- Photo courtesy of Edgar Gritney
- Wyatt Morrow relished big meals. As far as friends knew, it was his only vice.
Wyatt Morrow, a deeply religious man, appeared to finally get his prayers answered. In March of last year, he landed a big promotion at the Cleveland Board of Education. It meant he could stop working nights at his other job at the Cleveland Juvenile Detention Home. It meant an end to 16-hour days.
If this would bring a windfall of leisure time, Morrow was prepared to give it away. He could spend more time caring for his mother, father, and uncle, all of whom suffered from diseases depriving them of independence. Any hours left would be devoted to the Second Ebenezer Baptist Church, on East 71st Street near Chester Avenue, where he was a deacon. In an otherwise hectic life, Morrow found tranquillity during the long Sunday services.
Not that his work was unfulfilling. At schools and the juvenile home, Morrow would preach to the young and misguided. Placing a delinquent on the right track was its own religious experience.
"He tried to tell them the good things in life, besides being around a lot of trouble," says Calvin Spivey, a co-worker at the juvenile home. "He would say things about his own life to show how things could be with these kids."
Morrow left the same saintly impression at the Board of Education. "We talk about role models -- this man was a role model," says his boss, Edgar Gritney.
Yet no one knew that this hardworking, hard-praying man fought the same demons as the kids he worked with. He did well to hide it from family and friends. But if Wyatt Morrow lived with a secret, he was unable to die with it.
Unlike a lot of city kids, Morrow glided past the troubles of youth. He graduated from Glenville High, went on to community college, then landed a security guard job at the Cleveland Juvenile Detention Home in 1985.
"He was well known and well respected around here," says Spivey, who started work there a month later. "I can't think of somebody who'd have a bad thing to say about him."
Even the locked-up boys -- whose hatred for adults was universal -- couldn't generate much of a grudge against Morrow. He had no children of his own, but he was patient and unconditionally devoted to the kids at the home.
His only stab at fatherhood came when he adopted his wife's son, yet the marriage ended in divorce. A settlement required he pay child support. To offset the cost, Morrow took on a second job as a security officer at John Marshall High School in 1990. He worked there from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then went to the detention home for the 4-to-12 shift. If the doubled burden bothered Morrow, he didn't let on.
"I never heard him complain about his jobs," Spivey says. "Working two jobs was part of his lifestyle."
The same gregarious manner that won over young toughs at the juvenile home earned Morrow popularity at John Marshall. Not that he was particularly soft. He routinely jumped into the middle of student brawls. At 5-foot-8 and 265 pounds, he was built like a bowling ball.
Word of Morrow's peacemaking mettle reached Edgar Gritney, the Board of Education's security commander. Gritney was looking for a handful of street-savvy guards to man a gang task force and tagged Morrow for one of the positions. The unit analyzed fights that looked to have gang undertones.
"It was his job to mediate between two gangs," says Gritney. "You sit them down with their parents and you talk to them, try to resolve it. He was very good at it. With his job at the detention center, he would know a lot of the so-called bad guys on a first-name basis."
The hope was to either strike a truce or recognize it was futile, in which case the gangbangers were removed from school. Gritney says Morrow's sharp judge of character served him well. In August 2000, he was promoted again, to supervisor of the unit.
This placed him closer to Gritney, to whom Morrow became a reliable aide and good friend. Gritney occasionally invited Morrow out to dinner, knowing the latter's insatiable appetite for steak and seafood. "He was a big guy, and he loved to eat," chuckles Gritney.
Gritney was struck by Morrow's capacity to balance giant responsibilities. Besides his two jobs, Morrow also cared for his mother, who had heart ailments, and his father and uncle, who were in the first stages of Alzheimer's. Gritney heard how Morrow took the men in, the uncle living on the downstairs floor of Morrow's home, the father upstairs.
It was a lot to juggle, but he managed. Gritney says Morrow never called in sick, always showed up to work on time, and was a consistently buoyant force within the office.
"He took pride in saying, 'I got your back, Boss,'" Gritney says. "And he did. I could always count on him."
By March of last year, Morrow earned another promotion, this time to become Gritney's administrative assistant. He would represent the department at all functions Gritney couldn't make himself and help form district security. It would serve as practice for the day Morrow took Gritney's job.
"I was always telling him, 'I've got one or two more years before I retire. Somebody's got to take my place, and I'm grooming you,'" says Gritney.
The promotion was cause for jubilation. The pay raise might be enough to let Morrow quit the detention home. He'd have more time for his mother, his father, his uncle, and church. And he was just about to make his final child-support payment.
In late March, Gritney invited Morrow out for one of their big dinners. "We were going to celebrate his being promoted, his last child-support payment, and the fact that he was thinking about changing his life," says Gritney.
But something awful and unexpected happened first.
Dwayne Ferguson and Tyrone Brown were the kind of kids Wyatt Morrow saw every day at work.
Beginning at age 14, Brown had been arrested for theft, receiving stolen property, kidnapping, and drug abuse. Not long after his 18th birthday, he was sent to the Lorain Correctional Institution on car theft and drug convictions. He was eventually released, only to return after he sold crack to an undercover cop. He would return once more when, after an altercation with his girlfriend, he drove a car through her front lawn, scattering her friends and hitting one man.
Ferguson's history mirrors Brown's. He was 19 when he took his first trip to prison for dealing crack. He's spent time behind bars every year since 1996.
In March of last year, Ferguson was out on bail for his most recent charge. He had pleaded guilty to drug trafficking; sentencing was scheduled for March 28.
So on March 26, he was enjoying his last days of freedom.
That night, Brown was at a pay phone on Woodworth Avenue when he heard someone holler his name. It was Ferguson. The two had been friends since grade school. Ferguson suggested they hit the bars.
It was snowing steadily when they arrived at the Sportsman's Bar at Euclid and Ivanhoe around midnight. They stayed till 2:30 a.m. After last call, they hitched a ride with a friend, who dropped them off at a ramshackle home on Woodworth near East 137th. "Dwayne told me he had the key to the crack house," Brown later told police.
As they approached the house, Ferguson noticed a green Oldsmobile Bravada parked in the driveway. A tall, thin man known as "Unck" (his real name is Harry Jones) greeted him at the door.
"Unck said this dude -- meaning the guy with the green truck -- had some money and wanted to get high," Brown says.
Actually, the man was plenty high before Ferguson and Brown arrived. Even Unck -- a crack house operator who had seen his share of binges -- marveled at the man's appetite.
"He was using big pieces. In about a two- or three-hour span, he smoked $500-$600 worth," Unck told police. "After he was smoking, he would lay back, and he was breathing so hard, I thought he was going to have a heart attack."
Unck's supply was dwindling, but Ferguson had a stash. As the man stayed hidden in a back room, Unck played middleman, shuttling between rooms with $20 rocks.
After the third purchase, the man -- still relaying messages through Unck -- requested that Brown and Ferguson leave. "Unck said this guy didn't want a lot of people seeing him leave," Brown said.
The two men went outside. Brown says Ferguson ordered him to hide as Ferguson waited behind the corner of the house for the man to emerge.
There was no sign of Brown or Ferguson by the time Wyatt Morrow, dressed in a long leather jacket, walked out the front door of the crack house. It was 3:30 a.m., and the snow had stopped.
As he neared his truck, Morrow heard snow crunching beneath feet. As he opened the door of his truck and climbed in, he whirled to see Ferguson. He tried to close the door, but Ferguson's elbow was there.
With his free hand, Ferguson pulled a .357 Magnum from his waistline. He struggled with Morrow, who clutched the door, trying to slam it. Morrow yelled for help. Ferguson pounded Morrow's face with the barrel of the gun, knocking a lens from Morrow's glasses. He cursed Morrow. He wanted his wallet and keys.
"The guy told Dwayne he didn't have anything," Brown remembers.
Then Ferguson pointed the gun down and pulled the trigger.
"This guy kept moaning," Brown says.
Ferguson and Brown vanished into the night. Morrow was writhing in pain from the bullet in his left knee.
Pools of blood formed on the floorboard. The bullet had severed his popliteal artery, which circulates blood to the bottom half of the leg. Without a tourniquet, a person with this injury usually bleeds to death in less than 20 minutes. For someone whose heart is racing from cocaine, that time is considerably less.
Morrow started the Bravada and pointed it west down Woodworth.
Bail bondsman Michael Logan was out on a job at 3:40 a.m. He was stopped at the corner of East 133rd and Woodworth when a Bravada passed through the intersection. Logan turned in the same direction. He watched the truck drift into oncoming traffic as it neared the intersection of St. Clair. It went underneath an overpass, struck a divider, and stopped.
Logan stopped and peered into the wreckage. Morrow's face contorted as he gasped for air. Logan smashed a window, then reached in to unlock the door. A stream of blood poured onto the pavement.
Morrow took a deep breath, then went limp. An East Cleveland patrol car pulled over to find Logan performing CPR. By the time paramedics arrived around 4 a.m., Wyatt Morrow was dead.
Ferguson and Brown watched Morrow from behind a vacant house. After he drove off, Ferguson took Brown's hat and put it on. He turned his jacket inside out, but he still needed to hide the gun. Brown fetched a plastic bag. Ferguson wrapped the gun in it, and the two split up.
They met back at a friend's apartment.
"I asked Dwayne, 'Why did you do that shit?'" Brown later told police. "Dwayne said, 'Fuck that nigger. I only shot him in the leg. It's not like I killed him.'"
Ferguson was still sitting in the living room when Brown fell asleep on the couch.
The Bravada had just crossed from East Cleveland into Cleveland when it crashed. By about 30 feet, the case belonged to Cleveland Detectives Michael Cipo and Denise Kovach. They're murder scene veterans, but this was the bloodiest either had seen.
Fortunately, three fresh inches of snow layered the ground. It was 4 a.m., and there wasn't much traffic. Cipo and Kovach figured that Morrow was shot, then drove off. They asked East Cleveland cops to scan the neighborhood for signs of a shooting.
A patrol officer spotted a three-foot-wide puddle of blood in the driveway of the crack house on Woodworth. Next to it were two pairs of footprints.
The detectives could follow the feet directly to the apartment where Ferguson and Brown were staying. East Cleveland cops surrounded the front entrance. Cleveland cops were ready to charge in through the back.
Just before the order was given, the front door swung open. Dwayne Ferguson, looking groggy and a little surprised by the gathering, stepped out. He was arrested on the spot.
When police entered the back of the apartment, they found Brown wandering around in an exhausted daze. He was wearing the same shoes that made the tracks. Cipo had a Polaroid of the tracks. "What does this look like?" he asked. "My shoe," Brown answered.
Later that day, Brown told detectives about the shooting. A neighbor who witnessed the stickup also spoke to police. Their stories matched perfectly.
It's a harsh bit of injustice that Morrow, who spent most of his adult life trying to keep troubled boys away from crime, would perish at the hands of the very young men he sought to help. Last month, Dwayne Ferguson received a 25-year prison sentence. Brown's role brought him 10.
Edgar Gritney wonders whether Brown and Ferguson, who both had encounters with the juvenile justice system, ever crossed paths with Morrow. Brown told police that Morrow looked familiar, and Morrow may have stayed hidden at the crack house because he worried about being recognized.
But for those who knew him, the notion of Morrow holed up in a crack house at 3:30 a.m. is a contradiction too stark to accept.
Morrow's sisters declined to speak with Scene, but they dismissed Brown's account outright. "That's impossible," one family member told police. "Wyatt doesn't do drugs."
Those who worked with Morrow don't believe it either.
"As long as I've known Wyatt -- and I've known him 18 years -- I have never even seen him indulge in activities of that nature," says Spivey. He wonders if Brown and Ferguson fabricated the story. Maybe it was a simple carjacking. "You see someone with a nice truck, people do crazy things."
"It didn't fit," adds Edgar Gritney. "It bewildered me. I mean, he worked two jobs, he took care of his father. He didn't have time for [a drug habit]. We know it was a bad area, but Wyatt must have been going to talk to somebody or help somebody."
The coroner's report is not so disbelieving. It notes that cocaine was found in Morrow's system.
Morrow's friends are troubled by this disclosure, but it is still not enough to convince them.
"A dead man can't speak," says Spivey. "That question has been asked 1,001 times, and I don't have the answer for you."