Grocer shoots man fighting in store, then says he's closing Merchant, 84, says he has had enough of city's violence.

September 26, 1991|By Joe Nawrozki and Richard Irwin | Joe Nawrozki and Richard Irwin,Evening Sun Staff

After nearly a half-century of owning and operating his East Baltimore grocery store -- a place that recently became a symbol of violence in a troubled city -- Neva Clark has raised the white flag of surrender.

Clark, 84, yesterday shot and wounded someone in his market in the 2300 block of Greenmount Ave., the second such incident in three years.

Today he said he will close his store. "There's no use trying to stay open," he said. "You can't tell what people have in mind. They just might walk in the next time, just start shooting and kill me." Clark said he has also been robbed three or four other times before he could defend himself.

The first shooting by Clark, on Oct. 3, 1988, was with a revolver during an attempted robbery by a teen-ager armed with what appeared to be a .45-caliber pistol.

Yesterday afternoon, the grocer's weapon was a 12-gauge, double-barrel shotgun and the victim was a man who had just thrown a customer over the meat counter at Clark's Food Market, the result of a fight.

Each time, Clark hit his target and the person shot survived. Yesterday, as in the earlier shooting, Clark was not charged.

Police said Clark was behind the counter talking to a male customer yesterday when another man entered the store, grabbed the customer and tossed him over the meat counter. Not knowing what was to happen next, Clark reached under his counter, grabbed the shotgun and fired.

The blast struck Robert Howard, 42, of the 4400 block of Franconia Drive in northeast Baltimore, in the buttocks. It scared the customer out of the store.

Today, Clark talked about when he bought the store in 1944.

"The neighborhood was different then and was nice for a long time," he said. "People could have milk and bread delivered to their doors and it wasn't stolen."

That changed, he said.

"It just got bad," the North Carolina native said. "I been held up three times, the last time a guy came in here with a gun, tied me up, took everything in my cash register, all the food stamps, everything."

"My wife died last June and I'll be 85 the day before Christmas," he said. "I'm going to stay here for a while. I own the building. But maybe I'll move in with my daughter.

"I'll tell you another thing," Clark added. "I'll lose a couple of thousand dollars because lots of people owe me from the credit I gave them. Mostly, they would buy things like milk and bread on credit, things like that. I'll never see that money."

Following the shooting, Howard was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was listed in stable condition today. It was not immediately clear if Howard would be charged with anything.

Police said Clark, who uses a cane to walk, was taken into custody but freed when an assistant state's attorney declined to press charges.

Three years ago, Clark was released without being charged after the shooting following the attempted armed robbery by a 16-year-old boy.

Police said Clark was in his store when the youth walked in and hung around the candy display until several customers left. When Clark approached the youth, the teen-ager pulled out what looked like a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and said, "Give me your money."

Clark pretended to reach for his money but instead came up firing a .32-caliber revolver his father had given him 20 years earlier.

The youth fled the store.

Following a trail of blood, Eastern District police went to a house in the 400 block of E. 23rd St. and arrested the wounded teen-ager when he answered the door.

Police said the youth was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment of a bullet wound and was later charged as an adult with attempted armed robbery and a handgun violation.

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