City police troubled by killing of driver Sergeant who shot man, 22, refuses to cooperate in case

February 09, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A police sergeant who fatally shot the driver of a car Wednesday night in Northeast Baltimore is under scrutiny by Police Department officials who say they find the incident "troubling."

Sam Ringgold, the department's chief spokesman, said the officer who opened fire, Sgt. Stephen Pagotto, has refused to cooperate with investigators about the shooting, which left Preston E. Barnes, 22, dead.

The spokesman also said the sergeant called in the shooting over his police radio, but did not tell dispatchers he had discharged his weapon. That delayed by 15 minutes the arrival of supervisors and homicide detectives, who normally respond immediately to shootings involving police.

"We don't know what they missed," Mr. Ringgold said of the delay. "The circumstances surrounding the entire incident are troubling."

Sergeant Pagotto, 39, a 15-year veteran assigned to the Northeastern District, was placed on routine administrative duties.

The case will be reviewed by the state's attorney's office, and prosecutors will determine if it should go before a grand jury.

Yesterday, the mother and a friend of Mr. Barnes accused police of targeting the man, who was shot about 8:30 p.m. in the 2600 block of Kirk Ave.

"Police think they have a license to kill," said Damian Jackson, 20, who was in the front passenger seat of the white Subaru that Mr. Barnes was driving. He said the officer approached the car with his gun drawn.

"I think they were out to get my son," said Mr. Barnes' mother, Sylvia Smith, 46, who lives in the 3300 block of Cardenas Ave. "Why did the officer get out of his car with his gun in his hand if he was going to write a ticket? He should have been carrying a pad and a pencil."

The Kirk Avenue shooting was the second for Baltimore police within 15 minutes.

Police said two undercover officers wounded a man they said threatened them with a rifle in the 3300 block of Garrison Ave.

Officers have shot five people this year, two of them fatally. All the shootings are being reviewed by the department.

The police account of the Kirk Avenue incident, details of which were erroneously reported in yesterday's editions of The Sun, is based statements from witnesses and from Sergeant Pagotto's backup officer.

Mr. Ringgold said the officers stopped the Subaru because it did not have a rear license plate; it was later found lying in the back window. The sergeant asked the driver and two passengers to show their hands and ordered the driver to get out, Mr. Ringgold said

The car started to move or roll forward and the backup officer reported hearing a grinding noise, Mr. Ringgold said.

"The sergeant grabs the door handle and tries to open the door," Mr. Ringgold said. "The operator tried to drive away with the officer running alongside. The sergeant produced his weapon and fired one shot."

The spokesman said the bullet shattered the driver's side window and struck Mr. Barnes under his left armpit. The car rolled forward and struck another vehicle.

The two other occupants jumped out and ran, but soon returned, police said. Police said they did not find drugs or guns in the car. Mr. Barnes was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. Jackson said that as the officer approached the car, "I could see the gun. When he walked toward the car, the police officer said, 'Turn the car off before I shoot.' Preston then said, 'No man, don't shoot.' Then he pressed the accelerator he didn't want to get locked up."

Mr. Barnes was on five years probation stemming from a February 1995 conviction for possession with intent to distribute drugs. Since 1992, he has been charged with seven counts of drug possession and drug distribution and one count of resisting arrest. He has been convicted once on drug charges and once on handgun charges.

Ms. Smith said her son and the other young men were "doing something that they shouldn't have been doing" before they got pulled over. Mr. Jackson said they had just opened a 40-ounce bottle of beer.

"Even if the van had a kilo of drugs, there's no reason to kill my son," Ms. Smith said. "It's open season. They just were looking to kill somebody, and it had to be my baby."

The other shooting involving police occurred about 8:15 p.m. in Northwest Baltimore. Police said Detectives Anthony McGlinn, 28, and Darryl Osborne, 36, heard shots from a house on Garrison Avenue. They said they saw a man walk out of the house carrying a rifle and get into a car.

Police said the officers went to the car and fired several times when the man aimed the rifle at one of them. Police went into the house and said they found Rodney Marlon Garvey, 29, of 3500 of Devonshire Drive suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He died at 9:10 p.m. at Sinai Hospital.

Police said the man with the rifle, identified as Haskell Kirk Wallace, 29, was wounded in the left arm and left ankle. He faces first-degree murder charges when he is released from the

hospital, police said.

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