Charges expected today in 1988 Hilltop shooting

Staff writerApril 24, 2013 

More than two decades after a teenage gangster was felled by a bullet to the head — popularly believed to be the first gang member killed in Tacoma — the man suspected of pulling the trigger will answer for the death.

Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Phil Sorensen said the man is expected to be charged Thursday in the slaying of 17-year-old Bernard Houston, who was killed Aug. 28, 1988, in a drive-by shooting on the Hilltop. The man was extradited Tuesday from Dallas, and a sheriff’s warrant team brought him to Pierce County.

New life was breathed into the case when an informant came forward in 2009 and identified the four men in the car who allegedly shot at Houston. During the investigation, an arrest warrant on a charge of murder was issued for the man in 2011.

The fatal shooting happened at a time in Tacoma when gang members shot fearlessly in the street and the Hilltop was so crime-ridden it was spotlighted by the national media. In 1990, two years after Houston was killed, police estimated there were 150 gang-related drive-by shootings in the city.

Houston was a gang member from California, as were the men believed to have opened fire as him and his friend, Michael Jeter, as they stood on a street corner in the 2300 block of Sheridan Avenue. Witnesses said an Oldsmobile Cutlass pulled up to the teens about 11:40 p.m. and a passenger asked, “What up, Blood?”

Gunshots then rang out. Jeter was shot in the thigh and escaped to a store a block away, where he hid until officers arrived. Houston was shot in the head. Police said he was clutching a gun that had five live rounds in the cylinder. The sixth had been fired.

The shooting was possibly in retaliation for the death six days earlier of a 21-year-old man who had been heard arguing with some unidentified men over gang territory.

Houston died two days after the shooting. In his honor, fellow gang members made up sweatshirts reading “R.I.P. Clown,” which was Houston’s street name.

The man expected to be charged in Houston’s death has convictions in Pierce County for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He served about six months in prison and was on community supervision from February 1989 to October 1994, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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