[dropcap]T[/dropcap]wo fatal incidents barely a week apart have shaken the residents of a Palm Avenue apartment building.
The building, located at 939 Palm Ave. between Cynthia and Harratt, was the site of a knife fight that led to a shooting Monday night by a Sheriff’s Department deputy. A 30-year-old man, John Winkler, was killed; three others were taken to the hospital.
Barely more than a week earlier, Kurtland Ma, 34, was found stabbed to death in his apartment in the same building. Ma’s boyfriend, Andre Damiane Davids, 36, has been booked on suspicion of Ma’s murder.
The two separate fatal incidents come just a month after the West Hollywood sheriff’s station reported that the number of serious crimes in the city has been continuing to decline. According to that report, there were no murders during the last half of 2013. The WeHo sheriff’s station reported the lowest serious crime rate of the 24 stations in Los Angeles County.
Wesley McDowell, a resident of the building, said it had long been a quiet place “with tenants who cared and who respected each other. Things have only recently gone downhill.”
McDowell said the front door to the building, which should be accessible only by a tenant with a key or a visitor who is buzzed in, sometimes has been propped open, allowing strangers to enter. He also said the call box at the entrance hadn’t worked for months. (Both issues were resolved after Ma’s murder, he said).
McDowell said there is no manager on site, and that the building’s maintenance worker, who had been there for almost 20 years, was fired. As a result, he said, the building no longer is regularly cleaned or maintained. McDowell said another indicator of problems with the building’s management was a notice on the front door from The Gas Company in March announcing that fuel for the building’s main water heater would be cut off for non-payment of the fuel bill.
McDowell said several apartments last year were converted from two-bedroom to three-bedroom units, allowing the owner to charge higher rent. According to an online listing, 939 Palm has 45 apartments, a community pool and a gym. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is listed for rent at $2,595, an amount that seems congruent with other rents in WeHo, where high demand and low inventory have escalated prices.
The building, also known as Palm Villas, was built in 1990. As in many apartment buildings in West Hollywood, there is a mix of long-term tenants and more transient renters. (One of the better known tenants, at least in the gay world, is Colby Melvin, an underwear model, who posted “Wtf how did I sleep through 2 murders in my building” on his Twitter account Monday night.)
Alla Sobol said she was the first tenant to move into the building. “We have never had this kind of problem,” Sobol said. “We had two kids grow up here …. We know our neighbors and they are nice people.” Sobol said she didn’t hear any noise Monday night, noting that the incident occurred on the second floor and she lives on the third.
A newer resident is Mattson Martin, 31, who has lived in the building for two years. “I love living here,” Martin said. “The neighborhood always seems very safe.”
Martin said he didn’t know of any previous incidents or illicit activity in the building, which he described as generally peaceful. In light of recent events, though, Martin said residents are feeling shaken up. His stress, in particular, was partly because of the situation he encountered when he got home from the gym on Monday night, when the knife fight and shooting took place.
An officer outside the building told Martin it was OK for him to enter the building. After putting his gym bag in his apartment, Martin hurried out to see what was happening. Sheriff’s deputies then detained and handcuffed him, he said. He said they were “pretty aggressive,” and he acknowledged that he was angry as well.
“I really didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “All they saw was resistance.”
An officer told him they were pursuing someone connected with the knife fight. Martin said he was let go after a witness told officers that he was not the person they were seeking. Martin said he thinks better communication would have kept him out of the situation. People around such an incident deserve some information, he said, especially when there may be safety concerns.
Records with Los Angeles County indicate that the building’s current owner is 939 Palm LLC, a limited liability corporation organized by NMS Properties, which is a unit of NMS Capital Partners. A receptionist at NMS told WEHOville that it sold the property two months ago but was unable to identify the current owner.
The property is managed by Le Elle. Melvin shared a photo of a statement Le Elle distributed to the building’s residents. The notice expresses sadness about the tragic incidents and adds, “To assure security & safety of our tenants, we have security guards to walk the bldg.. every night.”
May Yu of Le Elle told WEHOville that the incidents were “tragic” but said she was unable to answer other questions.