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DEATH IN THE STREETS

Athlete’s mistaken arrest stuns Magnet

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In a case of mistaken identity, a Campus Magnet High School football star was held Friday afternoon for questioning in the murder of a 13-year-old boy before cops realized he was not the suspect.

Nmesoma Okafor, a 16-year-old senior defensive end, was preparing for practice at the Queens school, located at 207-01 116th Ave. in Cambria Heights, when he heard gunshots. The team’s coaches ordered the entire team into the locker room as a safety measure. Moments later, officers crossed the gate, questioned the team, entered the locker room and picked out Nmesoma because his orange shirt and broad 6-foot-6 frame matched that of the suspect.

Nmesoma was told by police he had been identified at the scene by an eyewitness, he said, and was put in handcuffs and into the back of a police car around 4 p.m. This occurred despite the pleas of coaches and teammates saying he was on school grounds at the time of the incident.

“I was shocked,” Nmesoma told the New York Post. “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought they were going to pin it on me.”

Nmesoma was brought to the 105th Precinct station for questioning in the murder of Kevin Miller, 13, outside a car wash in Cambria Heights. He said he was handcuffed to a wall until being released about six hours later, after video footage showed he was innocent and his alibi checked out. Okafor said the officers apologized afterward.

“They didn’t want to listen to me, any of my coaches,” Campus Magnet Coach Eric Barnett said. “He’s in a safe environment, doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He could’ve been there. This is a burden he will have to live with.”

Police in the 105th Precinct declined to comment on the incident. Police Department Spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Nmesoma handled the ordeal well. He started in the Bulldogs’ 28-12 loss to Canarsie and recorded his team-leading sixth sack. But his teammates, who all wore orange shirts as a sign of solidarity, were traumatized by the situation, Principal Jose Cruz said. They were still shaken one day later.

“It hurts my heart to see that,” senior David Sumter said. “It shouldn’t be like that. They’re supposed to enforce the law and help us.”

Given the circumstances, Barnett gave his team the option of forfeiting. They opted to play and were in the game much of the way, trailing 8-6 late in the first half and 16-12 in the third quarter, before falling apart in the final stanza.

“I thought we were ready, I thought we could overcome this,” Barnett said. “They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect. I guess we didn’t match their intensity.”

Barnett was proud of his team nevertheless. The previous day had a lasting effect on all of them.

“I haven’t gotten over it,” he said. “I’m drained.”

Reach Zach Braziller at zbraziller@nypost.com.

Posted 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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