Shooting case proceeds despite identity questions

Judge binds suspects over for trial; attorneys challenge information used to arrest men for shooting teen in Port

Lavander Blanks (left) and Niyoktron Martin
Ozaukee Press staff

The attorneys representing two men charged in Ozaukee County Circuit Court with attempted first-degree homicide questioned last week whether police arrested the right people in connection with the Sunday, May 20, shooting of a teenager in downtown Port Washington, arguing that none of the evidence in the case definitively identifies their clients as the shooter and his accomplice.

Video from four cameras in downtown Port provided footage of two men who authorities say were Milwaukee residents Niyoktron T. Martin, 21, and Lavander L. Blanks, 26, walking toward the scene of the crime on East Main Street at Franklin Street minutes before the shooting, then after the shooting walking to the apartment at 325 N. Franklin St. where they were arrested the next day, Port Washington police officer Jerry Nye testified during a May 31 preliminary hearing.

But none of the video shows the shooting, he said.

The 18-year-old victim, who sped away from the crime scene in reverse and drove himself to the police station while bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to his shoulder, didn’t get a good look at his attackers, Nye testified.

Witnesses who said they heard gunshots and saw two men matching the general description of Martin and Blanks gave differing accounts of what the two men were wearing.

Martin’s attorney, public defender Rachel Boaz, said the witnesses’ description of the suspects boiled down to two black men — one short and skinny, the other tall and husky.

She said none of the witnesses described the men’s facial features or hair, except one woman who told police that one of the men she saw returning to the Franklin Street apartment after the shooting may have had dreadlocks. Blanks is bald and Martin has short hair.

“I think the identifying information is just two black males,” Boaz said.

Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol conceded “that the identifying information in this case is and will be circumstantial,” but said the sum of the evidence points to Martin and Blanks.

At 1:30 a.m. on Monday, May 21, about three hours after the shooting, police officers noticed a car driving slowly on Grand Avenue until it reached the lakefront, then attempted to turn around. Officers spoke with the driver of the car, Justin Blanks, who appeared nervous and said he had received several text messages from his brother Lavander saying he would pay him $75 for a ride out of town, Nye testified. Justin also told police his brother instructed him to take back roads to Port Washington and avoid police officers, Nye said.

Gerol noted that a 9mm bullet found at the crime scene was similar to one found on the steps leading to the apartment where Martin and Blanks were arrested, and that the gun found in that apartment matched the description of a weapon used in the shooting — a 9mm semiautomatic handgun with a high-capacity magazine.

“We know the weapon has the best description of anything, the distinct feature being the extended magazine,” Gerol said.

He also said Martin lied after being arrested outside the apartment, claiming he wasn’t in Port when the shooting occurred and that Blanks was not in the apartment. Officers, including members of the Ozaukee County Special Response Team, found Blanks in the apartment a short time later.

“I do believe all of this shows a crime was committed ... and probably by these two individuals,” Gerol said, referring to Martin and Blanks.

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland agreed, finding probable cause to support the charges and binding Martin and Blanks over for trial.

In addition to attempted first-degree homicide, Martin and Blanks are charged with attempted armed robbery and endangering safety by the reckless use of a firearm — all felonies.

Martin is also charged with felony bail jumping and obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor.

Blanks, who was convicted in Milwaukee County of armed robbery in 2013 and sentenced to three years in prison and four years of extended supervision, is charged as a repeat offender.

They are being held in the Ozaukee County jail in lieu of $100,000 bail each.

During last week’s hearing, Nye testified that he was dispatched to the police station around 11 p.m. Sunday, May 20, where he found Nikolis Wagner-Ridling in his car.

“He was clearly bleeding,” he said. “I could see his shirt was soaked in blood.”

According to Nye, Wagner-Ridling said that just a short time before that he was in his car parked on East Main Street outside of the apartment where he lives when two black men approached his car, one on either side. One of the men, who authorities identified as Martin, pointed a gun at the driver’s side window, ordered Wagner-Ridling out of the car and, as Wagner-Ridling put the car into reverse, opened fire, Nye said. 

Wounded, Wagner-Ridling backed onto Franklin Street and drove to the police station while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher.

According to the 911 recording, Wagner-Ridling told the dispatcher, “I’ve just been shot. They shot me in my car .... They shot my window out .... I’m bleeding everywhere, ma’am. I’m bleeding out. Oh my God ... I have to call my mom and dad.”

Wagner-Ridling was taken by ambulance to Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, then flown by helicopter to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. He was released the day after the shooting.

Although Wagner-Ridling didn’t get a good look at his attackers, he did see the gun one of them pointed at him, Nye said. 

“He described it as a gun that looked similar to an Uzi,” Nye said, referring to a small automatic weapon that typically uses a high-capacity magazine. “He described it as looking like a handgun with an extended magazine.”

Among the witnesses in the area was a woman who said after hearing shots she went outside her apartment and saw the man identified as Martin holding a handgun, which he pointed at her, Nye said. 

After the shooting, footage from downtown video cameras shows the two men authorities have identified as Martin and Blanks walking west on East Main Street, then north on North Wisconsin Street near the police station. That’s where footage from a camera at the station shows the men, who are cousins, pick up their pace and cut through a parking lot behind the apartment at 325 N. Franklin St. where they were later arrested, Nye said. 

Living at that apartment was Angela Rodriguez, Blanks’ fiancee and the mother of his child, according to the criminal complaint.

Martin was arrested outside the apartment the day after the shooting. Although he told officers he had just arrived in Port Washington, Rodriguez told police he had been staying at the apartment for the previous two days, Nye said.

Blanks, who told police he had been living at the apartment for several weeks, was arrested there a short time later when authorities executed a search warrant. 

A 9mm Ruger handgun and two clips, one of which was an extended, 30-round magazine, were found in a blue string backpack in the apartment, Nye said.

Rodriguez told police that she was at work at the time of the shooting and returned home to find Blanks and Martin, both of whom she described as being very nervous, at the apartment. After attempting to arrange rides for the men, Rodriguez said, she got into a brief argument with Blanks and went to bed, Nye testified.

During his testimony, Nye alluded to a May 2017 investigation into the carjacking of a vehicle in Milwaukee that was abandoned in the parking lot behind the Port Washington apartment where Martin and Blanks were arrested.

Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said this week that Milwaukee police are now investigating whether Martin and Blanks were involved in the theft of that car.

Martin and Blanks are scheduled to be arraigned on Monday, June 11.


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