Eight years after the fatal shooting of Tyrone Sturgis, a 29-year-old father of four from West Oak Lane, the sharp edge of grief has not dulled for his family.
“We’re not coping with it, but we deal with it every day,” said his father, Tyrone Sturgis Sr. “He has a son who just turned 17 who is playing football. Every time he wins a championship game, he runs off and cries, and I got to follow behind him. And he’s crying because he wishes his dad was here.”
Sometimes, when he sees his grandson sprawled in front of the TV after a game, exactly how his son used to do, Sturgis Sr. feels like crying, too.
In those eight years, there has been no justice for Sturgis’ death.
In 2018, police arrested the victim’s friend since childhood, Tremell Foster. But Foster maintains that he is innocent. His 2019 trial ended with a hung jury that voted 10-2 for acquittal.
Undermining the prosecution’s case, the key eyewitness, another friend of the victim’s named Rakym Dyer, recanted his statement that he saw Foster chasing after Sturgis, shooting him repeatedly in a schoolyard at Dauphin and 22nd Streets in North Philadelphia before jumping into a getaway car.
Time-stamped video stills also contradict the statement, showing both Foster and Dyer in a beer store more than a block from the crime scene within a minute after gunshots were first reported.
Foster is scheduled to be re-tried in August. The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.
In his testimony, Dyer insisted that the statements he signed and gave on video were the result of a lengthy, coercive interview in the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit.
“They kept telling me, ‘You’re not going home’ — like, ‘We’re going to say you have something to do with it. ... You set it up,’ ” Dyer testified in 2019. Efforts to interview him were not successful.
The homicide, and Dyer’s 2013 police interview, occurred just months before the Philadelphia Police Department adopted sweeping reforms to its investigatory practices, including protocols for questioning witnesses.
At the time, detectives lamented aspects of the new directive, including a rule that detectives must notify witnesses that they are free to leave at any time. “Any complainant or witness has the right to refuse to be transported and the right to refuse to speak to the police,” the directive notes.
Dyer, whose statement was taken by Detectives George Pirrone and Gregory Santamala, testified that he was taken to the Homicide Unit involuntarily, and kept there against his will for 21 hours before agreeing to make a statement on video.
He said police did not believe his claim that he had walked down the street to find a dark corner in which to urinate and so had not seen the shooting at all. They also rejected his pleas to leave because he had newborn twins at home, he said. Instead, detectives “started getting aggressive,” he testified, and told him if he didn’t cooperate he’d go to prison.
He said that he didn’t initially identify Foster from a photo array. Instead, he said, police showed him Foster’s photo on a phone they had recovered in connection with the investigation, linked to Foster and the victim.
In an interview, Foster said that Sturgis was “like a brother,” and that they often shared phones.
Sturgis Sr. still believes Foster is guilty — or knows something he’s not telling.
“All the evidence pointed to him,” he said.
Foster alleged that his arrest was part of a pattern of misconduct, saying he had been harassed by police ever since filing a federal civil-rights lawsuit in 2014.
That complaint accused a group of narcotics officers with a history of similar allegations of illegally searching his grandmother’s house in 2012, robbing him at gunpoint, threatening to kill him, and then fabricating gun charges. After he spent seven months in jail, according to the complaint, prosecutors dropped the charges amid a federal criminal investigation of the officers. (Two officers named in his lawsuit were acquitted of corruption charges in a highly publicized 2015 jury verdict.)
Foster took a $20,000 settlement in 2018, while in jail for Sturgis’ murder.
He says he had parted ways with Sturgis that night, shortly before stopping at the beer store.
Then, he said, Dyer ducked into the store alarmed by what he thought were the sound of gunshots. But loud music was playing outside, Foster said. “I told him I didn’t hear anything, and it was probably fireworks.”
The first report of gunshots came in at 9:37 p.m., according to police records. A time-stamped still from the beer store surveillance camera shows Foster already standing inside less than a minute later. Twenty seconds after that, Dyer can be seen walking in. The two men speak, then leave the store together at 9:39 p.m. Within seconds of that, a second 911 call was logged reporting a man shot on the street. Foster, 36, said he left that night unaware his friend was wounded. He congratulated Dyer on his twins, and then got in a car.
Dyer testified that after fleeing the sound of gunshots, he sat down on some steps nearby on Dauphin Street. Then Sturgis stumbled toward him and fell into his lap. He had been shot six times. A police car pulled up and the officer insisted Dyer accompany Sturgis to the hospital, where Dyer was then detained to be interviewed, he said.
Dyer’s statement to police was that Sturgis used his dying breath to ask, “Why did Mel do that?” In court, though, Dyer testified that Sturgis was unable to speak.
Like Sturgis, Foster, 36, is also a father, with three kids ages 2, 12, and 18, for whom he tries to maintain a strong facade. “I’ve got people that depend on me,” he said. He said after the 2012 arrest, he struggled to get back into the workforce, holding stadium jobs and doing car detailing.
He offers no alternate theory as to who killed Sturgis or why, describing his friend as “a larger-than-life character who always meant good.” He may have had some problems in that neighborhood, Foster acknowledged. Foster said all he knows for sure is that he didn’t do it.
“A lot of times if you’re guilty, the evidence is going to pile up against you to say: You know what? This person is guilty,” he said. “But once it goes the other way and it piles up to say this person is innocent, that’s when you should start to worry.”