Attack at police headquarters prompts change in security

July 04, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

The son of an elderly slaying victim breached security at Baltimore's downtown police headquarters last week and tried to attack a cousin charged in the killing, prompting changes in how guards protect the building.

Chuck Moffett walked past a private security guard at the entrance to the garage on Frederick Street and went to the sixth ZTC floor, where the homicide unit is located, officials said.

Police said Mr. Moffett lunged at Danny Paul McGee, 39, of Parkville, who was being escorted by detectives out of an interview room. Mr. McGee is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Pearl Elizabeth Moffett, 72, who was shot June 9 during a robbery outside a Waverly bank.

At least three detectives restrained Mr. Moffett and kept him from reaching his cousin, police said. It took several minutes to restore order. Mr. Moffett was not charged.

"I got up there and I attacked him," Mr. Moffett said yesterday. "I wanted to kill him. If I knew I would get to him like I did, I would have taken a gun."

Police commanders called the lapse a "serious breach" and have ordered security changes at the building, two blocks east of City Hall, where more than 500 civilian and police employees work.

Security changes could include restricting some entrances and possibly hiring retired police officers to supplement or replace the Wells Fargo guards who now protect the city's police commanders and other workers.

The head of the police union, Officer Gary McLhinney, called on commanders to replace the unarmed Wells Fargo guards with uniformed police officers. The guard company was hired in 1992 to save money.

"Can you imagine if this guy walked in there with a gun?" Officer McLhinney said. "We would have been looking at a bunch of dead police officers.

"What can an unarmed security guard do to protect the police officers and civilians who work in the headquarters building?" the union chief asked. "The answer is clear: absolutely nothing. Like everything else, it was done for budget reasons with total disregard for safety."

Four years ago, an officer accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl shot two commanders -- one in the head -- during a routine suspension hearing in the headquarters building. Both survived.

Last year in the nation's capital, a man being interviewed by homicide detectives in the District of Columbia's police headquarters opened fire, killing two FBI agents and a city officer before taking his own life.

That incident prompted Baltimore police to assign a police officer to assist the two Wells Fargo guards who man the garage entrance, which is open 24 hours a day. Before, the two guards were alone and an officer was available if needed.

Last week's scuffle occurred about noon Tuesday, an hour before Mr. McGee was escorted out of the building in front of news reporters and photographers.

Mr. Moffett said he went to headquarters to confirm that his cousin had been arrested. He first went to the public lobby on Fayette Street and called the homicide department.

Mr. Moffett claims he asked a detective if he could have "a couple minutes alone" with Mr. McGee. Police say he never got through to a detective, but was told he could not go upstairs.

Sam Ringgold, a Police Department spokesman, said Mr. Moffett then walked to the garage, where two private guards and one uniformed police officer stand watch.

The spokesman said the officer was inside the building for a shift change and one of the guards was escorting an impounded vehicle to an upper level. Mr. Moffett got by the remaining security guard and bypassed a metal detector.

Once on the floor, Mr. Ringgold said Mr. Moffett turned a corner just as detectives were leading Mr. McGee out of an interrogation room. "It is a serious issue," Mr. Ringgold said. "Had he had a weapon, we could have had a tragedy on our hands."

Col. Steven Crumrine, chief of the technical services bureau, said several security changes will be implemented.

Uniformed officers on guard duty will change shifts in the garage, not inside the building, to avoid gaps in deployment. Visitors who park in the garage, as well as many employees, will have to walk around the corner and use the Fayette Street entrance. The back loading dock entrance will be off-limits to employees except as an emergency exit.

Colonel Crumrine also said commanders will study whether to hire retired police officers to provide armed security.

"We think we have in place an adequate level of security," Colonel Crumrine said. "We need to constantly evaluate that process and make improvements as the situation changes."

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