A New York man is behind bars after police said he shot a man to death inside an Altoona night spot.
About 11:30 p.m. Thursday, words were exchanged inside Choices Nightclub, a bottle club that opened this spring at 130 Sixth Ave., the former site of Thee Mirage. The deadly scene unfolded in front of at least a dozen witnesses, as well as the seven surveillance cameras that watch over the club, police said.
According to Altoona police, Jacob Dormevil Jr., 20, of 1826 Sixth Ave., approached a table where Hugo "Juice" Baez, 20, a native of New York City living at 305 N. Fifth Ave., sat with Choices bouncer Brandon Midder, 24, of 317 Sixth Ave., and two women. Dormevil apparently said something that upset Baez, police said, prompting Dormevil to head for the door with Baez close behind. Police said Dormevil started to take off his shirt as he left the club, while his brother, Willie Shakeit Solomon, 22, of Altoona began following Baez.
(Mirror photo by Greg Bock)
Hugo “Juice” Baez, 20, is escorted from Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker’s office by Altoona Police Detective Capt. Matthew Starr on Friday afternoon. Baez has been charged in the shooting death of Willie Shakeit Solomon, 22.
Solomon grabbed Baez before he could walk outside, police said, and in turn, Baez pulled out a revolver and squeezed off up to five rounds. Midder ran to the aid of Baez, also producing a handgun that police said he pointed at Dormevil, who was trying to get back inside the club to help Solomon.
Patrons ran out the back door as Solomon lie wounded in the entranceway of the club. Less than a half-hour later, at 12:02 a.m., Solomon was pronounced dead at UPMC Altoona, and Altoona police were on the trail of Baez and Midder.
Witnesses at the bar were able to tell investigators the shooter's name was Juice, but since no one knew his real name, police were forced to watch several homes while other officers looked for Midder's car. Altoona police Cpl. Chris Moser and another officer spotted Midder's vehicle in Tyrone and followed it as it headed toward Huntingdon. State police ultimately pulled over Midder's car near Water Street after Midder allegedly failed to use his turn signal, police said.
Inside the vehicle was Midder and a man who claimed to be James Santos, but police said he had no identification and fit the description of the suspect known then only as Juice.
Armed with still photos gleaned from the surveillance footage at the club, police identified Santos as Juice, and a subsequent fingerprint match showed his identity as Hugo Baez of Manhattan.
Altoona police Lt. Jeffrey Pratt said Baez has been in the Altoona area for a period of time and was under investigation by the Blair County Drug Task Force when he was arrested.
Pratt said police were still investigating the motive for the shooting and said it was unclear as to whether Baez and Solomon knew one another.
"We can't say with absolute certainty," Pratt said, adding that from the surveillance footage, it was clear that words were exchanged between the two groups of men, but because the system lacks audio capabilities, investigators didn't know Friday what was said.
Baez said little as he sat before Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker for his arraignment on criminal homicide, aggravated assault, carrying a concealed weapon and related charges in Blair County on Friday afternoon, a repeat of an arraignment Baez chose to go through in front of a Huntingdon County magisterial district judge earlier in the day.
The image of a skull peeked out from the front of the T-shirt Baez wore beneath a hooded sweatshirt, his hands obscured by two large manila envelopes meant to protect possible gunpowder residue evidence, while leg shackles secured his ankles just above a pristine pair of gold and black Nike Air Max Griffey sneakers.
Auker denied bail for Baez, and after a tearful phone call to his mother in Spanish, Baez was taken to Blair County Prison to await his preliminary hearing, scheduled for Wednesday before Auker.
Altoona Detective Sgt. Ashley Day said Friday that police had sought search warrants for Midder's vehicle and the local address Baez gave police. As of Friday, police had not recovered either the gun used in the shooting or Midder's gun, Day said.
An autopsy was performed late Friday afternoon in State College, and police said the murder weapon was likely a 9 mm or .38-caliber handgun.
Pratt said the surveillance footage shows several people shuffling guns between themselves, and investigators were sorting out who was armed in the altercation. According to court records, the footage did capture Midder pulling a black semi-automatic handgun from the right pocket of his jacket and pointing it at more than one person during the incident before dropping the gun on the floor. After picking the gun up off the floor, Midder is seen leaving the club, police said.
A loaded 9 mm clip was found underneath a pool table near the front of the club, and when questioned by police, Midder allegedly admitted he had a High Point 9 mm handgun with him and that he dropped it after brandishing it. Midder also admitted he lost a loaded clip to the gun, police said.
"I had nothing to do with the murder part," Midder told the Mirror as he awaited his arraignment Friday afternoon at Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker's office on Fourth Street. "I keep saying, I have nothing to do with that body."
Midder, who was convicted of felony robbery in 2005 in Virginia, was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a second-degree felony. He was adamant he wasn't responsible for the shooting.
"I had nothing to do with that," Midder said to Auker during his arraignment. Midder told Auker he works at Choices as bouncer and doorman and has been in the Altoona and Huntingdon area for about three years, since he got out of prison in Virginia. Auker set bail at $50,000 cash, and Midder was lodged in Blair County Prison. His preliminary hearing is slated for Wednesday at Central Court.
Dormevil was also arrested after a run-in with police and a deputy coroner at UPMC Altoona, according to police. Charged with aggravated assault and related charges, Dormevil was placed in Blair County Prison with a hearing date of Nov. 13.
Pratt noted that Solomon was a native of East Orange, N.J., who previously had an affiliation with the Grape Street Crips street gang. Solomon had a criminal history dating back to when he was a juvenile, police said, and spent time in Blair County Prison after a crack cocaine conviction stemming from a May 2012 arrest.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.