When it happened, it was 'probably gonna be Jimmy'

September 19, 1992|By David Simon | David Simon,Staff Writer

They wait for the shift change where they always wait for it, in the cramped basement room that's home to the Southeastern District's drug enforcement unit. Nelson and Evans, and John Tewey, their sergeant for the last four years.

"It was gonna happen," says Helge Nelson, bitter. "Everyone knew it was gonna happen and that if it did, it was probably gonna be Jimmy."

The phone rings, and Tewey pulls the receiver toward him. On the other end is the unnerved voice of yet another cop calling from home, taking the district's pulse.

"Yeah, hi," Tewey says softly, and then, after a long pause: "No . . . No. We don't know yet. We know he's in the O.R . . . head wound. . . ."

He hangs up the phone to awkward silence.

Jimmy Young wanted to be down here with them, down in the basement office of the DEU. He wanted to write warrants and work informants and lock up dealers. He wanted to work plainclothes with Evans and Nelson; the three used to work together in district radio cars.

"He wanted to work narcotics. If he got a dealer, he'd talk to them as he was locking them up, tell them what they were doing,"says Kevin Evans. "He was for the community that way."

Jimmy Young, 26 years old, came to work yesterday morning with three years in the Southeastern -- three years to catch the scent of defeat that's out there in the high-rises, to learn that you can't lecture dealers and addicts into any other kind of life. Still, incredibly, Jimmy Young wanted his own piece of the war on drugs.

Yesterday, he got it.

An extra man on the 8-to-4 shift, Young and another officer got an opportunity to work a plainclothes detail. It's a perk that often goes to younger, aggressive officers: an opportunity to spend a day out of the uniform, a chance to get close enough to actually catch the bad guys doing bad things.

Naturally, Jimmy Young went to the projects. And four hours later, when a radio call came for a man with a gun in the 26 Exeter building, he answered it. He checked the third-floor high-rise, but there was nothing. He and his partner tried the 127 building.

Five minutes later, every man and woman in the Southeastern could hear all hell breaking loose on their radios. A head wound. Third-floor hallway. His own gun. No, not breathing anymore. And where's that ambo, already?

The paramedics brought Jimmy Young back; a fellow officer helped get a tube down his throat and pump oxygen back to the brain. The rest of the shift chased down witnesses. They helped identify two apartments to be searched. They cleared every intersection of Lombard Street, from the projects to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Four hours after the shooting, the officers are drifting back to a district stunned by the news. The 4-to-midnight shift is hovering on the parking lot outside the roll call room, talking in strangely measured tones. The major is down at the hospital, learning about bone fragments that are dangerously close to the brain. The captain is working in jeans and shirt sleeves, called on his off-day. The other plainclothesmen are still downstairs, thinking it through.

"You can't police those high-rises," says Tewey. "There's no security, and the way they're set up makes it impossible to get in there."

Yesterday, 28 young men and women went to the office on Eastern Avenue for the 8-to-4 shift and 27 of them came back. They wander slowly into the roll-call room, the Kevlar vests damp with sweat. The adrenalin evaporates, the anger and fear begin to grow.

An empty chair in the room was for the last one, the young man who took one in the head for the company. At that moment he is in surgery, hovering between life and death because he had tried to keep drugs out of the 127 building. Knowing that, and knowing that no user in East Baltimore will miss his needle or pipe tomorrow, everyone in the room has to wonder whether it's really true, whether it never really means much.

The captain gives them the latest from the hospital and thanks them for their professionalism. A stress management team offers help and guidance. The paramedics show up to praise the cop who had helped with the oxygen tube.

And then the colonel goes to the podium and mentions one small incident at the shooting scene, one minor detail that allows for some real measure of meaning.

When every cop in the Southeastern was standing outside the door of that high-rise, someone in an upper window tossed a piece of trash that landed at the foot of a uniformed officer.

The officer picked up the paper and smoothed it open.

"11E," it read, offering up the number of a suspect's apartment.

"There are people in that building," the colonel says quietly, "who are with you."

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