City police commander wounds suspect

New policy returns major to the street, in path of robbers

November 20, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore police major who oversees internal investigations when officers fire their weapons on duty shot a man twice early yesterday when he confronted a suspected armed robber at an east-side carryout.

Maj. Ronald S. Savage, 54, who has been on the force 32 years, is commander of the Internal Investigation Division, which, along with the homicide unit, decides whether officers have acted properly when they shoot civilians.

To avoid a conflict, the part of the investigation that the division usually oversees -- whether shootings are consistent with the department's policy on the use of deadly force -- has been turned over to Maj. Errol L. Dutton, who heads the Police Department's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Savage, who could not be reached to comment yesterday, is being allowed to return to his desk job and will retain his arrest powers during the investigation.

The Police Department's chief spokesman, Robert W. Weinhold Jr., said the wounded man was hit in the right arm and lower back and was being treated yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Weinhold said the wounds are not life-threatening. The man has not been identified.

Savage is one of 12 commanders who answer directly to the police commissioner. His office is overseeing several police shooting investigations, including the killing last month of Larry Hubbard, who was shot in the back of the head during a struggle with an officer.

Savage was patrolling city streets as part of a new program that puts top commanders in marked patrol cars 24 hours a day. Majors rotate through the daily shifts to ensure that high-level supervisors can respond to potentially dangerous situations within minutes.

"He was out there doing his job inspecting activity on the street and doing exactly what he was supposed to do," said Col. Bert Shirey, chief of the patrol bureau, who instituted the "night watch" program Nov. 6.

While driving through the Eastern District shortly after 2 a.m., Savage heard officers being dispatched for an armed robbery in progress at New York Fried Chicken in the 1200 block of E. North Ave., two blocks from the District Court building.

Police officials said Savage was the first to arrive.

Inside, they said, two men, one armed with a 9 mm Ruger handgun, were robbing six customers waiting for food. They said several victims had been forced to the floor and one had been pistol-whipped. A bulletproof window separates the lobby from where the employees work.

Weinhold said Savage pulled up to the carryout and saw the end of the robbery. He said the robbers ran out the front door a moment later but that it was not clear whether they saw Savage before they left.

One man ran down the street and was being sought yesterday.

"The other wielded and pointed a gun at [Savage]," Shirey said. "Major Savage shot him twice."

Police said they recovered a loaded 9 mm Ruger at the scene.

Homicide detectives, who investigate all police-involved shootings, were interviewing witnesses at police headquarters downtown. An employee at the carryout told The Sun he knew nothing about the shooting.

Police officials said Savage is cooperating with investigators. It was the 17th police-involved shooting this year. Four have resulted in deaths.

As is routine in such cases, the results of the police investigation will be turned over to the state's attorney's office, which will determine whether it was justified.

Preliminary indications from police officials are that Savage was justified in pulling the trigger on his department-issued 9 mm Glock.

"It looks like a pretty straightforward shooting," Shirey said.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the police union, which represents officers under investigation, said he does not know whether his lawyers will represent Savage or whether the major has obtained legal representation.

McLhinney, who has criticized the seven investigations being conducted in the Hubbard case, including a federal civil rights review, praised Savage for his response.

"He was in the right place at the right time," the union chief said. "I give him all the credit in the world."

Police guidelines on deadly force

You may discharge your firearm only in these cases:

In self-defense, or to defend another person from death or injury

To effect the arrest or to prevent the escape, when other means are insufficient, of a person whom the officer has probable cause to believe has committed a FELONY involving the use of threat of deadly force or serious physical injury; and who poses an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

To kill a dangerous animal which poses a clear and imminent threat of serious physical injury

To kill an animal so badly injured that humanity requires its relief from further suffering, with approval of your shift commander

When used in practice and/or qualification at a range, or other appropriate location.

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