Pigtown man slain in 4th killing by officers this year Police say victim, 66, aimed gun from his porch

February 17, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore police officers fatally shot a 66-year-old man late Thursday who they said pointed a revolver at them from his front porch in Pigtown -- the fourth fatal shooting by city police this year.

Dominic DeFino refused two orders from the Southern District officers to drop his weapon before they opened fire, hitting the man several times, a department spokeswoman said yesterday.

The latest shooting by city officers is the sixth since Jan. 1, including two nonfatal shootings. And it comes amid mounting concern stemming from two recent controversial cases.

Last month, police fatally shot Betty Keat, a 64-year-old mentally ill woman who they said had a knife and lunged at an officer in her home.

On Feb. 7, Sgt. Stephen Pagotto shot to death Preston E. Barnes, 22, after pulling over his car. The sergeant fired through the back side window when Mr. Barnes tried to drive away.

Commenting Thursday for the first time on the Barnes shooting, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called it "disturbing" and "troubling" and said "it's a matter of enormous concern to me and the [police] commissioner."

The All People's Congress has scheduled a protest of that shooting at 3 p.m. today in the 2600 block of Kirk Ave.

City leaders have said the Police Department's stepped-up campaign to rid the streets of guns will lead to more confrontations, and Mr. Schmoke warned that the number of shootings by officers may rise as a result.

But the mayor said the Barnes shooting "is not that case at all. There is no evidence at all that this involves a young man either causing problems or [possessing] a weapon."

In December, an 18-year-old man was killed when he was hit by a stray bullet fired from a police officer's gun. Two officers were involved in a gun battle during which they also killed the man at whom they were firing.

One of the officers from that incident, Darryl DeSousa, 31, fatally shot another man in February 1995 who was threatening him with a gun.

Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he hopes officers are "being much more professional in the use of deadly force. We certainly want them to do what they have to do to protect themselves and the citizens of Baltimore, but we don't want them to get into an area where deadly force is OK."

The flier advertising today's protest carries the headline "Police Murder Youth!!!" and says that city officers "think they have a license to kill anyone they like, especially poor and working people and those in the most oppressed communities."

The police union complained yesterday that comments by the mayor and the Police Department's chief spokesman, who also called the Barnes shooting "troubling," were premature because the investigation is not complete.

"Baltimore is a dangerous city to be a police officer," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "We do not get paid to be assaulted, shot or stabbed. We are going to continue to defend ourselves and defend the public. The only people who should be fearful of the police are the criminals.

"If the community wants us to start avoiding dangerous situations, it better be careful what they wish for," he said. "I think the law-abiding community supports the police and are tired of this constant police bashing while violent crime goes through the roof."

Sergeant Pagotto had pulled over Mr. Barnes' car in the 2600 block of Kirk Ave. Witnesses said he approached the car with his gun drawn and ordered Mr. Barnes, the driver, to get out.

Mr. Barnes apparently stepped on the gas to escape and the sergeant fired one shot through the back left side window, hitting the driver under the left armpit, according to police and witnesses. A police spokesman, Sam Ringgold, said the sergeant did not call in the shooting properly to dispatchers and has opted not to make a statement to police.

"This is the most difficult situation for a police executive," said Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "Officers expect to be backed for their enforcement actions when they are appropriate. The dilemma is that when the involved officer won't make a statement, it is impossible for me to say that what they did was right."

Henry Belsky, the lawyer representing the police union and Sergeant Pagotto, said his client exercised his constitutional right to withhold comment. He said a statement from the sergeant will be given to the city state's attorney's office next week.

The attorney also noted that a day before the shooting, Sergeant Pagotto -- a former homicide detective who was commended in 1985 for saving the life of 2-month-old infant who was found floating face-down in a bathtub -- had been ordered by his district commander to seek out guns.

In Thursday's shooting, Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a police spokeswoman, said a resident of the 1200 block of Cleveland St. xTC called police after seeing Mr. DeFino with a gun. A neighbor Brian Mathias said Mr. DeFino apparently was angry because of recent thefts from his house.

Agent Cooper said Officers Mike Caperoon, 39, a 16-year veteran, and Derek Phyall, 25, who has three years on the force, arrived and confronted Mr. DeFino, who was waiving the revolver.

"Police ordered him to drop the weapon," the spokeswoman said. "He refused. They repeated their orders. At this time, he turned toward the officers and raised the gun, at which time the officers fired."

The officers are on routine administrative leave pending an outcome of the investigation.

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