Defendant becomes hero, but it takes too long

March 03, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Theron Richardson, a hero who became a jailbird by mistake, got his honor back last week. The city of Baltimore took roughly three seconds to throw his case out of court. But it took a month, and an arrest and the traumatizing of his family, to reach those three seconds.

"I'm just sorry it had to come this far" said Richardson, standing in a Wabash Avenue district courthouse corridor when it was over Friday morning.

"I'm offering you my apology," said city police Officer Robert Benson, who, like Richardson, was trying to do the right thing but had to make snap decisions on the evening of Jan. 31 without knowing all the facts.

Benson got a call that an armed man was on Old Frederick Road. He arrived to find Richardson with a gun in his hand, 21-year old Jada Lokeman lying on the ground unconscious, with his face bloodied and two young men attempting to vacate the premises.

What Benson says he didn't fully realize -- until it was too late, and Theron Richardson had been handcuffed and sent to Southwest District lockup -- was that Richardson, putting aside his own vulnerability, was trying to stop a mugging.

He'd looked through his living room window to see two guys in ski masks beating up Lokeman, a pre-med student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County who was walking home from a neighborhood store. Richardson rapped hard on his window to scare off the attackers. They waved him off disdainfully. Richardson told his wife to call the police. Then he emptied his gun of its bullets and went outside, yelling, "What do you think you're doing?"

He brought the gun because he didn't know if the muggers were armed, but removed the bullets thinking it would exempt him from charges of carrying a gun on the street. It didn't. But the two guys who'd jumped Lokeman, attempting to rob him, punching his face until it was bloody and bruised, choking him until he was unconscious, froze when they saw Richardson's gun.

When Officer Benson arrived and spotted the gun, though, he ordered Richardson (and the two attackers) to lie on the ground. There were, Benson explained Friday, four people in front of him and no backup help. He was attempting to gain control of the situation. All he knew for certain was that he'd gotten a report of someone with a handgun on the street, and here was this man, Richardson, with a .32 caliber automatic in his hand.

Such is life in the city of Baltimore, where the guns frazzle everyone's nerves. The illegal guns proliferate among the criminals, and innocent citizens sometimes arm themselves, and the police charge into situations and have to figure out who's who on a moment's notice.

Richardson was taken to Southwest District lockup, where he spent 26 hours before he was released.

"It's been an ordeal," he said Friday, moments after Assistant State's Attorney Nita Mazumder looked at his case folder, declared, "Nol pros," and immediately moved on to the next of the morning's more than two dozen criminal cases.

"I have four little children," Richardson said. "They were watching this whole thing, and when they see a policeman now, they say, 'Are you gonna be locked up?' I tell them no, most police are good, but sometimes they make a wrong decision."

Germaine Richardson, who teaches in the city school system and was standing near her husband when he was arrested, recalled, "We were scared when they took him away. All four children got into bed with me, and we slept there with the bedroom door locked. It's a lot for children to see. They made me come to court today to make sure I brought him home."

Meanwhile, the two men charged with assaulting Jada Lokeman -- Jarmar Smith, 21, and Azerwoine Walker, 23, were schedule to stand trial Friday. Their case was postponed. Smith said he hadn't gotten an attorney yet, and Walker was in a cell, awaiting charges in another case.

"I think they should be charged with attempted murder," said Lokeman, who had to miss a college physics class to appear in court. "I think I would have been killed if (Richardson) hadn't come out."

Meanwhile, Officer Benson, a six-year veteran, recalled the night of the arrest: "There was no light. I heard arguing and saw (Lokeman) with a bloody face. (Richardson) had a gun. I just wanted everybody on the ground at that point. Believe me, when put him in that wagon, I had no idea he was a hero."

It's nice to hear someone in authority use such a term -- even if it did take a month to change "defendant" into "hero."

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