Attorney says alleged club shooter acted in defense

The attorney for the suspect in the deadly shooting at an Altoona night club said self-defense will be an issue in the case.

“We believe, without getting into specifics, that we have a defense in this case, and we’re in the process of investigating,” attorney Thomas M. Dickey said after meeting with Hugo Baez on Wednesday morning, the day Baez was originally scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on criminal homicide and related charges at Central Court on Fourth Street.

That hearing was continued until Dec. 6, and Dickey said that while there was still information to gather and witnesses to interview, they are prepared to have

a preliminary hearing on the case.

Dickey said a lot goes into claiming self-defense, but an early assessment said it’s something that needs to be explored in Baez’s case.

Baez is accused of shooting 22-year-old Willie Shakeit Solomon to death late Halloween night at Choices Nightclub, a bottle club at 130 Sixth Ave.

Baez and Solomon’s brother, Jacob Dormevil Jr., 20, of Altoona had exchanged words at about 11:30 p.m., prompting Dormevil to walk outside with Baez following, according to police who viewed surveillance footage from the club that night.

Police said Solomon followed Baez and grabbed him near the exit before Baez pulled out a revolver and fired up to five shots.

“It very well looks like this is a case of self-defense,” Dickey said.

“We need to find out from witnesses – rightfully or wrongfully because they’re not always accurate – we need to at least find out what people think the story was. But it’s real early, and I can’t get into a lot of specifics. But when you look at the totality of the circumstances, it would support a self-defense claim.”

Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard said the hearing date was being planned for a day apart from Wednesday, the regular weekly day where defendants charged in Altoona’s two District Courts appear at Central Court, to better accommodate the family members of the victims and the large number of witnesses. Bernard said the hearing location may be moved to the Blair County Courthouse, as well, but no plans for that were made as of Wednesday.

Baez was whisked back to the Blair County Prison by a small convoy of sheriff’s deputies Wednesday after meeting with Dickey and appearing briefly before Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker, who wanted to ensure Baez had sufficient time to talk with his attorney about the continuance.

Additionally, new charges filed by Altoona police Wednesday show Baez had an encounter with city police outside Choices only 11 days before the shooting.

Police noted that at about 3:10 a.m. on Oct. 20, officers noticed a disturbance outside the club and made contact with Baez and two women. Police said Baez was drunk and could not produce any identification. Instead, Baez gave officers the name James Santos, the same name he tried to give police after the shooting after he was found in the passenger seat of a car driven by Brandon Midder, 24, of Altoona, early Friday morning on Route 22 in Huntingdon County.

According to court records, a check for a James Santos in New York and Pennsylvania showed no records for anyone by that name. Police ultimately released Santos to a sober patron of the club who drove Baez and the two women home, records show.

When Baez was arrested early Nov. 1 along with Midder, a former bouncer at the club who allegedly left the scene with Baez, his fingerprints gave police his real identity. According to police, Baez is also wanted on a bench warrant from a third-degree misdemeanor assault case filed by the New York City Transit Police.

Baez remains in Blair County Prison without bail, while Midder, charged with illegal possession of a gun by a felon, is jailed on $50,000 cash bond.