By DAVID GONZALEZ with JANE FRITSCH
Published: July 12, 1992
The only thing Jose (Kiko) Garcia and Officer Michael O’Keefe had in common was the sweltering, buzzing sidewalks of Washington Heights, a world where drug-fueled lawlessness too often seems to touch the lives of good and bad alike.
Mr. Garcia, an illegal alien who came to this country four years ago to be with family, apparently eked out a living peddling clothing on the street, returning at night to a cramped one-bedroom apartment he shared with his mother, two sisters, two brothers and a niece. Friends and relatives said he was a timid “big kid” who loved to eat, watch television and have a beer or two with friends who always seemed to be on the stoops that lined West 162d Street near St. Nicholas Avenue. He was once arrested there after police officers said they saw him sell a packet of cocaine.
Officer O’Keefe knew 162d Street. He was an aggressive plainclothes officer who prowled the streets in a tinted-windowed sedan, leaping out to corral the crack dealers who flourished in the area. He also coached Little League baseball, and at night he would go home to his mother in Queens. Some young men on the street said he harassed and hit them without provocation, while one former drug dealer says the officer shook him down for drugs and money.
The peddler and the police officer had one more thing in common: several hotly contested minutes July 3 in the lobby of 505 West 162d Street, minutes which left Mr. Garcia dead and which are commemorated by patches of bloodstained tile, melted red-and-white clumps of wax from votive candles and a host of questions.