Jail guard is killed near home

January 30, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

A corrections officer who had worked 21 years for the city detention center was shot fatally outside his Memorial Stadium-area house early yesterday in what police were investigating as a botched robbery attempt.

Lt. Jerry Watkins, 46, was returning to his Ednor Gardens rowhouse in the 3700 block of Elkader Road when he was approached by two men, one of whom threatened him with a gun, police said. Lieutenant Watkins was armed and wearing his uniform, although it was covered by an overcoat, investigators said.

A neighbor told detectives that she heard words exchanged and then two shots ring out about 2:45 a.m. The gunfire shattered the normal quiet in the Ednor Gardens community north of Memorial Stadium.

"I assumed it was a gun," said another neighbor, Paula Sloane, who moved into the area 18 months ago and who said a friend got mugged nearby several weeks ago. "I didn't know what a gun sounded like, but I guess I do now."

Yesterday, family members gathered in Lieutenant Watkins' home, grieving with his wife of 28 years, Mildred, 47, and their three children, Tarus, 23, Shannon, 21, and Jerry, 15.

"His job was his life," Mrs. Watkins said, standing on her front stoop just yards from the yellow chalk mark that outlined her husband's body. "Even when he got laid off once, he fought to get the job back."

Police Lt. Carl D. Brown, of the Northeast District, said detectives are investigating whether the slaying is related to four armed robberies that have occurred in the neighborhood since Jan. 1.

That includes one at 9:20 p.m. Friday in the 3600 block of Rexmere Road, one block from where Mr. Watkins was shot.

Police said a 32-year-old woman and her 43-year-old male companion were robbed at gunpoint of $130 in cash, a $250-purse and a $40 wallet in front of their home by two men wearing blue ski masks.

"It's a pretty nice area," Lieutenant Brown said. "We usually don't have any problems."

Investigators said that determining whether the shooting and the robberies are linked would be difficult because descriptions of the suspects are vague. They said no money or property was stolen from Lieutenant Watkins.

"I don't understand what is going on here," said one concerned neighbor, Pierre Tshimanga, 46, who moved into his home on Elkader Road last year. "I'm new here. I just didn't expect this kind of thing in this neighborhood. There are no drug pushers here. This place is so quiet that when people come to visit, they tell me I live out in the country."

Mrs. Watkins said her husband was coming home from work and TTC had just gotten out of his Chevrolet Cavalier when he was shot once in the chest.

She said a neighbor told police she saw two men running through an alley off Chestnut Hill Avenue and get into a car driven by a third man.

Police said Lieutenant Watkins' handgun was found beside him, but authorities were still investigating yesterday whether he returned fire.

Barbara Cooper, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction, which runs the Baltimore City Detention Center, said Lieutenant Watkins' gun was his own weapon registered in his name. She said his supervisory position in the North Building, where he oversaw 10 officers and 400 inmates, did not require him to be armed.

Lieutenant Brown said Lieutenant Watkins was wearing an overcoat over his uniform, so the shooters may not have known he was a prison guard and carried a weapon.

Lieutenant Watkins was pronounced dead at 3 a.m. at Union Memorial Hospital.

Police were looking for a black or dark blue Toyota Lexus, Ford Thunderbird or car with a similar type of body-style that may have been the getaway vehicle.

Mrs. Watkins said she is still trying to figure out what happened.

"He gets lots of threats," she said. "I don't know if it was a robbery or what it was."

A prison guard at the City Detention Center reached by phone yesterday said threats are common.

"That's the job," said the guard, who would not give his name, saying he could be fired for talking to a reporter. "It goes along with the territory."

The guard described Mr. Watkins as a popular man with a good sense of humor who enjoyed working the evening and night shifts.

Ms. Cooper said Mr. Watkins worked Friday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the detention center in the 500 block of E. Madison St. She did not know where he was between the time he left and the time he arrived home nearly four hours later.

"He was highly respected by his colleagues," Ms. Cooper said. "They are all very sad and in a state of shock. It's a great loss to the institution. He dedicated his life to his field."

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