September 30, 2008
September 25, 2008
Much of the talk in recent days following the death of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. has centered around what to do about the Northwood Plaza, the shopping center where the robbery-turned-homicide occurred early Saturday morning. At an emergency meeting held in the Northeast District police station Tuesday night, many residents (and politicians) accused the management of the shopping center of failing to adequately protect the businesses and shoppers. The criticism was fierce, with many saying the security that patrols from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. is inadequate and that ownership had done "as little as possible, for as long as possible."
Still others felt the responsibility fell to the police, who they said do not patrol the area enough. And there was a smaller, albeit extremely hushed, minority that felt that Keith Covington, owner of the New Haven Lounge jazz club, had a responsibility to hire a doorman or private security, as his club is the only businesses in the center that is open past 9 p.m. Covington and his supporters were adamant that it was the responsibility of the shopping center and police to provide protection for his club.
"We've been neglected, and I cannot take this any longer. It's absolutely unacceptable," Covington said.
I'm interested to hear what readers think about this. On top of the city police, shopping center security, and any help Covington could possibly hire, Morgan State University police also patrol the area, as Morgan owns property in the complex. Who do you think should bear the burden of keeping the area safe?
While you ponder that question, here are some stats on the 46 robberies at the Northwood Plaza over the past nine years (note: a robbery of two people counts as two robberies; three victims represent three robberies, etc.)
-Four occurred at the shopping center's gas station; four occurred at a Domino's, and 22 were classified as occurring on the street, in the parking lot, or in an alley. Two have occurred at the New Haven Lounge, both in since July of this year, and a handful spread among other businesses
-Thirteen occurred roughly between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m.
-Eight occurred between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m.
-And 14 occurred between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., with the rest happening in between those times.
September 24, 2008
No reward offered yet in Harris' death
There has not been a reward posted yet for tips in the killing of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris. Some have asked why, given the high-profile nature of the investigation, which has more than a dozen homicide detectives working around the clock.
The reason for no reward yet, homicide Sgt. Don Kramer told residents at a community meeting last night, is because police find that they often get bad tips when money is offered right away, with people diverting police attention to phony suspects in an attempt to score the cash. Kramer said police have been in touch with Metro Crime Stoppers, which doles out the rewards, and America's Most Wanted -- but he also said that they are close to offering money.
"The Police Need Your Help To Make This City Safe" reads the flier being passed around the neighborhoods. Police say anyone with information can remain anonymous and call police at 410-396-2100.
September 23, 2008
Guest blog: A memento from Ken Harris
Guest post from Gus Sentementes:
I was tipped off to the murder of Kenneth N. Harris Sr. about two hours after it happened, very early Saturday morning.
As I rolled out of bed and got dressed, 50 thoughts seemed to flit through my brain: Call my editors. Call my colleagues. How could this happen to Ken Harris? Are the batteries in my camera charged up?
But one thought stuck with me all day as I worked on the story: Ken never came back to my office to pick up something that used to hang on his wall. It was a plaque, with a reprint of an article published in the Afro-American newspaper on Feb. 4, 1995. The plaque and how it ended up in my possession, I remember thinking, now personally connected him with another victim of violence in Baltimore.
The article was a profile of Ken as a "busy activist" and community organizer, four years before he would be elected to the City Council. It talked about Ken organizing programs for young people and serving as a mentor to some, including young Shannon L. Dudley, who was quoted in the story.
In 1995, Dudley was a 9-year-old fourth-grader with lots of promise but an unsteady home life. Ken told me he took him under his wing and took him places. He would often have Shannon over to his house to have dinner with his wife and two children.
The article featured a photo of Ken and young Shannon together, with the boy staring precociously into the camera.
Ken let me borrow the plaque in late May because of what happened to Shannon that month. Shannon, who was 22 at the time, was brutally stabbed May 27th in a downtown robbery. His attackers took some of his belongings and fled, leaving him hanging onto life by a thread. Police later charged two young men in the attack.
I worked on that story, too. And I remembered not having any luck finding anyone who knew Shannon -- until Ken called. He told me knew the boy and could help put me in touch with his mother (which he did). I was looking for a photo of Shannon to run with our story about him, but his mother couldn't get one in my hands. So Ken told me about the article from 1995 and told me he'd drop off his plaque, which had the photo of him and Shannon. A few hours later, I met him outside The Baltimore Sun building on Calvert Street, and he handed me the plaque and talked about Shannon. We ran the photo of a young Shannon Dudley in the next day's paper, thanks to Ken's thoughtfulness.
Ken and I touched base a couple times since then, and each time he kept saying he'd come by to pick up the plaque. But time slipped away from both of us, and the plaque remained propped against a filing cabinet under my desk.
Until Saturday morning.
When I arrived at my desk, the first thing I did was pull out the plaque and prop it on my desk, so I could be reminded of him and Shannon as I wrote.
Here, I thought, were two Baltimoreans who came together years ago, both seeking a better future in this city. Thirteen years later, both would be cut down in violence on the streets.
Amazingly, the doctors at Maryland Shock Trauma Center were able to save Shannon, even though he was stabbed in the heart. Today, his mother, Tilithea Ransome, told me her son is still hospitalized and he can't yet speak. But he's alert and steadily healing.
And Tilithea is heartbroken over Ken's death. She said he used to call or e-mail her just about every week since her son was stabbed, just to check in. She would shoot him a quick e-mail back to let him know he was progressing. She's convinced Ken did some extra prodding of the police to make sure they caught her son's attackers. And for that, she's grateful.
"I felt really strongly that Ken's input made some impact on the police working harder on his case," Tilithea said. "He was kind and offered his help."
About Ken's death, Tilithea said: "It's unbelievable, really."
I look forward to returning this plaque to Ken's family soon.
September 19, 2008
Baltimore crime: Huge in the UK
Baltimore crime is all the rage in the United Kingdom these days.
I have Google alerts set for Baltimore crime and Baltimore police, and it's been blowing up recently with reviews of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a book that came out nearly 20 years ago, and The Wire.
David Simon appears to be on a press jaunt through the England and Ireland, hosting a screening of The Wire in Glasgow as Homicide is re-released with a shiny new cover that now touts it as a "true crime classic from the creator of The Wire." Good marketing.
In addition to numerous book reviews, Simon had an op-ed in The Guardian, is profiled in The Telegraph (in which the reporter spent some time with Simon and homicide chief Terry McLarney and experienced the wrath of an O's-Sox game when his hotel reservations were canceled), and gives an "exclusive interview" to The Times (how can it be an exclusive given all the other stories? Just sayin'...).
Of course, there's also the announcement that Simon will be penning a miniseries for HBO about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the 12-day search for John Wilkes Booth, which is being co-written by Tom Fontana, who worked on "Homicide: Life on the Streets" and "Oz". Busy guy.
Guns and crime
With homicides at their highest rate in years, the mayor announces a plan to crack down on guns. And so far this year, homicides are down 25 percent.
Sound familiar? That's a synopsis of what's happening right now in Cleveland, where Mayor Frank Jackson "ordered cops to get in the faces of street gangs, corner dealers and anyone illegally carrying a gun" after the city experienced a 13-year high in homicides last year. The city is seizing guns at a higher rate than last year and has seen homicides and gun-related violence drop, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.
I think it's fair to say Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's GunStat plan is a bit more involved -- it involves chronicling gun cases from start to finish, including the types of weapons seized, bail amounts, the defendants' criminal histories and the court's rulings. The effort is designed to help focus attention on individuals who police say have used guns in previous crimes but are back on the streets. Getting the guns is a big component, but putting the gun owners away is the priority.
The effect on homicides seems to be about the same between the two cities, just looking at the raw numbers for this year. The long-term results will be more telling.
September 18, 2008
Obstacle in police shooting prosecution
From guest blogger Justin Fenton:
Police union officials yesterday criticized the 25-year prison sentence given to man who pleaded guilty to shooting at four police officers in February 2007.
The case came with one quirk:One of the officers who was shot at had been banned by the prosecutor’s office from testifying in any city cases. The Baltimore Sun has reported that Officers Charles Hagee admitted to deceiving emergency dispatchers in a domestic violence case and is among a group of officers on a "do not call" list for city prosecutors – apparently even in cases where he is the victim.
So by going to trial, prosecutors potentially risked a three-ring circus involving Hagee's credibility. The plea ensured a conviction, albeit one that brought a sentence that could be considered light: Attempted first-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Though he pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted first-degree murder, as well as handgun violations, Brown may only serve about 12 years, followed by three years of probation.
Paul M. Blair Jr., the city police union president, said he believed Hagee’s issues should not have undermined the testimony of the other three officers. Prosecutors said they stood by the conviction and "always pursue cases in the interest of justice."
Here's the narrative of how the frightening incident went down, per court documents:
Two organized crime detectives were in the area of Hoffman and Federal streets on Feb. 2, 2007 when they observed what they believed to be a narotics violation. As they were watching, Brown and an unidentified man approached their vehicle, and asked if the officers were waiting for someone. The men kept walking and the detectives got out of their vehicle, announcing themselves as police. The men fled. The unidentified man got away, but Detective Kenneth Ross would encounter Brown in the 1800 block of Hope Street. Brown walked towards Ross, reaching into his waistband to remove a silver pistol and firing two rounds at Ross.
Brown ran south on Aisquith Street. Ross broadcast a description for the suspect, and Officer Jhonn Coronoa soon observed the defendant in the 1600 block of Aisquith and ordered him to stop. Brown fired multiple rounds at Corona, who fired his weapon at Brown.
Brown then ran between two houses and encountered Hagee and Officer James McShane. Brown fired his weapon at the officers, who returned fire. Brown was struck and collapsed in the rear of the1600 block of Aisquith. The officers recovered a silver Smith and Wesson and Brown was transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Away for a bit
It's been a fun weeks getting this crime blog launched but I'm off on a long planned vacation. Don't worry, I'll be back Oct. 1.
Keep checking in; at times, my colleagues will post blogs and comments here.
September 17, 2008
Today's column on smoking bans forcing people outside to loiter got a long response from a reader. He gave me his permission to post it here:
1 - Respect??? Respect would be compromising and providing a decent place where I could enjoy a cigarette. Why does respect mean the smoker is not allowed to smoke anywhere, and the non-smoker does as they please? That doesn’t sound like respect or a compromise to me. That sounds like you do it my way, period.
2 - I also like your comment "yes, even Doctors and Nurses." It is clear you can easily understand how those dumb janitors can smoke, but Doctors and Nurses, shocking! I believe this is a very telling statement demonstrating your views.
3 - "Hospital Administrators have warned people not to smoke during working hours." As a decorated veteran who fought for my country's freedom, I am watching us give those freedoms away. I am really worried about our future, as a country. We have lost our way. I know it is difficult for you to see how this smoking ban demonstrates that, but it does. It always starts small...
By the way, I completely agree with no smoking in offices, buildings, restaurants, malls, etc. However you and I both know, smoking has become the one subject everyone can spout their righteous indignation with impunity. Just a bunch of bullies. Once everyone quits, what will they come for next, cheeseburgers? OOPPSS, already happening, Mayor Dixon has suggested banning trans fats in the city.
What will you (and I) do when overweight people are denied health insurance? Trust me, its coming!
I told him I'm not against people smoking outside but rather against people being noisy and littering by throwing cigarette butts in front of people's homes. He responded:
I agree about respecting people's homes. I work on the water, when I smoke at work, I do not throw my butts on the ground as they will definitely wind up in the bay, I throw them in the trash. I know not everyone is like that but if we all started showing some respect for each other, maybe things would improve.
September 16, 2008
Report on juvenile recidivism rates
The Maryland Attorney General's Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit released a report today that concludes there is a high recidivism rate among juvenile offenders held at various institutions such as the Victor Cullen Center in Western Maryland and the Waxter Girl's Center in Prince George's County.
The report concludes that 229 youths successfully completed youth center programs in fiscal year 2006 and 58 percent were re-arrested within one year of being discharged. That is up from the usual 51 percent, the report says. Cullen, which opened last year, has a recidivism rate of 33 percent so far, the report says.
The report concludes that "Maryland does not have the number of effective programs, either residential or community-based, to meet youth needs. ... This administration has worked with great dedication to turn around a situation that was many years in the making. It is a gargantuan task. While more beds are needed to treat Maryland's delinquent youth in-state, development of new facilities should be a thoughtful, deliberate process, based on existing research."
The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services fired back, saying the report "misstates and misses important aspects of the bigger picture of system reform." DJS officials said called the comparisons "'apples-to-oranges' reasoning" that gives a faulty picture of recidivism rates. For example, the report says Maryland has a high recidivism rate compared with Missouri, but DJS officials say the standards used to define recidivism are stricter in Missouri and therefore the numbers are lower.
The reports are long. I'll leave them for you to read and I'd be interested in your comments:
Boone street vigil
Last week's shootings on Boone Street in which one man was killed and five others were wounded has prompted an interesting debate about the neighborhood -- desolate or a strong community -- and about what to do about crime.
September 15, 2008
Workman back on raids?
Flash back to December 2006 when a Maryland State Trooper was shot in a pre-dawn raid on a house in Baltimore County while searching for a suspect in a home invasion robbery. He underwent two surgeries at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
That was Trooper Eric D. Workman.
He recovered an was honored last year as the Maryland State Trooper of the Year. He returned to work on a gun task force in Baltimore.
This morning, Workman was at it again. He was spied by Baltimore Sun reporter Gus G. Sentementes at the scene of another early raid, this on Fulton Avenue in West Baltimore, in which gunfire erupted. Two Sheriff's deputies were wounded, one gunman was killed and three men were arrested.
Hasn't Workman had enough?
Turns out, he wasn't in on the raid, and he's not assigned to the Regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force, which carried it out. Workman was with his group of officers and responded to Fulton Avenue to see if he could help out his colleagues.
"As all police do when they hear a Signal 13 (officer in trouble) they all respond," said Sgt. Arthur Betts, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police. "Workman was out out and about, and he went there. Being the celebrity that he is, Gus spotted him. But he wasn't a part of the raid."
Linden Bar -- another view
The story on the closure of the Linden Bar continues to bring in e-mails. Here's the latest:
Hello Mr. Hermann,
Very nice article. I am surprised you even noticed the two Koreans who were demonstrating in front of City Hall.
I couldn't believe my eyes. It had to been the world's smallest picket line.
It is typical of the Baltimore City Police Department to blame crime problems on businesses.
It's been done for years driving small business owners out of the city.
Yet the members of the Baltimore City Police Department cry that they do not have a tax base for a descent salary.
Closing down a liquor store, a corner carry out, or grocery store will not stop violence or the drug problem, yet the Police Department insist that these stores contribute to the problem.
The police department insinuate that these businesses conspire to sell drugs and help criminals by remaining silent.
The Police Department is very contradictory. On one hand, the Police demand that the shop owners do something about the crimes that go on inside and outside their stores. The police demand that shop owners report drug activity and help them identify criminals. So in the past the shop owners have installed cameras and some have even armed themselves. But if the video camera system is of poor quality, the shop owners are called cheap. When the shop owners use their guns to scare away or catch a criminal, the police respond and lock up the shop owner. When the shop owners call 911, they are rudely addressed by annoyed patrol officers who do not want to be bothered.
Whenever a store gets robbed or an owner is shot, the police answer to the problem is to tell the shop owners to put up bullet proof glass.
But you have a mayor who will beat her shoes on the desk and criticize the shop owners of alienating the citizens.
It is easier for a police department to get rid of these businesses because then it will be less work and less businesses they have to provide police services to. But in the end, all you will have accomplished is dwindled the tax base and cause criminals to move into another neighborhood, perhaps a nice one that hasn't been effected by so much crime and violence.
Drug dealers and criminals will simply mix in with an existing crowd at another corner liquor store causing turf battles and more neighborhood complaints. And then the Police Department will try to shut that liquor store down. This will continue until there are no stores left. We have a problem of vacant homes, now we will have vacant businesses?
Maybe there is no room for small businesses in the grand scheme of things in Baltimore but for now, small businesses provide citizens and yes even the criminals a service. And by providing a service, these small businesses are keeping the criminal elements in their own neighborhoods where they are more likely to be identified if they were to commit a crime. But let these criminals expand out to other neighborhoods just to buy beer or cigarettes, then you will have a lot of witnesses who will say, "I've never seen shooter around here before."
September 12, 2008
Linden Bar -- a necessity?
A reader is taking issue with my Baltimore Sun column about Linden Bar and Liquors being padlocked by city police. I described the store and others like it as being both a necessity and a contributor to urban blight. In hindsight, the word necessity was a poor choice of words. I was trying to convey that they do serve a purpose in that many poor neighborhoods don't have grocery or drug stores, and people are forced to rely on corner shops.
Here's the email, with the author's permission:
"Dear Peter Hermann:
I read your story today about the owner of the Linden Bar's lawsuit. Don't you think you were stretching it to say that the Linden Bar was a "necessity"....??
"The Linden Bar and Liquors on West North Avenue and Jimmy's Carryout on East Hoffman Street are similar in many ways. Neither establishment has windows. Both occupy stretches of Baltimore real estate that residents, officials and everyone else gave up on long ago. The stores are a necessity in neighborhoods abandoned by other merchants, but also contributors to neighborhood blight."
I fail to see the reasoning behind this rather poor choice of words. A liquor store, no matter how nice (and this one was FAR from "nice", believe me, I live a block up the road from it) is not a "necessity." You might have been able to logically say that had this been the typical mom 'n pop "grocery store," but this was not that. You write at the end of your piece "It's not easy to clean up a neighborhood," and your column illustrates one of the reasons why: a failure to see such stores for what they really are ... not "necessities" but rather IMPEDIMENTS to a neighborhood ever coming back from neglect and blight!
He added this later:
"I know what you're trying to say and even agree to a point about many city neighborhoods suffering from abandonment not having many stores. It's just ironic that the very stores that DO often remain in such neighborhoods wind up hurting the residents (or taking advantage of them). My wife used to work for the Community Law Center, where she helped get another corner "grocery" store shut down. They were selling green meat, expired baby formula and other such wonderful items, at prices higher than one could find at chains such as Giant and SuperFresh, for example!) The Korean merchant's assoc. fought that, too, if I remember correctly."
Angry over Boone Street
An angry reader wrote to take issue with my writing of Boone Street as desolate in a newspaper column earlier this week.
I do know there are viable, hard-working homeowners on the block. I saw a few homes that showed obvious signs of that -- well-attended flower pots outside, clean windows and doors, houses that were well-maintained.
I also noted a beautiful garden occupying what otherwise would've been a vacant lot. But half of the west side of Boone Street and 20th Street is a vacant swath of weeds. Many people wouldn't talk to reporters, understandable because we were there right after a shooting, and police were still about. It is true that too often reporters show up in neighborhoods like this only after something bad has happened.
I'll make a promise to you and come back in a few weeks. Here's the e-mail I got (the author never responded to several e-mails from me asking if it was ok to publish her name. So for now I'll leave it off):
"Let me tell you that I was livid when I read your article. 20th and Boone are not desolate areas. There are homeowners who are trying to make the neighborhood a safe place. I have lived in the area for 2 years and nothing close to this has ever happened.
You made it seem and feel like the shooting is an everyday occurrence and that people get robbed, raped and murdered there everyday. There are many issues in that neighborhood and none of them include any of the aformentioned.
What happened the other night is in fact an anomaly. What happened the other night does not make the neighborhood unsafe. What happened the other night is what people like you fail to understand, and that is the crime is everywhere and it is only a matter of time before it will take place in your neighborhood.
Whenever there is a continuous gathering of black men, I hate to say this, but eventually there will be violence. This violence is usually directed toward one individual in the group, but then other members of the group are affected as well.
The police stopping the three youths does not make anyone want to give them any information because their basic rights to illegal search and seizure are being violated. When a person does deem the media fit to discuss anything about any topic they have a tendency to not tell the "whole" story for the sake of space and time.
But what you all don't realize is that when the "whole" story isn't told, you and people miss the "big" picture. You have completely missed the big picture on this one."
Walking the beat
My colleague Justin Fenton wrote a story in today's Baltimore Sun about a new initiative in the Northern District to get more officers walking the beat and riding on bicycles. This brought back fond memories of Jake the Snake.
When I covered the city police department in the mid and late 1990s, Jake the Snake called me every once in a while. He was a nice man, not unlike many others who developed a relationship with a reporter to push a cause. All Jake the Snake wanted to talk about was the importance of foot patrols.
I'm ashamed to admit I never took the time to meet Jake the Snake, and I didn't even learn his real name until a columnist here wrote about him in April 1997. He died that December at the age of 70. The lead paragraph of his obituary described him as a "strong advocate for police officers on foot patrol." His real name was Alvin H. Johnson.
He was remembered by police commissioners, mayors, prosecutors, community leaders and neighbors for his work. He was a frequent caller to radio talk shows. He knew he didn't have the solution to crime, but he believed that drive-by policing didn't accomplish anything. He wanted officers to stop their cars, climb out and talk with people. Let folks know they are there for the community and interested in their lives. The good people will talk back and invite them in for coffee. The bad people will leave, and stay away even when the officer is gone. To Johnson, policing was more about caring than making arrests.
"The criminal knows it's no cop on the beat," he told a Baltimore Sun reporter in 1997. "When he sees the car go by, he knows it's open season to commit a crime. If they knew or had an idea a cop was walking the street, the criminal would have a second thought."
Police commissioners and mayors I talked with, starting with Kurt L. Schmoke, all wanted more officers out walking. But they always argued they never had enough. A cop on foot can't get to many crimes quickly enough. Can't back up another officer. Can't patrol a wide area. It's a huge uses of resources best left for places where there are lots of people in a small area, such as the Inner Harbor. When Peter G. Angelos wanted foot patrol officers outside one of his developments along Charles Street, he paid for the overtime.
But as Justin's story points out, the business owners along Greenmount Avenue liked the idea of what amounted to having their own private officer. The police union president complained that other parts of the district might suffer, and other officers in need of help won't find it.
It's always a delicate balancing act. There are never enough cops, enough firefighters, enough teachers. And so administrators try to make do. After two people were killed in Federal Hill, the police commander of the Southern District created a bicycle unit to help shut the park down at 11 p.m. and patrol surrounding streets. Maj. Scott L. Bloodsworth said he then started getting calls from other neighborhoods, Cherry Hill, Westport and Brooklyn, where crime is high, worried that they would lose officers because of rare violence in a more affluent neighborhood. Bloodsworth said he did no such thing -- the bike unit is made up of newly assigned officers fresh from the academy. If anything, he said Federal Hill probably got less police than it should have because officers were away patrolling higher-crime areas.
That's the problem. Keep police chasing crime from one place to the next and you leave a place vulnerable. The police union president, Paul Blair, praised police commanders recently for NOT doing that. Additional officers are assigned to East, West and Northwest Baltimore to quell homicides. When a recent spurt of shootings hit the Southwest, those other squads didn't move in. They stayed put. In years past, such squads moved with the crime, and ended up chasing the bodies all year. Homicides are on pace this year for a 20-year low.
In the end, it's a numbers game. But you can't measure crime that doesn't happen. Let's imagine this scenario. After two weeks riding bicycles up and down Greenmount Avenue, officers Tivon Green and Karl Paige II haven't made a single arrest. But, in that same time period, there isn't a single robbery, break-in, assault or drug deal?
Will they be deemed unproductive and moved someplace else? Or will they be deemed a success because they kept a lid on crime? After all, isn't that what the police are supposed to do?
He wasn't delivering drugs, just newspapers!
Who said the newspaper industry is in bad shape?
The series of drug raids yesterday and Thursday by city police and federal authorities led to nine arrests and the seizure of money and heroin. One of the men arrested gave police an interesting story about how he could afford expensive Swiss jewelry. According to documents unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore:
"I observed Stern in possession of four cellular telephones, and acting overly nervous. I asked Stern to exit the vehicle, and requested a K-9 officer to conduct a scan of the vehicle. While waiting for the K-9, I asked Stern about the nice watch he was wearing, and Stern indicated that it was a 'Brietling.' I stated to Stern that I thought it was a very expensive piece of jewelry, and Stern replied that it was. I asked Stern what he did for a living, and Stern replied that he 'delivered papers for the Baltimore Sun.'"
Today's crime column talks about the Linden Bar and Liquors on West North Avenue and the city's decision to order it padlocked because of the amount of crime there. Here are some documents, including a lawsuit the store owner filed against the city, the owner's statement about he feels he is being unfairly singled out and the padlock order from police.
September 10, 2008
Earlier this morning, it wasn't known whether the fire that burned the playground so lovingly built by residents on East 33rd Street, the site of the old Memorial Stadium, was intentionally set.
Late this morning, city police said they are investigating the fire as a possible arson.
It's hard to imagine how anyone could set fire to something built with such caring and devoted hands. A little more than a year ago, when I wrote the Baltimore Sun's Watchdog column, I mentioned complaints from some parents that the playground gates sometimes didn't open promptly at 8 a.m. Also, someone had spray painted a profanity on a sign that could be seen by children.
The YMCA, which assumed responsibility for running the playground, quickly corrected the wrongs. But I remember the impassioned endorsement a Y official gave for the caretaker, Greg Phillips, who worked seven days a week at the 14,000-square-foot playground. "He practically sleeps there," Y spokeswoman Sara I. Milstein said then.
Needless to say, the Internet listservs in Northeast Baltimore's Ednor Gardens are going crazy with commentary. Some mention chatter about a suspect being in custody; city police and fire officials told us this morning that no arrests have been made. But people are wondering about the young man seen at the scene in the back of a police car.Date: Tuesday, September 9, 2008, 7:27 PM
Good evening, friends and neighbors,
First: A community meeting will be held Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 at 5:30 pm in the parking lot of the Waverly YMCA – 900 E. 33rd Street. The meeting will be indoors if we experience rain. Please come to this meeting as a way of showing your support for the community experiencing this loss, and take part in rebuilding efforts.
Second: The rebuilding process will be long, but we are all committed to ensuring that the volunteer efforts put into building this playground do not go to waste. Please send donations – however small – to:
Friends of Our Playground
3503 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
Take care, and please pass this message on to your co-workers, family, friends and neighbors.
Olga E. Maltseva
Community Resource Manager
Neighborhood and Economic Development Programs
Date: Tuesday, September 9, 2008, 7:42 PM
Adding barbed wire on top of the fence would be prudent, in my opinion. The existing 6 foot fence has always been a joke. The kids vault it like it's nothing. That or replace it with a 9 or 10 foot tall fence if the look of barbed wire is too severe.
Tue, Sep 9, 2008 at 5:54 PM,
I encourage everyone with kids who played at the playground to get their kids to talk about, draw, or otherwise document what they liked best about the playground and what they didn't like so much. The upside of rebuilding is that it doesn't have to be exactly like it was -- it can be better.
Sept 9, 2008, at 4:40 PM
I just wandered down and took a look; from what I saw and the pictures at WBAL's website, it looks like the Tot Lot is OK, as are the swing sets on both sides of the playground. The damage is confined to the main part of the older kids's side of the playground, as well as some of the fence on the east side. WJZ is reporting that they already have one person of interest in custody, and either WBAL or WJZ has contact info for donations or volunteering, so it sounds to me like they're going to rebuild. I hope so. I have a lot of happy memories of playing there with my son when he was younger. He always loved the rocket ship and the volcano (and the crab on the Tot Lot side).
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
This is the most awful thing! My son will be devastated! I hope we can rebuild; does the playground have insurance? The same thing happened a couple of years ago to a newly built playground at Riverside Park in South Baltimore. I hope someone can post to the list about rebuilding plans; I would absolutely love to help and would hate to see this fantastic addition to our community not be rebuilt.
Date sent: Tue, 9 Sep 2008
WJZ is saying now that fire officials are saying that given the isolated nature of the fire, they think it may be "malicious". You've got to wonder who would do that to a playground. My poor son was so upset :-(
White Marsh, MD 21236
Armed robbery in Mount Vernon, Part 3
When we last left Emilia Miller, who was attacked outside the Spotlighter's Theatre on a Sunday afternoon in August, she was happy that someone had found her discarded driver's license and mailed it back to her home in Jennings, La.
Miller, 66, is in Baltimore visiting her daughter and son-in-law, and getting a slipped disc repaired at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The family was about to enter the theater on St. Paul Street a few blocks north of the Washington Monument when she was robbed of her pack, which contained money, a camera and her medical records.
Police quickly arrested a young man and the son-in-law, Michael Brand, sent me an update last week. That was good news -- someone had found his mother-in-law's drivers license and mailed to her home. But that good news quickly went sour.
Brand sent me an email last night saying he had been informed by prosecutors that the youth, at first charged as an adult, would be instead charged as a juvenile. The law only allows youths to be charged as adults in certain crimes. And in this case, it didn't quite fit:
The suspect who robbed Emilia Miller implied he had a knife but did not dislay it, according to police. That means the charge of robbery with a deadly weapon had to be reduced to robbery, according to Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman with the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office. Police say the suspect did show a knife, not during the robbery, but when Michael Brand was chasing him. The inability to connect a robbery directly to the knife cost the chance at charging him as an adult, Burns said.
A prosecutor explained that part to Michael Brand, who fired off this email to me last night:
Unfortunately, we heard from the State's Attorney's Office yesterday, and we found out some very disappointing news: as you know, the thief who was arrested had originally been charged as an ADULT with assault & armed robbery; however, since he pulled the knife on ME rather than my mother-in-law, and since he's 16, the charges have now been reduced to assault & robbery (on Emilia) & second-degree assault (on me) -- and he'll be charged as a JUVENILE instead of an adult (which probably means that the judge is going to be more lenient in the sentencing). So, the original 15 Sept. court hearing will probably have to be rescheduled and Emilia will have to delay her return to Louisina even longer.
Don't you just love how our "legal system" often ends up protecting the criminals rather than their victims (and potential future victims). I tell you what, the Saudis know how to deal with thieves -- off with the right hand!
I checked the court records for the suspect this morning and found them unchanged. I called Burns and it turns out the story gets better, at least for Michael Brand's sake. The suspect had no ID when he was arrested and told police he was 16. Today, authorities pulled his birth certificate and learned that the young man is not 16, but 19, Burns said.
And so Dajuan Daugherty, 19, of Middle River, remains charged as an adult on charges of robbery, second-degree assault and theft under $500.
Shopping for police
People have been known to go on buying binges. But police departments?
Reading this morning's agenda for the Board of Estimates, which approves city spending, is a little like back-to-school shopping with your favorite cop.
There's $23,000 for holsters from the Lawmen Supply Co.; $13,000 for digital cameras from a company identified only as B&H; $24,553.63 for flashlights from Atlantic Tactical; and $24,000 for batons, again from Atlantic Tactical.
Don't you wish you could shop at stores like that?
Lawmen Supply, for example, has offices in New Jersey, Delaware and suburban Washington. Their web site says the company "is ready to meet today's challenges with law enforcement agencies in their fight against terrorism and civil disorder."
Does that include the six people shot in East Baltimore last night?
To be fair, Baltimore police bought a mundane item from Lawmen, holsters, skipping right over other far more interesting categories, such as night vision goggles.
Sterling Clifford, the chief police spokesman, noted that the items being purchased are ones that tend to wear out pretty quickly. The thousands of dollars worth of holsters, he said, are "used to hold thousands of guns." The digital cameras replace the old Polaroids, which are no longer being made.
And the flashlights? Police are transitioning to smaller ones. But I like Sterling's other reason better: "We want to shine a light into every corner of Baltimore. That takes a lot of flashlights."
At 10 a.m., Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey reported that the board approved all the purchases.
Stolen Hondas in Baltimore County
Baltimore County Police are sending letters to more than 13,000 people in the county who own Honda Civics and Accords built between 1990 and 2000, warning that those models top the list of cars most sought after by thieves.
In fact, those models are the most popular stolen cars in the nation in 2006 and 2007, according to an annual list compiled by the Insurance Information Institute. Their website has a handy guide for keeping your car safe and interesting statistics. Here's the list of most frequently stolen cars for 2007 around the country:
1. 1995 Honda Civic
2. 1991 Honda Accord
3. 1989 Toyota Camry
4. 1997 Ford F-150 pickup
5. 1994 Chevrolet 1500 pickup
6. 1994 Acura Integra
7. 2004 Dodge Ram pickup
8. 1994 Nissan Sentra
9. 1988 Toyota pickup
10. 2007 Toyota Corolla.
The good news is that Maryland does not rank in the top 10 for vehicles stolen by state. California, Texas, Florida and Arizona lead the way on that account.
Read the letter below:
September 8, 2008
More scenes from the bar
We last left the Colonial Inn on Friday, after a raid from the Maryland Comptroller's Office and city police confiscated three video poker machines. Police said they were illegal because the bar was paying out the winners. The owner, Leroy Hartman, denied the machines were paying off. Here's some additional pictures from the Baltimore Sun's Amy Davis (the man at the bar is Hartman; the people outside are patrons waiting to get in:
Last month, my colleague Julie Bykowicz wrote about a report from the Abell Foundation that studied juries in Baltimore and the suburbs, and found that convictions are harder to get in the city. That report is now public and thought people might want to see it.
It's been an interesting debate.
Armed robbery update
When we last left Emilia Miller, a visitor from Jennigs, La. who was assaulted and robbed outside the Spotlighter's Theatre on St. Paul Street on the Sunday afternoon of Aug. 31, she was pleading for the return of her missing items. Police had caught one suspect, a 16-year-old, but the man or teen who had her pack had gotten away.
The items missing included her black leather pack, $25, a Nikon digital camera, a gold-colored watch, her identification cards and medical records.
Her son-in-law, Michael Brand, sent me an e-mail over the weekend saying that one item was recovered:
"I just wanted to let you know that an attentive and kind lady found my mother-in-law's stolen driver's license and mailed it to her address in Louisiana. She found it near MD General Hospital -- a little to the west of the Wasington Monument -- late Sunday afternoon." That was shortly after she was robbed.
"So apparently one of the thieves was sorting through Emilia's purse/paperwork/cards as he was heading west from the crime scene ... and just dropping stuff as he went. Unfortunately, nothing else has been recovered/returned yet, but we're still hopeful!"
September 5, 2008
A bar raided, and a strange scene
Baltimore police and agents with the Maryland Comptroller's Office raided the Colonial Inn on Eastern Avenue and Washington Street this afternoon and hauled away three video gaming machines that authorities said were used for illegal gambling.
I watched the operation and here are some random obversations. Don't ask me what they mean:
The bar itself is a dingy, dirty rowhouse that has the feel of an unfinished basement. The owner, Leroy Hartman, said a $30 profit is a good night. He might have been exaggerating.
A sign outside proudly proclaims: "We have $1.00 beers." Specials were being offered on Milwaukee's Best and Miller. There were six taps inside the bar, all Budweiser. When police went in, patrons had to go out, leaving their drinks behind. Looks like the special was popular -- there were six half-empy Milwaukee's Best cans lined up. One person had been drinking Coors -- with a straw.
The "no loitering" sign, required at all bars, was attached to the building, hanging on the second story.
The bar shares a street with a small grocery that advertises "American Food," a podiatrist and a funeral home. Directly across the street is Chubbies, a strip club that was having its grand opening and whose bouncers and patrons didn't exactly like the police officers and television cameraman being so close. The club -- sorry, the "gentleman's club" -- had Christmas wreaths hanging from its second-floor windows, where the women dance.
While police were inside the bar, a young woman carrying an infant stood directly in front of Chubbies, and peeked in from time to time. After about 15 minutes, an embarassed man emerged and walked to a house a few doors down, the young mother screaming at him all the way.
A man approached the detectives and offered to buy them sodas. They declined. He then asked, "Does that female still work for you?" A confused officer said yes, and the man shot back, "Good, I just love her," and walked away.
The Colonial Inn's regulars were none to pleased to give up two hours of prime drinking time for the police. They sat outside and waited, and some kept going to the door only to be shooed away by an officer. One woman showed up in a pink shirt adorned with a tic-tac-toe board with dollar signs and fruit instead of x's and o's. "Las Vegas" was stripped across the top.
"Do you like my shirt," she yelled, denying she ever gambled. "When can I go inside?" she shouted.
Finally, the police drove off, the three video machines strapped to the back of a Ford F-150 pickup. Reporters went inside to talk to the owner. When we emerged, the woman in the pink shirt was waiting.
"Can we go in now?" she asked.
"Sure," I shrugged.
"Bless you," she answered, giving me a hug. I shrugged off her attempt to give me a kiss.
Last night, I spent some time learning about my own neighborhood in South Baltimore. It wasn't exactly an uplifting experience. The commander of the Southern District, Maj. Scott L. Bloodsworth, sat down with a handful of community leaders on a bench in Riverside Park and gave an update on crime in the neighborhood.
As we were chatting, a homeless man whose name is well known in the neighborhood stumbled about under the gazebo. Bearded and dressed in tattered coats, he had his bedding with him but quickly left when he saw the major and the residents.
Bloodsworth said he has repeatedly tried to get the man help, but he refuses all outreach. Police can arrest him, but the detention center won't take him drunk, which means the officer has to take him to a hospital and guard him until he dries out. That takes at least one officer and possibly two off a shift and away from patrol for hours. Not a good use of resources. Calling an ambulance is about the only recourse.
But that too is problematic. As Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton reports today, city officials are trying to curb the number of calls after learning that 10 men and women accounted for more than 500 emergency calls in one year in the city. Finding alternatives ways to help them has reduced the number of 911 calls. The report was written by Baltimore Healthcare Access and the city's fire and health departments.
The man in the park frequents the street I live on, in part because of the many bars. He stumbles around and passes out on sidewalks, prompting paramedics to come and pick him up. One day last month, a police officer came to East Fort and Henry streets and found him and a friend lying in the curb. The officer used his retractable baton to wake them up and get them moving, shouting that they would not get a free stay in a hospital that day.
But an ambulance did arrive and the paramedic said he had to transport. One man climbed in on his own. The other stumbled down Henry Street but fell halfway, and he too was loaded into the ambulance. One paramedic quipped, "I'm going to put a sign on this thing saying taxi service."
Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright, who used to work as medic in Southeast Baltimore, said that a "sick case" is the most common 911 call. "We don't know what it is until we get there," he said. "A sick case can be someone who is shot. A sick case can be someone suffering from a heart attack. A stroke. Or a twisted ankle. We are public servants and though we complain, we have to remember the consequences of not providing medical attention."
In 1995, Robert Wagner died on South Charles Street in Federal Hill, hours after three visits from the same police officer and two from paramedics -- all of whom refused to help him. Paramedics dubbed him a "frequent flier" and left him alone with his bottle of booze and a blanket. He died later that cold January night.
At the meeting in Riveside Park yesterday evening, residents complained that a group of homeless had taken up shelter in a vacant building on East Cross Street, even moving in furniture and harassing patrons of a nearby garage.
Maybe some of the new outreach designed to end frivilous 911 calls will connect the homeless and others in need with existing programs. But what do you do with the people who refuse to be helped? I have a feeling the paramedics in South Baltimore and elsewhere in the city will keep busy with people passed out on the streets.
September 4, 2008
Charles Village walk
I've been on several Citizens on Patrol walks now, and I've learned that rarely, if ever, do the citizens who patrol confront actual crime.
That of course is not the point. Residents discover problem properties, cracked sidewalks, trash strewn streets and meet people who don't come to the monthly community meetings. What goes unsaid is that these walks are by a group of people who care confronting the people who don't.
Last night, I accompanied a walk sponsored by the Charles Village Community Benefits District. The event was well attended -- about 35 residents -- but also had the markings of being well organized. The benefits district levies its own taxes in a 100 square-block area, so I'd expect them to have it together.
Here's a sampling of who came: The Northern District Police commander, Maj. Ross Buzzuro; City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake; an official from the housing authority and two code enforcement officers.
Residents complained about crime, yes, but mostly about nuisance issues that tend to pile up when not quickly addressed. Jason Pyeron lives and works in the village, and is frustrated by the onwer of an apartment building who he said dumps trash on the street. Payern told Buzzuro that he was beaten by a worker and had his camera broken when he tried to photograph the infraction. He said trash cans he bought for his neighbors were stolen.
Derek Denmore told Rawlings-Blake about the "new class of prostitutes" working North Calvert Street near East 23rd. "They drive in to work," he said.
"They're men, right?" Rawlings-Blake said. "They've moved up Calvert."
Buzzuro said he had nightly patrols to target the trade. "I don't know how much crime we deter," he said. "But the idea that the community is the extra eyes and ears of the police just gets better with every walk."
Eric Backus, one of the code enforcement officers, was particularly busy noting problem houses.
"You can nitpick," he said of the complaints. "But I don't mind. The community has standards and we want to maintain those standards. It's harder in other neighborhoods where they don't have standards. Neighborhood blight is like a cancer and we don't want it to spread. One vacant house becomes two becomes three and four in one block. And with that you get crime."
It's a candid assessment and a lesson for other communities. If you don't care, nobody else will either.
September 3, 2008
The attack on St. Paul Street and homicides
Today's column in the print edition of the Baltimore Sun about a woman who was attacked outside a theater in Mount Vernon over the weekend generated some interesting questions from readers about whether it adequately addressed why there are fewer homicides this year compared to last.
Perhaps it was because I opened the piece with the latest homicide count -- 148 this year compared to 210 at this time last year. The position on the page also raised questions -- the item "Don't be lulled by low homicide numbers" was next to a shorter "crime watch" item headlined: "4 killed in 15 weekend shootings in the city."
Why did the robbery and assault on a visitor get more attention than the killings of four people and woundings of 15 others? It's a fair question. The item on the slayings wrapped up earlier coverage from the weekend. The assault was something we hadn't reported before.
But one reader complained that the column showed the Baltimore Sun's "new fluffy approach" and called the "human interest approach" both "ludicrous" and a "circus."
I disagree the column was fluffy. It told a story that too often gets relegated to a short blotter item. Too often we get complaints that the paper ignores these types of crimes, favoring instead the more lurid tales of murder that make for better headlines.
We need to hear and write about both. I urge readers to look back at coverage as a whole, to stories by my colleagues Julie Bykowicz, Annie Linskey, Melissa Harris and Gus G. Sentementes that have over the years documented the city's ills, failures, successes, muder and mayhem. There you will find answers to the complex question of what the crime statistics mean.
I wanted to show that the homicide numbers are but one measure for determing whether the city is safer than in the past. A woman from Columbia wrote to say that her family is too scared to visit Baltimore "because of the crime. I think of it daily and I hate the city."
I think that is the wrong approach as well. But killings, even a few, and attacks outside theaters certainly don't help selling Baltimore as a safe place to visit.
September 2, 2008
Gas station owner shoots man trying to rob him
The owner of Joe's Garage on Wabash Avenue in Northwest Baltimore likes to keep gas prices down. One way is by not accepting credit cards. Joseph Goldman runs a cash business, and its not a secret judging by the lines of cars often seen snaking around his business near Cold Spring Lane.
But lots of cash makes Joe's Garage a target for robbers as much as a haven for motorists trying to fill their tanks.
Friday evening, police say, two men walked into the garage to rob it. One held a handgun. Goldman grabbed his own handgun and shot one of the men, who later died at a hospital. It wasn't the owner's first time gunning down someone trying to hold him up. In 2002, he shot and killed a man who tried to rob him with a knife.
Goldman was cleared of the shooting six years ago. The one on Friday is under review by police and prosecutors. I wanted to talk with Goldman today, but a call to his phone ended with a pickup and a click, maybe because the newspaper's number appeared on the screen.
I drove out to the garage this morning only to find it closed. The three service bays were shuttered and only a handful of junked cars were left in the sprawling lot. The pumps showed the last sales, but other than that the place was deserted. I hung out for a bit hoping a customer or two would stop by, but only one man drove into the lot and then sped away.
Goldman joins a long list of people who have shot would-be robbers in our area. One of the most recent was the dry cleaner who shot a man who held him up in Charles Village.
The owner of Joe's Garage isn't even alone in shooting two suspected robbers. Back in 1997, the proprieter of Bay City Liquors in Northeast Baltimore, Sung Kim, shot and killed a man who tried to hold him up with a gun. Two years ealier, police said he shot and killed another man during a similar robbery attempt.
I hope Joe Goldman gets in touch. I'd love to hear his story.
And for motorists, it was too bad that his store was closed today. His sign advertised regular gas at $3.39 a gallon, and $3.59 for the medium grade. The Citgo up the street: $3.45 for regular and $3.69 for medium.
Gas prices and suspected arson
I nearly skipped the news release from the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office headlined: "Owner charged in burning of vehicle." Didn't exactly get my attention. Not exactly a unique motive.
I'm glad I didn't stop. Here's part of the second paragraph: "Deputy state fire marshals believe the motive for the fire was due to the high cost of fuel ..." The sentence continued, "... and his monthly payments."
But it was the gas thing that stuck out.
Sean Patrick Murphy, 23, who lives in Oxon Hill in Prince George's County, allegedly drove his 2007 Dodge pickup truck to his mother's house in St. Mary's County back on June 14. About 10:30 p.m., he reported the fire to authorities. Damage to the truck was estimated at $15,000.
Joseph G. Zurolo Jr., a spokesman for the fire marshal's office, wouldn't say how the fire was allegedly set. But he did say someone close to the suspect tipped them off and provided some clues about the means and the motive.
This is not the first case of a destroying a car to avoid the high price of gas. "I think we're starting to see a little bit more of these SUV-type vehicles that are conveniently burning," Zurolo told me. "I have no hard numbers or figures to show, but it certainly seems the trend is starting to rise."
I wanted to talk with the suspect but he didn't answer a phone number I found listed for him. I wanted to ask him why he didn't just stop driving until he had more money.
Even more on Charlie Neeper
An item last week about Charlie Neeper, a homeless man who was killed in 1986 in Veterans Park in Dundalk, keeps generating comments. The case was in the news this month because police made an arrest, 22 years after Charlie was killed in an argument over a bottle of wine.
Charlie certainly made an impact. The former beat cop remembers him. So did a former prosecutor who worked on many of his arrests. This weekend, I heard from a man who grew up near the park, and had his own unique experiences with Charlie:
I remember Charlie as a young teenager, he would buy us our beer in exchange for a bottle of wine. Sometimes Muskatell or Bali Hi. When the winter came Charlie would break some law just to be put away for the winter. He was a harmless wino as was Al Reese. I know what Charlie did was not right serving us alcohol, but we knew of his weakness and took advantage of it. I look back on it now and feel guilty of it, but that was it was for a lot of homeless men. I'm glad the police kept searching for his killer and found him. I can look back and remember him as a funny but sad man. R.I.P. Charlie Neeper and God bless you. Michael Reilly
Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.
Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.
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