'Officer Down!' Harold Carey gave his life while rushing to the aid of a fellow officer. Now his grieving colleagues are upholding the promise of the brotherhood: to be there for one another.

December 20, 1998|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

The funeral service was nearly over.

In a church filled to overflowing, the mayor had delivered a tearful eulogy. Hundreds of voices had risen in song. And one by one, six police officers had stepped to the podium to describe their colleague's warmth and humor.

A woman seated in a wheelchair at the end of a row of pews took a deep breath.

It was time.

All eyes followed her as she was wheeled down the red-carpeted aisle to the front of the church. She wore her best dress uniform and crisp white gloves. A black band crossed her silver badge.

Her eyes, ringed with dark bruises, focused on the casket.

Inside lay Baltimore Police Officer Harold Carey, her friend and fellow officer.

She had encouraged him to join the brotherhood six years earlier, and their lives had intersected ever since: at breakfast after morning roll-call, at happy hour when their shift ended. And, finally, at that terrible moment when their police vehicles collided they both rushed to assist an officer in trouble.

Since that Friday five days ago, she had thought about this moment.

There was something she had to do before she said goodbye.

Breakfast club

Friday, Oct. 30, began with a ritual the 7-to-3 shift enjoyed on slow mornings: breakfast together after 6:30 a.m. roll call. By the time Harold Carey arrived at the New Wyman Park deli, a dozen uniformed officers from Central District had filled three booths against the back wall.

Carey, 6-foot-1 and more than 300 pounds, ordered his usual meal - a stack of pancakes and a jumbo ice tea. "I think I'm going to take my car back," he announced in his deep, gravelly baritone. He was talking about his new black Mustang Cobra convertible.

Carey adored cars; just last Sunday, he had taken another officer out for a three-hour drive in the Mustang, which had replaced a Volkswagen GTI, which had replaced a Corvette. Every few months, he grew bored and traded in one car for another.

"You've gotta stop spending your money on fast cars and fast women," cracked one officer.

"Hey, at least I like women," Carey shot back.

One booth away, Officer Lavon'De Alston burst out laughing; she knew both men were married. L.A., as she was called, had a personality as warm as the city of the same initials. It was one reason she and Carey got along well; he so enjoyed making people laugh that he occasionally performed stand-up at the Comedy Factory in downtown Baltimore.

As Carey got up to pay, Officer Demetrius Jackson spoke up: "Hey, Harold, ride with me today."

Jackson, an athletic man who weighed half as much as Carey, was Harold's former partner. Others laughed at the sight of them together - "Laurel and Hardy," they called them. The two were so close that Carey had been a groomsman at Jackson's wedding.

Carey considered Jackson's suggestion. As officer-in-charge for the day, he had the option of pairing up with anyone he chose. Or he could stay off the streets and head back to the station. But Carey loved being part of the action. He knew the officer driving the prisoner van, Keith Owens, would be kept busy.

"I'm going to ride with Keith today so I can lock some people up," Carey told Jackson.

Owens was glad to hear it. Carey was the partner to have during a difficult arrest. He felt no fear - and had the strength of two. Officers joked about his perpetually rumpled uniform but knew why he never ironed it: Carey often ended up on the ground, tussling with suspects who resisted arrest.

But there was another reason Owens wanted Carey at his side. The two shared a passion for getting drug dealers off the streets of Baltimore, where both had grown up. For Owens, the mission was deeply personal. His younger brother had been shot to death in a dispute over drugs.

Owens confided in Carey about the loss, and Carey responded with a promise: "I'm going to find the person who killed your brother." Nearly every time they saw each other, Carey repeated his vow.

Caring about one another was contagious among the squadron of men and women who patrolled some of the city's roughest streets. They played pool together after their shifts and gathered to watch Monday Night Football. They were all young - Carey was 28; Jackson, 26; Alston and Owens, 30. In some ways, they had grown up together on the force. Their brotherhood was fused by a shared understanding of the danger they faced, and a rock-solid faith that when one needed them, the others would be there.

At 8:07 a.m., as the officers waited by the cash register, their radios crackled to life. They heard the muffled sounds of a struggle, then the voice of a colleague:

"Baker 41, I need a 10-15 at 1900 Charles!"

Officer Ty Crane was issuing an urgent summons for a prisoner van.

Owens, deep in conversation, didn't hear the call. Carey did.

"Ty's asking for help!"

A 10-15 supplies scant information; officers who hear it know only that an arrest is not proceeding smoothly, and that a van is needed - fast. Only one call stirs a more powerful response: a Signal 13, "officer needs assistance."

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