Officer's action on gun called proper Slaying victim had told police about weapon ex-boyfriend held

'A very tough situation'

It couldn't be seized without court hearing, says District judge

February 15, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer acted properly when he didn't confiscate a gun from a man charged two days later with fatally shooting his former girlfriend, police and judges said yesterday.

But Mary Ellen T. Rinehardt, the administrative judge for the District Court of Maryland, said the law should be tightened to give police officers more authority to take guns away in domestic abuse cases.

Temporary restraining orders -- such as the one served Monday to keep Vincent E. Brown away from Francseea Batts -- do not allow officers to seize weapons, Rinehardt said.

It is only after a court hearing, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, that a judge can order guns to be taken, she said.

And police said yesterday that Officer Gordon Schluderberg had no right even to open Brown's locked carrying case -- which according to Batts contained a .357-caliber Magnum handgun -- when he served the restraining order Monday in which Batts alleged a three-year period of abuse.

Batts, 30, was fatally shot Wednesday evening as she ran from her house on Shadyside Road in Northeast Baltimore with two of her three young children. Brown, charged with first-degree murder, was arrested late Thursday after a high-speed pursuit in New York City. He had the couple's 16-month-old son in the car.

The conduct issue erupted Thursday when Batts' mother, a city police officer for 16 years, complained that Schluderberg allowed Brown to keep the weapon when he ordered the suspect to leave Batts' Northwood home.

"If only he had taken that gun, then maybe my child wouldn't have had to die," Officer Kate Wood said Thursday.

Schluderberg's actions prompted several reviews, including an internal police investigation, and sent legal experts in the city police and law departments scrambling for answers.

Police and judicial officials supported the officer.

A police official noted that Schluderberg looked for the weapon in Brown's vest at Batts' request, which may have been an illegal search.

"Even though he didn't have a right to do so, he made a good-faith attempt to locate a weapon based on what the victim told him," said Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a city police spokeswoman.

"It's a very sad thing," said District Judge Charles A. Chiapparelli, who was to have heard the case Tuesday. "I didn't sleep very well last night. You just pray you do everything you can."

Rinehardt called it "a very tough situation."

"I'm sure the police officer who served this feels as bad as a person could feel," she said.

Schluderberg could not be reached for comment yesterday. His boss, Maj. Arthur Smith, commander of the Northeastern District, referred questions to the department Public Information Office.

Wood said yesterday she still has questions about how her colleagues handled the case. But she was heartened by the arrest of Brown. "I can't tell you how pleased I am," she said.

New York police said Brown was arrested after he crashed Batts' gold Mazda 626 into another car after a 12-block chase through the South Bronx. Brown, two people in the car he hit and two New York police officers were injured. The infant, Joshua Brown, was unhurt and was being cared for yesterday by New York's child protective services.

Brown, 33, will have an extradition hearing early next week so he can face first-degree murder charges in Maryland. New York police charged him with possession of a handgun, assault, possession of stolen property, endangering the welfare of a child and resisting arrest. He also could be charged with holding up a White Marsh gas station an hour after the slaying, police said.

New York police said they recovered a .38-caliber revolver from the Mazda. Police said an autopsy conducted Thursday on Batts did not determine what type of gun had been used in the slaying. Detectives said it only showed Batts had been shot with a high-caliber gun.

Questions remain about how to protect women in abusive relationships, especially from the time they file for protection until a judge can use the full weight of the law to deter acts of violence.

Rinehardt said she wished Batts had filed criminal charges, which would have given police the authority to arrest Brown instead of just ordering him from the home.

"There is nothing perfect in this," the judge said. "What we need are people who would never consider this type of violence. But we will never get that perfect a world."

Pub Date: 2/15/97

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