Tara Hall lies in a Buffalo nursing home, paralyzed from a bullet that was fired at her on Halloween night.
Buffalo police say it was a tragedy that never should have happened. Hall and her family agree.
They believe that the tragedy occurred because Tara Hall’s daughter, Yasmine, tried to do the right thing and help authorities by identifying the gunman in a drive-by shooting outside a store in May. Yasmine’s cooperation prompted the gunman to come after her, Yasmine and her family believe.
But when a masked gunman forced his way into the family’s East Side home Oct. 31, he instead shot her mother in the back, as young children and adults scattered for cover.
The Hall family blames the Erie County District Attorney’s Office for failing to heed their request for protection after the alleged shooter began making death threats.
“The DA doesn’t care. My daughter was scared for her life,” Tara Hall, 48, said in an interview in her nursing home bed.
Yasmine Hall and her grandmother say they tried to persuade members of the District Attorney’s Office in August to provide protection. District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III says the request was never made.
“I was telling them about the threats and trying to get them to watch my house. They didn’t do anything, and I figured, ‘Forget it. Why should I help them?’ ” Yasmine Hall said.
“That’s why people don’t speak up. That’s why people don’t talk. They know they won’t be protected. The thugs come around because they know they can get away with it,” the grandmother said, asking that her name be withheld.
There is no question that cooperating in criminal investigations can put witnesses’ lives on the line:
• Five months ago, a man who assisted police in their investigation of a North Buffalo homicide was grazed by a bullet that ended up wounding an innocent bystander. Two young men were later arrested.
• In a highly publicized case in August 2009, just hours after a 19-year-old Derby woman testified in a murder investigation, she and a companion were fatally shot on Hirschbeck Street. Jamie Norton’s family says she was killed for her cooperation. No arrests have been made.
• Days later that same summer, in an unrelated homicide investigation, a cooperating witness was fatally shot, and the body was set on fire and dumped in a field on Smith Street. Arrests were made in that slaying this past June.
In the Hall case, Sedita confirmed that Yasmine and her grandmother met with Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Glascott and senior victim witness aide Sharon M. Simon but that they made no request for protection.
The District Attorney’s Office does run a witness protection program and at times has offered help to witnesses, including relocations. The Buffalo Police Department regularly investigates threats against witnesses and has made arrests for threats against them.
“Yasmine’s grandmother claimed Yasmine was being threatened and that ‘word on the street’ was that Yasmine would be the target of retaliation were she to testify,” Sedita said. “Neither Yasmine nor her grandmother, however, could tell us who made the threats.
“… Yasmine’s grandmother did, however, accuse ADA Glascott and Ms. Simon of non-empathy because they reside in the suburbs. Neither Yasmine Hall nor her grandmother made any request for witness protection or relocation.”
Yasmine Hall said that out of self-preservation, she backed off from testifying against the alleged gunman in the shooting that occurred outside an East Side corner store, a few blocks from the home she shares with her mother and grandmother.
As a result, a City Court judge in September dismissed charges of attempted murder and assault against the alleged shooter. Even so, Sedita said, his staff revisited the case.
“We took the case seriously,” he said. “It was reviewed by three experienced prosecutors, the assistant DA assigned to the case, then his bureau chief, and then by the first assistant district attorney.
“They all agreed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case. They presented the findings to me, and I concurred in their decision. The buck stops with me.”
The Halls say that Yasmine’s decision to back off and not testify failed to placate the man she had identified as the gunman, who wounded another man outside the corner store.
Then, on Halloween night, the Halls became the target.
At 8:55 p.m. Oct. 31, a gunman whose face was covered with a mask and a tightly drawn hoodie forced his way into the Halls’ second-floor apartment and began shooting.
Yasmine Hall managed to duck into a side room. Her mother was not so lucky.
“I ran toward the kitchen to protect my grandchildren. The bullet shattered a bone in my lower spine, nicked my liver and became lodged under my right breast, where it still is,” Tara Hall said.
She is now paralyzed from the waist down.
If anyone had to be shot, she said, she is glad it was her and not one of the young grandchildren. “I don’t regret taking the bullet, but I feel terrible,” she said. “This is not right. My daughter tried to do the right thing.”
The family believes that the man Yasmine identified in the drive-by shooting is responsible for the Halloween attack, though they cannot prove it because of the mask he wore.
A police officer familiar with the case said that media attention may be the only thing that protects Yasmine Hall and her relatives from more retaliation because another attack would only attract more attention.
“Most of the time, you don’t get any witnesses, but when someone comes forward and is willing to risk their life, you have to take it and go with it,” the officer said of Yasmine Hall’s initial willingness to cooperate.
She says she believes that the shooter may try to come after her again.
“We moved from our house for about two weeks after the Oct. 31 shooting, staying in a hotel and then with family members,” she said. “Then, on our first day back, someone fired five or six shots outside the house.”
Several days ago, Yasmine Hall said, she saw the man she identified as the drive-by shooter. As he drove past her, he made an obscene gesture, Hall said. “His finger was sticking out the window,” she said.
Sedita says the shooting of Tara Hall was “senseless and tragic,” words he also used to describe the slaying of Jamie Norton, the Derby woman killed on Hirschbeck in 2009, hours after she testified to a grand jury.
“We will certainly prosecute the perpetrators once the police investigation provides us with sufficient, credible and admissible evidence that proves who committed these crimes,” Sedita said. “But we cannot prosecute a case based on theories or hunches or suspicions or unsubstantiated claims.”
Tara Hall says that she is determined to regain use of her legs but that for now, coping with paralysis remains a constant challenge:
“It’s like being a baby and starting all over.”