Ayanna Stinson was sitting on her porch one summer night when gunfire erupted from a red Mustang parked nearby.
“It sounded like fireworks,” the 47-year-old Army veteran recalls. “Then it felt like my right leg was on fire.”
Eight bullets ripped through her leg. Stinson didn’t know it at the time, but she was not the first person who police allege had fallen victim to Adrian McLeod and his guns.
In the two years before Stinson was shot, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police charged McLeod with three gun crimes, involving two victims. Prosecutors dismissed all of the charges, saying the witnesses were unreliable.
Afterward, a post appeared on what police believe was McLeod’s Facebook account:
“Lol i love my lawyer he beat all my cases i swear so f*** all da bs.”
McLeod’s story illustrates a broader problem: Prosecutors in Mecklenburg County dismiss most weapons charges. And some of those suspects are later charged with worse crimes.
Roughly half of the nearly 300 people charged with murder in Mecklenburg County since 2015 had prior weapons charges. Most of the charges were dismissed. For 28 of those murder suspects, a conviction on an earlier weapons charge — rather than a dismissal — would have put them in prison at the time of the killing.
McLeod was one of them.
A hail of bullets, then an arrest
Stinson says she clearly remembers the night.
It was July 25, 2015, and she was sitting on the front porch of her home in Hidden Valley, northeast of uptown, talking to a friend on the phone.
A red Ford Mustang pulled up. The passenger side window was down, she says, so she had a clear view of two men inside the car. The one closest to her was a dark-skinned African American man. The other man was a light-skinned African American man. Both wore dreadlocks.
The Mustang sat there for at least a minute, Stinson recalls.
Then a hail of 9-millimeter bullets struck Stinson’s house. One went through a bedroom wall where her 4-year-old granddaughter usually slept. Fortunately, the girl was in a different room at the time.
Stinson wasn’t so fortunate. She tried to stand after she was shot, but collapsed. Her son pulled her into the house.
After the Mustang sped off, its occupants abandoned the stolen car about five miles away. Inside, police found McLeod’s cellphone.
Several days later, police examined a Facebook account that they believed to be associated with McLeod, and found the user referring to a Glizzy — street lingo for a Glock handgun — and an extra clip. A Glock handgun and an extra clip were inside the stolen Mustang that day, according to a police affidavit.
“Mama i ain’t playin,” one post reads.
Police believe the post referred to the shooting of Stinson.
McLeod had been open about his affinity for guns.
“40 on my hip n i aint walkn round wit no hoster,” reads one post on the Facebook account that police say was associated with McLeod.
That August, police arrested McLeod and Tevin Faulkner and charged them with shooting Stinson.
Prosecutors dismiss case
Stinson underwent three surgeries to repair the damage from the bullets.
She was in a wheelchair for eight months. She still suffers from chronic pain in her right leg and nerve damage that makes it difficult for her to drive or walk long distances.
And she’s still scared to be alone. She says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks, particularly when she sees red Mustangs. She can no longer work. And she no longer lives in Charlotte, a city that she says has left her with traumatic memories.
“I feel like my life was stolen from me in 60 seconds,” she says.
Stinson says she’s not sure why she was shot, but thinks she was a victim of mistaken identity.
She says she wanted to see McLeod and Faulkner brought to justice and went to their bond hearing. She was willing to testify in the criminal case, she says, but authorities never asked her to identify her attackers in a photo lineup. Stinson says she felt she could have identified them.
“I feel like I would have but I was never afforded that opportunity … I could clearly see their faces,” she says.
Stinson says she asked repeatedly to meet with then-District Attorney Andrew Murray, but was not allowed to do so. She eventually talked by phone with a prosecutor, who she said told her that the DA’s office could not prove that McLeod pulled the trigger.
“He said, ‘Ms. Stinson, you need to focus on healing and let this go.’ I said, ‘ ... That’s easy for you to say. This didn’t happen to you,’ ” Stinson recalls.
“He said … ‘It’s very hard to convince a jury of peers that they did it.’ But you know what, he didn’t even try.”
Prosecutors dismissed the case. They said that no one could identify the shooter or the car’s driver, and that there was no video.
McLeod and Faulkner denied that they had anything to do with the shooting. But they acknowledged that they’d been in the car. They told police that they had taken the Mustang to the mall earlier in the day, and that the car’s owner had allowed them to do so.
The car’s owner, Rowan Cunningham, disputed that. He told police that Faulkner had taken his car keys at gunpoint.
Cunningham says he believes Mecklenburg prosecutors are too easy on gun criminals.
“There’s going to be more murders,” he told the Observer. “I hate to say it. … There’s going to be killings.”
Stinson agrees. Prosecutors emboldened McLeod by dismissing prior gun charges, she says.
“He got bolder and bolder and bolder,” she says.
A deadly development
A subsequent police investigation into a separate shooting ultimately ended McLeod’s freedom.
On July 15, 2015, 10 days before Stinson was shot, a 911 caller reported gunshots near Rozzelles Ferry Road. On the way, police got a call about a nearby wreck. A car had struck a utility pole, and 34-year-old Kynyatta Tshiona was inside.
He’d been fatally shot.
Nine months later, in April 2016, McLeod was arrested for the killing. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder the following year.
McLeod, now 28, is serving a 22-year sentence. He did not respond to letters that an Observer reporter sent to him in state prison.
But at his sentencing hearing, his attorney said that McLeod had lived a hard life. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had lost his mother. He began using marijuana at the age of 12 and later turned to harder drugs.
“For an entire year prior to this incident, he was in a haze, a drug-induced haze,” McLeod’s attorney told the judge.
“He understands that he’s made a big mistake and that he will suffer for that,” the attorney said. “...He understands that these good people will never have their loved one again and he’s deeply sorry for that.”
Tshiona’s mother, Chantale, says that no one is sorrier than her and her family members.
Tshiona also had previous trouble with the law. He was sent to prison in 2000 for a weapons assault.
But his mother says he used his time in prison to get his GED and an associate’s degree in business administration. He got out in 2011, and soon started a successful tax business. By 2015, he was building a house for his children, his mother and his siblings.
“He said ‘I want to do better for myself, my children and my family,’ ” Chantale Tshiona says.
Tshiona, a father of seven, was known for his generous nature, his mother says. He often loaned money to his tax clients.
“I would always get on him about that,” Chantale Tshiona says. “I’d say you cannot do that!”
She says he had also loaned money to McLeod, a family acquaintance.
On the day of the shooting, Tshiona was visiting a friend who lived near Wilkinson Boulevard. That’s when McLeod and others tried to rob him, his mother says.
McLeod approached with a rifle. Another man came up with a handgun. Tshiona tried to drive away, but both men began firing into his car, witnesses told authorities.
McLeod’s bullets pierced the car’s doors, killing Tshiona, records show.
“He was my oldest son, my first born,” Chantale Tshiona told the judge during McLeod’s sentencing hearing. “And because of one decision, he has been taken away from me and his kids and his brothers and his sisters. This has impacted us and will impact us for the rest of our life.”
Chantale Tshiona believes her son would be alive today if prosecutors hadn’t dropped prior charges against McLeod.
And she worries about what other weapons suspects will do.
“They get a slap on the wrist,” she says. “And then they’re right back out to grab another gun and murder someone. It’s ridiculous.”