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Cops grill SJU teams in shooting

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Members of St. John’s University men’s and women’s basketball teams were questioned Friday in a shooting at an Astoria pool hall where a 23-year-old man was shot multiple times, but no arrests have been made in the incident, police said.

The teams from the Jamaica-based school had been taking part in a birthday party at Astoria’s Racks Cafe Billiards on Steinway Street when a dispute broke out with another group of men, a source familiar with the team said.

It is believed a hand gesture from one of the St. John’s players that indicated a three-point shot was misinterpreted as a gang sign, leading to an altercation, the source said.

Long Island resident Curtis Brown, 23, was shot five times in the torso around 2:19 a.m. in front of the pool hall following the dispute, police said.

Brown’s friends attempted to take him to Elmhurst Hospital, but the vehicle in which he was traveling got into an accident near the Grand Central Parkway at Ditmars Boulevard, police said.

Brown was then taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was listed in stable condition, police said.

Police questioned members from both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the source familiar with the team said. But no arrests have been made in the incident, police said.

The suspect in the shooting, who had grabbed a gun from his car following the fight at the pool hall, fled the scene in a black Nissan Maxima, police said.

Dominic Scianna, a spokesman for St. John’s, said the university would not comment on the incident.

“When the Police Department is involved, we take our lead from them,” he said.

A law enforcement source familiar with the incident said St. John’s players had been at the scene during the shooting, but that the suspected shooter was neither a student at that school nor a player on one of its teams.

The owner of Racks could not be reached for comment.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Council Public Safety Committee, said the crime is not typical of the neighborhood.

“Shootings are up throughout the city and it’s clear that Astoria is not immune to that,” he said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:54 pm, October 10, 2011
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