to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

While police were at the scene just two hours later, more shots rang out less than a mile away on Magnolia Street where 16-year-old Ja’Mari Preston was killed in a hail of gunfire. Investigators have said the two incidents are connected but no arrest had been made in Preston’s murder as of Tuesday.

A short time later police located the black Honda Accord used in Randell’s shooting, unoccupied, abandoned in a Parkville parking lot known to be a dumping ground for stolen vehicles, according to the affidavits. Police have recovered 33 stolen vehicles in that Grace Street lot through just the first 3 1/2 months of this year, court records show.

City surveillance cameras linked to the police department’s Capital City Command Center captured two young men leaving the Accord and walking east on Park Street, where they pass their sweatshirt and jacket to another man riding a BMX bicycle, according to the affidavit.

Still photographs of the individuals seen in the video were disseminated to officers and detectives in the auto theft division “immediately recognized” one of them as a 20-year-old man they had arrested for interfering with officers during a stolen vehicle case just two days before the Randell shooting, court records show. Detectives believed the man captured on their body cameras during that arrest matched the person seen in the videos the day of Randell’s shooting and they identified his Facebook page, which used a pseudonym.

Police showed those photos to Cruz, who confirmed they were of the same man, whom she has known “since he was a young child,” according to the affidavit.

Police arrested that man the following week on a second-degree larceny charge in connection with the theft of the car and, in interviews with detectives, he “ultimately identifies himself as the being the front seat passenger of the Honda Accord when the shooting occurred,” according to the affidavit.

He also identified Malone as the driver of the vehicle at the time of the shooting and Smith as the man who fired into the second car, killing Randell, records show. A combination of police and social media records further confirmed the links the third man provided to police, according to the affidavit.

That 20-year-old man has not been charged in relation with Randell’s shooting or any other but remains in custody on $250,000 bond on the larceny charge, court records show.

Both Smith and Malone appeared briefly before judges Tuesday morning in Hartford and are not expected to return to court until the end of June.

Malone initially was charged with accessory to murder and second-degree larceny and appeared in juvenile court before his case was transferred to Superior Court in Hartford to be tried as an adult. He is now charged with murder and second-degree larceny and remains in custody on $1.5 million bond.

Smith was charged with murder and remains in custody on $2.5 million bond.

Cruz and other family members attended the brief court hearings Tuesday morning but declined to speak about the latest developments in the case.

An hour later, U.S. Rep. John Larson joined members of Mothers United Against Violence for a walking tour of Upper Albany to discuss gun violence in the city, stopping on Magnolia Street at the spot Preston was killed shortly after Randell’s shooting. Police have released few other details about that investigation, but both shootings shocked the entire state and have prompted local and state leaders to call for more funding for gun violence prevention programs.

Zach Murdock can be reached at zmurdock@courant.com.