Brawl Breaks Out in Courthouse Between Families of Teen Victim, Alleged Gunman

Witnesses said it was chaos in the Hempstead courthouse

Four people were hurt, including two court officers, in a brawl that erupted in a New York courthouse Friday between the family of a suspected gunman and relatives of the 17-year-old boy he is accused of gunning down.

Pedro Merchant, 20, had just been ordered held without bail at the courtroom in Hempstead when someone in the courtroom yelled out words of encouragement, something along the lines of "keep your head up," according to a witness and a court spokesman.

That apparently set off the family of the 17-year-old victim, Dante James Quinones-Wright, who was gunned down last week on a Long Island street.

A physical fight erupted in the packed courtroom that quickly spread to the hallway, and eventually spilled into the parking lot.

"It was chaos," said witness Caprice Rines. 

Michael Hart, who was also inside the courtroom, said he was "completely scared for my life."

"I've never, ever at one point felt total chaos completely surround me and not be able to control any little bit of it." 

Six people were arrested and four were injured, court spokesman Dan Bagnuola said. None of the injuries were serious.

Members of Merchant's family blamed the victim's family for what happened, and proclaimed Merchant's innocence.

"I've got a good son, he would never do this," said Terry Merchant, the suspect's father. 

But Quinones-Wright's cousins, who wanted to remain anonymous, insisted they did not instigate the fight and that Merchant's family had threatened them.

"They came in like, 'We're going to get you next,'" said one cousin.

"We were upset that our cousin was killed, but we didn't want a problem with them." 

--Greg Cergol contributed to this story

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