Man's death by policeman decried at city protest Many are angry because sergeant is still on duty

February 18, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Waving signs and chanting "Justice For Preston, Stop Killer Cops" and "Jail For Pig-otto," about 100 people rallied yesterday at Kirk Avenue and Montpelier Street in Northeast Baltimore to protest the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old man by a police sergeant half a block away on Feb. 7.

Preston E. Barnes of the 3300 block of Cardenas Ave. was the fourth person killed by police this year. Sgt. Stephen Pagotto, 39, a 15-year veteran, shot Mr. Barnes in the 2600 block of Kirk Ave. as he attempted to flee during what police said was a traffic stop because the car had no rear license plate. The tag later was found lying in the back window.

Sylvia Smith, 46, Mr. Barnes' mother, spoke briefly at the rally but broke down. Before she was unable to continue, she said, "I want to know why my baby was killed and why [Sergeant Pagotto] is on administrative duty drawing a paycheck. If my baby had killed him, he probably would have been half dead before they got him to jail."

Sergeant Pagotto has been assigned to administrative duty, while detectives and the state's attorney's office try to unravel what Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and police spokesman Sam Ringgold have labeled a "troubling" case.

The sergeant will give a written statement this week, said his lawyer, Henry R. Belsky, who said he advised Sergeant Pagotto not to give a statement immediately because he was "shook up."

Reports about whether the officer had his weapon drawn when he approached the car have conflicted. Mr. Ringgold said the bullet shattered the driver's side window and struck Mr. Barnes.

Andre Powell, a spokesman for the All People's Congress, sponsors of yesterday's rally, ridiculed the officials' use of the word "troubling," saying, " 'troubling' to us means that they haven't found a way to justify the killing "

Mr. Ringgold rejected the allegations. "This department will not cover up anything," he said.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said her representatives and detectives are reviewing reports and interviewing witnesses, and then we will decide whether to take the case to the grand jury."

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