High school graduation photo of Tony McClain, courtesy of his family.

By Joy Bergman

In June, Brighton Montgomery, now 20, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter on January 10, 2019, stabbing the death of Tony McClain20.

On August 16, Judge Daniel Conviser sentenced Montgomery to 12 years in state prison with five years of post-release supervision. Montgomery waived his right to appeal as part of his plea deal, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office confirmed to WSR.

Montgomery will also serve a concurrent three-year sentence in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree assault for attacking a Rikers Island corrections officer and stabbing another Rikers inmate during a melee in August 2021. in jail, a statement from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office said.

Montgomery’s co-defendant in Tony’s murder, Jashawn Gorham, now 21, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in December 2019 and is currently serving a 20-year sentence.

These facts end a 43-month court waiting game for Tony’s heartbroken family.

But, without a full trial, will the Upper West Siders ever find out why Brighton Montgomery and Jashawn Gorham targeted Tony on Thursday afternoon? Chasing him down Broadway near 99th Street. Attack him in front of several eyewitnesses and video cameras. Leaving it crumpled and bleeding outside Cheesy Pizza.

WSR attended 12 of Montgomery’s 55 pretrial appearances to try to find out.

The proceedings revealed a complex and destructive web woven by two longtime rival “crews” on the UWS: Money Comes First and Columbus Avenue Gunners.

According to testimony heard by Sgt. James Burke, who served with the Manhattan North Gang unit of the NYPD, Montgomery and Gorham were members of Money Comes First [MCF]. MCF recruits often come from NYCHA developments in the 90s of the West, including the Wise Towers on 90th and 91st between Columbus and Amsterdam, the DeHostos apartments on 93rd and Amsterdam, and buildings known as WSUR sites.

The main adversaries of the MCF? Columbus Avenue Gunners [CAG] of NYCHA’s Frederick Douglass Houses development spanning 100th to 104th Streets between Amsterdam and Manhattan Avenues.

Police and court records indicate that members of the CAG and MCF have been running criminal enterprises on the Upper West Side for minus 2013.

Tony McClain was not a gang member, Sgt. Burke testified.

Tony’s aunt, Jinette Moore, told WSR that her nephew avoided all that “nonsense,” instead graduating from high school and working multiple jobs. He had no particular loyalty to any given territory, having grown up in both Wise Towers and Douglass, staying with grandmothers in each development, she said.

As of January 2019, Tony was living at Douglass Houses. Although he wasn’t a participant, he “knew people who were into stuff,” Moore said, referring to young men involved in the CAG and affiliated gangs.

Social media posts, however, may have misinterpreted Tony’s neutrality for allegiance. Tony had appeared in Facebook posts and a YouTube music video with CAG member Jermaine “Boogie” Johnson. This connection with Johnson may have cost Tony his life.

Family photo of Tony McClain.

Throughout 2018, MCF and CAG went from strength to strength on social media, according to court exhibits. Brighton Montgomery enjoyed posing with pal Jashawn Gorham, throwing MCF gang hand signs and posting under variations of his B-Rah moniker.

Lack of‘ Videos burst onto the scene. Crews broke into places like Starbucks, pointing to firearms in their possession and taunting rivals who lacked weapons to defend themselves. Such swaggering bravado on social media has fueled tensions.

Things exploded on July 30, 2018, when four MCF members infiltrated Douglass Houses and were shot by a CAG member.

On August 5, 2018, CAG member Jermaine Johnson launched the attack. He headed for MCF territory: 93rd and Amsterdam. Johnson opened fire, shoot Jashawn Gorhamthen 17, in the chest.

Shortly after, Gorham vowed revenge via a social media post, “The comeback is real.”

Five months later, on January 3, 2019, Jermaine Johnson and two accomplices were arrested in a federal racketeering case. His indictment included charges stemming from the July and August shootings. Johnson, now 24, eventually pleaded guilty to assaulting Gorham with a deadly weapon as well as dealing counterfeit money, “to help maintain my position in the gang,” Johnson said.

The day after Johnson’s arrest, Jashawn Gorham posted a photo on Facebook. It showed Brighton Montgomery waving at the camera, with Gorham in the background. Were the duo rejoicing over Johnson’s incarceration or celebrating Gorham’s 18th birthday on January 4 or both?

The passions continued to rise. Over the next few days, accusations circulated about possible snitches. Text messages flew. On January 10, according to the theory, Gorham and Montgomery were looking to make a hit.

Tony McClain probably knew none of this as he walked down Broadway that Thursday afternoon. His family say he was returning home from a uniform fitting for a new job at a movie theater.

Gorham and Montgomery appeared to have staked out the dividing line between the Crews’ territories – the area around 98th Street. They had their weapons. They needed a target.

Did they follow Tony from the subway? Did they recognize him on social media as a face associated with Jermaine Johnson? Did they know anything about Tony’s real life? Did they believe that his residence at Douglass was reason enough to condemn him to death?

We may never know.

Jinette Moore has her answer. “My nephew was not a gangster or a thug, but an innocent person caught up in the ignorance and violence of others.”