The Guardian Angels, stung by a judge's criticism and the refusal of the city administration to mediate their dispute with police, temporarily shut down their Baltimore office last night.
The 15 members here will be reassigned to Angel offices in Cambridge and Frederick and Prince George's County, said Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the crime-fighting group that is headquartered in New York.
It was the second time the Angels had left Baltimore. They came here in 1982 and left in 1984 after they were evicted from a city-owned building. They returned in 1989.
Just before 9 o'clock last night, a moving van owned by the Angels arrived from New York at the group's headquarters, in the 300 block of S. Bruce St., to transport the belongings of the local members.
Minutes later, Sliwa said the Baltimore office was shutting down temporarily until he could find legal ways to guard the members from police harassment and to develop strategies to force the mayor to address the problem of police hostility toward the Angels. He said it was too soon to determine how long the office would be closed.
"It's a sad day," said Sliwa, 36, as residents stood outside their homes chanting, "Guardian Angels don't go."
"I would have preferred if the mayor had stepped in," Sliwa said.
Last week, Sliwa gave Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke until Oct. 1 to intervene in the way the Police Department, especially the Southwestern District, was treating the Angels and to comment on Baltimore Circuit Court Judge David B. Mitchell's statement comparing the group with the Ku Klux Klan.
Mitchell made the statement on Sept. 20 after Angels Anthony "Metalhead" Smith, 19, and David Ford, 24, and two former members pleaded guilty to charges of assault and false imprisonment.
The charges grew out of a July 24 incident when the defendants made a citizen's arrest of a man they claimed was sniffing glue outside the Angel headquarters. Smith, Ford and Kenneth Pettis, 25, received probation before judgment. Phillip Chance, who had a previous criminal record, was given a three-year suspended sentence and three years' probation.
On Sept. 28, in response to a letter from the Angels, Schmoke sent Sliwa a letter stating the police commissioner would be better suited to deal with their problems.
That was unacceptable, Sliwa said. "Schmoke is too intelligent of a guy to just ignore the issue, whether he likes our tactics or not."
"This is the only chapter of 67 that when the [members] patrol streets they are walking on egg shells," Sliwa said. He added it's probably the first time the Angels have closed an office because of a lack of cooperation from a city's officials.
Sliwa founded the group in 1979 to combat the drug problem in New York City.
While relations between the Angels and city officials may be strained, some residents along Bruce Street were saddened by events.
Candie Anderson, 36, who said she felt "ashamed" that she had not supported the Angels previously, gathered more than 500 signatures on a petition of support and delivered it to the mayor's office yesterday.
"I want them to stay," said Eva Barnett, 36. "I don't want them to leave."
She said that Smith helped her when her husband had a heart attack. "Metalhead came around to my house and noticed my husband's arm was dead and called an ambulance. . . . If it weren't for Metalhead, my husband wouldn't be here."
Her son, Justin, 9, said of the Angels: "They taught me to say no to drugs."