Smoke Shop Where Murder Occurred Closed Permanently 

The corner store on Jamaica Ave. illegally advertises the sale of THC products. Photo credit: State Senator Joseph Addabbo’s Office

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected] 

An illegal smoke shop on Jamaica Ave in Richmond Hill, where an employee was murdered during a daytime robbery in March, was permanently shut down last week. 

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. announced that he worked closely with community members and the NYPD to get Plug Smoke Shop, which he referred to as a “blight in the district,” to close shop for good. Addabbo says his office received many complaints about the illegal and unregulated sale of cannabis products at the corner shop. Currently Queens only has one legal cannabis dispensary – Good Grades on Jamaica Ave – and over 200 shops operating illegally in the borough.

“These illegal pot sellers have no business in our community, and it takes a team effort to address this pervasive problem,” said Addabbo in a press release. “The Plug Smoke Shop was not only operating illegally, but a fatal shooting also took place there this year. It needed to go, and now thanks to our diligent efforts, hopefully it’s gone for good. I remain diligent and optimistic that with the credible efforts of the NYPD and community residents, other illegal pot shops can experience the same fate and be closed forever.”

Three men, one armed with a gun, entered the shop around noon on March 18. According to police, two unarmed men loaded up merchandise, and on the way out, the armed perpetrator fired at the store employee. Daryus Clarke, a 20-year-old St. Albans resident was shot in the chest and transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. 

Photo credit: State Senator Joseph Addabbo’s Office

Addabbo said that he was under the impression that the business stayed closed following a court order on June 7, 2023. But he was “disturbed” to learn that the shop illegally reopened at the Richmond Hill Block Association meeting on June 28. He continued to work with members of the 102nd precinct to have the owner arrested and ensure the shop would be closed for good. 

Senator Addabbo says that he is monitoring the influx of illegal smoke shops in his district and has a team member dedicated to addressing the issue. 

Fallen NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen honored with street co-naming

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Community remembers Detective Brian Simonsen at a street co-naming in his honor.

Family, friends and the community at large gathered in Richmond Hill on Saturday to honor the life and career of NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen.

A brand new street sign that reads, “Detective Brian Simonsen Way” was unveiled at the intersection of 118th Street and Jamaica Avenue, in the heart of the 102nd Precinct — where he served his entire career for 19 years.

In 2019, Simonsen was killed in the line of duty while responding to an armed robbery in-progress at a T-Mobile store in Richmond Hill.

Although his life was cut short at 42 years old, he continues to be loved and admired by many for his devotion to the precinct and the people he served.

“We ask so much from our officers; we ask them to unflinchingly put themselves between the threat and the threatened. Brian answered that call,” said Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

“Co-naming this street is a small gesture for a great man that offered his life for New York City. We owe a debt we can never repay,” she continued. “Still, this ensures that future generations will forever know the legacy of a man who dutifully served his city. They will see the name of a courageous officer and learn the story of how he lived, remember the life of his service and know the will of a protector of this city.”

Upholding his well-known, passionate work ethic was Detectives Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo, who pointed out that Simonsen wasn’t even assigned to work at the time of the incident, but went into work anyway because of his “dedication, knowledge and experience.”

“He went back to work to serve the people of his city, and that cost him his life. He will always be a legacy in the New York City Police Department and in the DEA,” DiGiacomo said. “He was a true hero, a true mentor to many and he’s dearly missed by the DEA and his family.”

District 29 Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, who represents the Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill neighborhoods, saw the street co-naming in Simonsen’s honor as a long-awaited achievement, as her predecessor, Karen Koslowitz, put in the legislation for it, and her own office brought it over the finish line.

She commended his loyalty to the 102nd Precinct and the courageous work he did for the community.

“[Simonsen] rose through the ranks from uniformed patrol to detective and was loved by everyone in the precinct and the community. Detective Simonsen represented the best of the NYPD,” Schulman said. “The street sign…will forever remind people of the hero he was, and let everyone know he will never be forgotten.”

Known for his positivity and cheerful personality, Simonsen was nicknamed “Smiles” by his loved ones.

He also had a great love of animals, which led the NYPD to name a K9 officer serving in counterterrorism after him, by the name of Simo.

K9 officer Simo, named in honor of Simonsen.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz commended Simonsen’s wife, Leanne Simonsen for her strength and leadership when it came to starting a foundation in her husband’s name.

The Detective Brian “Smiles” Simonsen Memorial Foundation continues to keep his legacy alive by giving scholarships to students and financial assistance to families and businesses in the Riverhead community, where the Simonsen family resides.

The foundation has “also assisted in vesting Police K9 dogs and are expanding in assisting animal rescues,” according to its website.

Leanne Simonsen expressed her gratitude to various members of the Queens community, as well as her NYPD family for always being there for her.

Leanne Simonsen said that the 102nd Precinct has become “like family.”

“We’re all going through the same thing, and we lift one another up when we’re at our lowest,” she said. “I can call them any time I need. This is so special to me, the family, friends of Brian and the 102.”

“The 102 Precinct are family — old, new, I love them all. Today is for us and to always remember Brian and keep his name alive.”

Richmond Hill High School: A public school worth looking into

Richmond Hill High School held “Kicking it with Van-Ess.”

The Richmond Hill High School (RHHS) community gathered last week to celebrate its success and to spread school spirit.

At Thursday’s event, “Kicking It With Van-Ess,” students, faculty and other guests engaged in a community walk with Dr. Josephine Van-Ess, superintendent of Queens South high schools, and Neil Ganesh, principal of RHHS.

The first-of-its-kind event highlighted the school’s best of the best, in terms of courses, programs and some star students and alumni.

The most notable recent achievements of RHHS include the fact that there is now a waiting list for admission into the school, and that last year’s senior class broke historic records for graduation rate and college persistency rate — accumulating over $6 million in scholarships and financial aid.

“This means not only getting into college, but succeeding in college…We’re going to continue to strive for excellence for our students and for our community and our families here,” Ganesh said.

“It’s great to see the growth that has raised the progress of not only our community, but Richmond Hill High School. And that’s all a testament to students, faculty, staff, district office, power partners and empowering our families,” he continued. “The Chancellor has stated his four pillars, reimagining student learning…and that’s what we see here today, we’re going to see how we reimagine student learning, and we continue to build on the momentum.”

The early portion of the day involved a visit to P.S. 56 – The Harry Eichler School, where RHHS partners to make reading and mentorship programs available to students.

The school community gathered in front of P.S. 56 in Richmond Hill, where RHHS students serve as mentors to fourth and fifth graders.

The program, My Brother’s Keeper, has been an exciting opportunity for both students and faculty alike, as students of RHHS mentor fourth and fifth graders in reading and literacy.

Local elected officials and community leaders joined in on the event, including State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and Community Board 9 Chair Sherry Algredo.

“The goal is K-12 continuum…that our high schools start to work with our middle schools and our elementary schools so that we create those strong pipelines across our schools so that in an authentic way, our children know their options within our very community,” Van-Ess said.

Van-Ess went on to emphasize the quality education, leadership and skill-building opportunities that schools such as RHHS, located right in the backyard of so many young people in the community, have to offer.

“It’s really a time for us to just be together to lift our communities. One of the things that I’ve noticed since I’ve been in this seat is that there’s a connotation that follows Queens South high schools that is not necessarily true,” she said.

“We have amazing things happening within our schools, programs and opportunities for our students that our community might not know about,” Van-Ess continued. “We have rigorous instruction happening right here in our schools.”

The event continued into the newly redone RHHS auditorium, where students and alumni opened up about their involvement in school activities and goals for the future.

Daniel Latchana, a sophomore at RHHS, shared his experience with the school’s technology and robotics club, and how he quickly went from having no experience in technology, to having experience using various technologies and advanced power tools.

“My problem-solving and strategizing skills have improved since working with the Robotics Team and collaborating with others. I was able to use the skills learned in the classroom in the real world,” Latchana said.

“Students in this program learn about leadership and how to work together and build as a team. This program has taught me a lot, and has improved my experiences to learn and grow,” he continued. “I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement from our principal, Mr. Ganesh and my teacher, Mr. Kistoo, who has always pushed us to be the best version of ourselves.”

Adriana Betancur, who graduated from RHHS in 2022 as class salutatorian, studies at John Jay College and is working toward a career of becoming an NYPD cadet.

Because of the AP credit courses she’s taken in high school to get ahead, she is now considered a sophomore in college.

RHHS offers AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, AP Computer Science Principles, AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Environmental Science, AP Spanish Language and Culture, AP Spanish Literature and Culture, AP United States Government and Politics, AP United States History and AP World History: Modern to its students.

Betancur attributes much of her success to the programs and support offered during her four years at RHHS, including serving as a youth leader, NYPD Explorer and part of the Criminalistics and Forensics Institute.

“I was able to gain real world experience and a number of college credits. Additionally, through the initiatives here at RHHS, I am now the youngest pharmacy technician and was able to apply the customer service skills and public speaking skills I learned here,” she said.

“There are many opportunities provided here to intern, volunteer and make a difference in the community. Also, as a minority and a young female, it’s a great way to step into real-world life,” she added. “Having this experience will definitely benefit me in the long run, as I work toward a career in the NYPD.”

RHHS proudly offers activities such as South Asian Youth Action (SAYA) Leadership, Cheer and Dance Team, College Now courses and SAT/Regents preparation.

Sports include basketball, baseball/softball, cricket, golf, swimming, bowling, track, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

RHHS’s motto tells students: “Diversity is our strength,” and the school community is proud to say they’ve stayed true to that mission.

“The work will continue as a community and as a family, and we’re very thankful for the relationships that we have and the trust that we have built over the last 10 years,” Ganesh said.

Toy drive for Eid al-Adha

In partnership with the Muslim Entrepreneur Association, New York State Senate candidate Japneet Singh traveled throughout Queens to distribute toy bags to kids for Eid al-Adha on July 9.

Starting at Masjid Al-Abidin in Richmond Hill, Singh, along with Abdul Rahman of the Muslim Entrepreneur Association, gave away 500 bags to boys and girls at four different locations throughout the borough, including Masjid Al-Furqan on 76-18 Glenmore Avenue in Ozone Park, the Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol Food Distribution Event in Ozone Park and the Hillside Islamic Center.

A family displaced by the recent South Richmond Hill house fire on 125th Street between 107th and Liberty avenues visited Masjid Al-Abidin while Rahman and Singh were giving out toys. The Santram family had a special surprise from Rahman and Singh for the daughter, who recently began college — an Acer laptop to help with her studies.

“[Singh and I] both went to Queens College and we both know how tough it is, especially with everything that is going on,” Rahman told the family. “The Muslim Entrepreneur Association is always here for you.”

Eid-al Adha is the second and bigger of the two main holidays celebrated in Islam. Also known as the “Feast of Sacrifice,” the two-day holiday began at sundown on Friday, July 8, and continued into Saturday. It is a celebration and remembrance of the Prophet Ibrahim’s devotion to Allah when he willingly sacrificed his son.

Hundreds were at each of the mosques that Rahman and Singh visited, and their gifts brought smiles and happiness to children of all ages who were celebrating Eid al-Adha, as well as those at the food pantry to who they extended the joy, even if they were not celebrating Eid al-Adha themselves.

For more information on the events and goodwill of the Muslim Entrepreneur Association, visit their Facebook at @MEA.Global.Association or their Instagram at @mea_network. Japneet Singh is running in District 15 for the New York State Senate, with his main competition in the primary election for Democratic candidate being incumbent Joseph Addabbo Jr. Elections are on August 23.

Queens man convicted over death of NYPD Detective

Sentenced to 30 years to life in jail for 2019 botched robbery

New York City Police Department Detective Brian Simonsen’s killer was sentenced to 30 years to life on Thursday, July 7, three years after a shootout took place during a robbery at a T-Mobile phone store in Richmond Hill that took his life.

According to court records, the incident occured on Feb. 12, 2019, when two men entered the store on 120th Street brandishing a pistol. Police officers arrived on the scene after the two men ordered the two employees inside the establishment to surrender cash and merchandise from the back room of the shop.

One of the suspects was still inside when they arrived and pointed his gun, which appeared to be real, at the officers who discharged their weapons in response. Simonsen, 42, was fatally shot in the chest, while a second officer, Sgt. Matthew Gorman was seriously injured with a bullet wound to his leg.

Three years after the incident, Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder found the suspect Jagger Freeman, 28, of Jamaica, guilty for second degree murder, multiple counts of robbery, grand larceny, and assault.

“The jury found the defendant guilty of murder and he will now serve a lengthytime in prison as punishment for his criminal actions,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a press release on July 7. “We continue to express our condolences to Detective Simonsen’s family and fellow service members.”

The sentencing, which includes the conviction of a previous robbery Freeman participated in at a separate cell phone store, comes after the conviction of Freeman’s co-defendant Christopher Ransom, 30, in October 2021. He is currently serving 33 years in prison, to be followed by five years’ post release supervision.

South Richmond Hill fire kills three family members

GoFundme launched for family

A five-alarm fire broke out in South Richmond Hill last Friday and claimed the lives of three people.

The Little Guyana community is mourning the loss of three residents of the same family who lost their lives due to a raging fire in South Richmond Hill last Friday.

FDNY Firefighters responded to the deadly blaze at 104-18 125th Street, just after 2 p.m. When firefighters arrived, the fire began spreading to neighboring homes and due to windy conditions carried flames across the road, damaging adjacent homes as well.

More than 200 firefighters and 45 companies responded to the five-alarm fire at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and 125th Street, eventually getting the raging flames under control at approximately 4:44 p.m. Five firefighters sustained minor injuries.

Initial searches of the building where the fire started were delayed due to structural issues, FDNY said. As of Tuesday morning, the cause of the fire is still under investigation by fire marshals.

Three people were killed in the blaze—Salima Persaud, Balo Persaud, and their son Devon Persaud.

Two of the bodies were found on Friday, while the third body wasn’t found until the day after, with emergency personnel still on the scene nearly 24 hours later.

A GoFundme has been started by an extended family member for funeral expenses, with over $43,000 raised in two days.

Addabbo loses Rockaways, gains Richmond Hill

By Daniel Offner

[email protected]

New York State Senator Joesph P. Addabbo, Jr., will no longer be representing the Rockaways and portions of Howard Beach thanks to the redrawn district maps authorized by a neutral court-appointed expert.

Political district lines are traditionally redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes to the U.S. Census. But, this year, thanks to a decision from the New York State Court of Appeals, the proposed district maps were struck down on the grounds that they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor the state’s Democratic party.

The courts ordered that the district maps be redrawn to adequately address the change in population, and as a result, Sen. Addabbo has lost a large portion of his voting base. Due to the new district maps, he will no longer represent Rockaway or Howard Beach, while gaining a portion of the Richmond Hill community.

“You play the cards you are dealt,” Addabbo said about the change in an exclusive interview with The Queens Ledger. “Richmond Hill has a whole different set of issues than Glendale or Middle Village.”

Because of the reshaping of District 15, Addabbo will need to relocate his Howard Beach offices after more than 12 years of serving the Southern Queens community. He said that even his own home in Howard Beach is no longer considered part of the district, falling under the jurisdiction of Sen. Roxanne Persaud’s new District 19.

Resorts World NYC is another major loss for the district, which, as the chairman of the Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee in Albany, was a major motivating factor behind his push for the approval of downstate Casino licenses.

“Resorts World will still be employing my constituents,” Addabbo said. “It doesn’t have to be physically in the district… I am always going to advocate for them getting a full license.”

Despite the fact that his district will now only encompass the Lindenwood Park section of Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Rego Park, Middle Village, Glendale, Forest Hills, and now, Richmond Hill, Addabbo said that he plans to remain accessible to his former constituent base in Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel, Breezy Point, and The Rockaways.

As for his new district, Addabbo said that each community has its own set of issues. For instance, members of the Woodhaven community are vehemently opposed to legislation legalizing basement apartments, since much of the old homes in that section of the district are wood-framed and at risk of spreading fires.

Meanwhile, he said that brownouts tend to be a major issue in Middle Village, leaving several homes without power for days on end, while homeless shelters continue to be the cause of concern in communities such as Glendale and Ozone Park.

Addabbo will run as the incumbent for District 15 in a contended Democratic primary this August, against candidate Japeet Singh, who previously ran for New York City Council against Speaker Adrienne E. Adams. Should he win the primary, Addabbo will then have to prepare for the general election in November, where he will contend with Republican candidate Daniel Maio in order to keep his seat in Albany.

Sikh community shaken again in Richmond Hill

Woman kidnapped and robbed, yet another press conference

A 51-year-old Sikh woman was thrown in a van, rendered unconscious, and robbed of thousands of dollars of jewelry last week outside a popular place of worship in South Richmond Hill.

The attack marks the fourth incident against the local Sikh community within the past few weeks, with the latest victim hearing the words “mom” before being kidnapped and robbed just steps from a gurdwara.

Last month, a 19-year-old Brooklyn man was charged in a spree of hate attacks, and is accused of targeting three men of the Sikh community. A second man, a 20-year-old from Brooklyn, was also charged in connection in one of the attacks. If convicted, both could face 25 years to life in prison.

The latest press conference to denounce the attacks in the Southeast Queens neighborhood came from gubernatorial candidate Rep. Tom Suozzi, and later at Queens Borough Hall led by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Speaking outside of the Gurdwara Sikh Temple last week, Suozzi and community leaders called for peace just steps away from where the latest attack took place.

“Not only has the Sikh community been attacked, but it has been some of our most vulnerable members,” said Tejkaren Kaur Bains, a licensed state attorney from Long Island. “They’ve been beaten up while they have come here to worship.”

The self-proclaimed “common sense” democratic candidate for Governor says it will take someone like himself to change state laws pertaining to bail reform. He also touted that he was one of the first state politicians to hire a turban-wearing Sikh to his office.

“My Sikh brothers and sisters are easily recognized because they’re wearing turbans,” Suozzi said. “The fact that people can’t feel safe in their neighborhoods is just wrong.”

Suozzi hinted at negative rhetoric that was seen in the previous presidential administration, where it “became common for people to attack each other based upon their differences,” he said. Suozzi also cited the latest mass shooting which took the lives of 10 in Buffalo, calling it a “racist massacre.”

“We have to remember the basic fundamental American principle that all men and women are created equal,” Suozzi said.

Tejinder Singh, a former attorney at The Legal Aid Society of New York, said that law enforcement and the district attorney’s office eventually listened to the community in the past when some collective noise was made.

He added that police come across people from the community and frequently don’t take them seriously, “because they don’t look like people who can communicate effectively in English,” Singh said.

“Our community has to get politically involved,” Singh pleaded.

Pressed on his “fund the police” stance, Suozzi said that elected officials are needed to enforce laws, pointing to his 15-point plan to tackle crime.

“I don’t think it’s that they don’t take it seriously,” Suozzi said. “I think it’s that we have to fund the police to make people feel safe, and that we as a community need to bring attention to those crimes that we want to see enforced.”

Japneet Singh, a democratic candidate for the 15th State Senate District, said that he hopes to soon be working towards an actual plan, rather than just keep talking about a solution.

“We’re sick and tired of press conferences,” Singh said. “However, we have seen no action. We are not doing proper jobs in our city, our state and our country.”

“One misconception that a lot of people have is that immigrant communities don’t want laws and don’t want rules. We left our respective countries to escape lawlessness. For us to say we don’t want laws here in the city of New York, the most diverse city, that’s absurd,” Singh said. “I’ve been here since the age of 8, and it’s never been this bad.”

SQWM celebrates new Richmond Hill office

South Queens Women’s March started out as an idea from founder and director Aminta Kilawan-Narine over two years ago, with the goal of promoting gender justice and empowering women, girls and gender-expansive people.

Although the pandemic prevented the original march from happening, it did not stop the organization from blooming into a movement that supports the diverse communities of South Queens.

Now, SQWM has a brand new office space on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, and they held a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 16 to celebrate the milestone.

Many of SQWM’s 70 members attended the event, along with Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers and NYS Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson.

“South Queens Women’s March has made enormous contributions to the civic and community life right here in Southeast Queens and right here in the Great 28,” Adams said.

“You have empowered and amplified the voices of diverse women across this borough, connected neighbors to important resources and advocated fiercely for gender and racial justice. Your work has been so critical, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of our own underserved conditions.”

“It is so important to have community-based organizations at the forefront of these conversations, and South Queens Women’s March has been at the forefront of so many of these conversations,” Richards said.

“As gender-based violence reached a crisis level during this pandemic, for every one encounter we are seeing 20 that go unreported,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to support the work of South Queens Women’s March.”

As part of their mission, SQWM has offered various programs and services to the community, including food pantries, political education, youth and professional development workshops and healing circles.

They actively seek to serve and empower historically underserved communities in South Queens, namely women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

“A South Queens Women’s March space is a dream—a dream that the younger me wishes had growing up in South Queens. As a gender justice organization, it is critical to have a space that can be a home away from home for community members and the younger me,” Tannuja Rozario, founding board member of SQWM, said.
“Our space will be a resource hub, a safe space for survivors, a community centered space for monthly pantries, healing activities, and workshops and a space where we cultivate grassroots organizing to build a movement.”

At the event, light refreshments were provided by local businesses Tropical Isle Roti Shop, Little Guyana Pharmacy and Cafe, Shivram’s Bakery, Singh’s Roti Shop and the Shakti Mission.

SQWM also extended its gratitude to Bob Lawrence and Annie Mohan of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, LLP and the Aqualia International Foundation for their support.

Performances were given by SQWM members, including Harmehar Kaur Kohli on guitar and Anjali Seegobin, Sabrina Mohammed and Sacha Sulaiman, who performed an intersectional dance routine.

To welcome SQWM’s new space to the neighborhood, Pratima Kushmani Doobay, an organizer within the faith-based circles of the Hindu community, initiated a goddess blessing before the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“In Hinduism, we often worship the goddess, and Shakti is the feminine energy, the power associated with the goddesses in Hindusim,” Kilawan-Narine said. “We’re a women’s group, and we wanted to make sure the space was blessed.”

“The most exciting part about all of this is the space being open to our members and to women and girls in our community who are looking for a safe space,” she continued. “When you walk in here, you feel that inclusion and the peace.”

Kilawan-Narine said that the efforts from SQWM are anything but glamorous, and certainly not something done for personal gain.

“We all do this for the love of the community. Not for personal gain, or for accolades and praise or for social media followers,” she said. “This isn’t charity work, it is solidarity work, and you see that in the way we treat people.”

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