Tensions rise at scene of gun battle

September 21, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer Staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

A 20-year-old bystander was shot yesterday in West Baltimore during a gun battle involving police officers, heightening tensions between residents and police.

Dozens of public housing residents taunted police and threw debris in their direction after the shooting near the George B. Murphy Homes. Police kept guns drawn for several minutes early in the confrontation.

With police noticeably on edge after the Friday and Saturday shootings that left two officers critically wounded, angry West Baltimore residents who live near or in the Murphy Homes charged that police officers were getting trigger-happy.

"They are going to take out their frustrations on anything," said Anthony Thomas, 28, who lives near the Murphy Homes projects in West Baltimore. "It doesn't make any sense. The police are looking at it as an eye for an eye."

The afternoon shooting in the 1000 block of Argyle Ave. occurred just as Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods was talking to the officers in the Western District station house, where the second police victim, Officer Ira Weiner, was assigned.

Officer on life support

Officer Weiner, 28, was being kept alive at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center last night with the help of a life support system. But the officer still was not expected to survive after getting shot in the head during a struggle with a man wielding an ice pick in a West Baltimore rowhouse.

"His condition has worsened since Saturday," police spokesman Sam Ringgold said. "His brain activity continued to decrease."

John Murphy, a spokesman for the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said last night that the only function Officer Weiner was able to perform was breathing. But he said there was still a minimal degree of brain activity showing, preventing the hospital from removing life support.

Officer Weiner was the second of two policemen in two days to be critically wounded by their own service weapons. Officer James E. Young, 26, was shot in the head Friday in a public housing high-rise in Southeast Baltimore after he was ambushed by three men.

Officer Young was listed in critical but stable condition yesterday. "He is showing some encouraging signs," Mr. Ringgold said. "He opened his eyes a couple of times on command, but he clearly has a long way to go."

The shootings have left city officials and police officers in shock and prompted Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on Saturday to praise the sergeant who shot and killed 29-year-old Lewis Thomas Jr. of the block of N. Calhoun St., who is accused of shooting Officer Weiner.

That prompted residents outside Murphy Homes yesterday to question why the officer fired at what they described as a fleeing suspect without regard to bystanders.

"The mayor gave police permission to do what they've always wanted to do," said one resident who would not give his name. "And they sure took advantage of it here."

Barbara Woods was still shaking as she stood on her front stoop on Argyle Avenue and held her 18-month-old son tightly in her arms.

A short while before, she said she had ducked into her doorway to get out of the line of fire.

"The police just started shooting," she said. "You never know what's going to happen next."

Police said Central District Officers Ellison James and Kenneth Richard went to the corner of Argyle Avenue and Hoffman Street shortly before 4 p.m. to investigate a report that two men were fighting there, one of whom was said to be armed with a handgun. The officers said one man whom they believed was armed with a .22-caliber handgun ran away on Argyle when one of them approached.

Mr. Ringgold said Officer Richard went around the block while Officer James chased the suspect, who at one point pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot. Sgt. Harold Streat said Officer James fired twice, missing both times.

Police said that when the suspect got to the end of Argyle Avenue, at the doorway to the one of the Murphy Homes buildings, he again took out his gun and fired twice at Officer James. He then went into the high rise and fired twice at Officer Richard from the third floor.

Bystander's toe hit

Mr. Ringgold said the bystander, Anthony Roland, 20, of the 900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, was hit in the toe while standing on a stoop in the 1000 block of Argyle Avenue. He was treated and released from University Hospital.

The police spokesman said that, while the investigation is inconclusive, police believe Mr. Roland was hit by a .22-caliber slug fired by the suspect, based on the size of the hole in the man's sneaker. Police use 9 mm rounds.

While police were investigating the shooting, residents who gathered near the scene began taunting the officers.

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