Deadly start to 2022 in Port Arthur prompts responses from victims, police and mayor

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Marcie Freeman believes she may be the last person to speak to her younger brother.

The family was planning to get together Jan. 21 to celebrate his birthday with a crawfish boil.

Instead, on his birthday, Marcus Freeman was found dead in his vehicle.

Marcus Freeman (Courtesy photo)

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The 34-year-old father of seven had been fatally shot at Normandy Apartments.

It was the second homicide Port Arthur had seen this year — but it wouldn’t be the last.

January saw three homicides before the end of the month, as well as a multitude of shootings that left others injured.

The death of Freeman, who was also the brother of former mayor Derrick Freeman, shocked the community by large. But it’s still felt each day by his family.

“And Marcus was like my best friend. It’s tough. We’re trying to take it day by day,” Marcie said. “We’re a strong family with God. We’re going to get through this.”

She described the Port Arthur man as an overall good guy, very family oriented, articulate and would give the shirt off his back. He enjoyed spending time with his kids, coaching them on their sports teams.

He was a graduate of Memorial High School with a love of sports, especially baseball. He went on to play at San Jacinto College and at Texas Southern University, family said

“He was very quiet but if you got to know him he was full of life,” Marcie said. “Everybody knew his smile. He was always smiling. He was a great guy to be around.”

Marcie is four years older than Marcus. He was “Lil Free” and she was “Free” — and that’s what they called each other.

And, she said, she’s thankful they always said “I love you” each time they spoke.

Neither family members or police are talking about the circumstances surrounding his death, as the case is still under investigation.

Police response

But Police Chief Duriso said he knows the community is concerned about the violence.

“There is no pattern that we have discovered,” Duriso said. “We are working toward trying reduce the violence by arresting violators and having them remain in custody. Arresting people for unauthorized use of a weapon, for unlawful carrying a weapon or unlawful displaying of a weapon. We are making several strides with that.”

Duriso said a lot of weapons police are seeing are stolen from vehicles. He’s not blaming residents; he knows there are some places that don’t allow a person to bring their weapon inside.

Police are taking a boots-on-the-ground approach to the violence.

“You just can’t continue to talk. You have to take some kind action,” he said. “It could be the reason we don’t have more violence than we have here — because we are putting an effort to it.”

Phyllis Gipson

Killings

The first homicide of 2022 occurred Jan. 12 with the stabbing death of Lawrence Ozane, 53, in the 1900 block of Third Avenue. The man’s girlfriend, Phyllis Gipson, 61, was arrested in relation to the crime and has since bonded out of jail.

A relative of Gipson told Port Arthur Newsmedia that the woman was trying to stop the man from attacking her.

Freeman’s death took place nine days later.

Then on Jan. 29 at Encore Apartments on Jimmy Johnson Boulevard; James Botley Jr., 20, was fatally shot and another person suffered a gunshot wound that was not life-threatening.

Duriso said the last case would likely be submitted to the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.

The same night Botley was shot and killed there was an unrelated drive-by shooting in the 4000 block of 3rd Street. A woman was sitting in a vehicle when the shooting happened. She received a non-life threatening injury to her lower leg.

Record pace

The city could experience a high number of violent deaths this year should the violence continue as it has. For comparison, there were seven homicides in 2021 but the first didn’t occur until May.

The number of homicides stayed between four to eight annually from 2012 to 2021 with the exception of 2018, when there were 14.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said there are residents who are concerned about their safety in certain areas of the city where the shootings have occurred.

Police, he said, are doing what they can to alleviate the problem.

Bartie was recently in attendance at the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., where one of the topics was illegal weapons.

He is now part of a movement of mayors against illegal guns, he said, and is preparing a proclamation for Gun Violence Survivors Week. He said 40,000 people are killed every year due to gun violence, 80,000 are wounded due to gun violence and millions are affected.

Bartie is not a fan of the Open Carry legislation in Texas, especially in light of the recent fatal shootings in Houston and the shooting of law enforcement personnel, he said.

He also is concerned about the number of illegal weapons on the streets, some of which could have been used in recent killings.

Bartie also said there is a disproportionate number of African American men affected by gun violence.

“I hope the African American community takes heed,” Bartie said. “We are hurting and harming ourselves with these senseless acts.”