Charges placed in killing of officer

Man, 31, under guard at Shock Trauma

March 15, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

City police filed murder and other charges yesterday against a man suspected of shooting two police officers - one fatally - on a Northeast Baltimore street Monday night.

The charges, which also include several counts of attempted murder and handgun violations, were contained in an arrest warrant that police said would be served when Howard Tyrone Whitworth, 31, is released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Whitworth is recovering from a wound to his side suffered during an exchange of gunfire with two city officers moments after Agent Michael J. Cowdery was fatally shot about 10:10 p.m. Cowdery had been helping colleagues question people in front of a carryout in the 2300 block of Harford Road.

Police said a gunman turned a corner at Cliftview Avenue, ran north up Harford Road and shot Cowdery in the head and upper body from close range without apparent provocation.

Cowdery's colleagues returned fire immediately. Officer Ronald A. Beverly was wounded in the ankle in the exchange.

Whitworth, who has been convicted twice of drug charges and who police said was carrying dozens of vials of suspected cocaine or heroin Monday night, was under police guard in an undisclosed part of the downtown trauma center. He was listed in serious condition.

Scores of police rushed to the center at Greene and Lombard streets about 12:30 p.m. yesterday when Whitworth's relatives and friends confronted security guards and demanded to visit him. The hospital has restricted visitors to his mother and a pastor.

"There was a comment made by one of the people who wanted to go up and see him that raised concerns," said Ellen Beth Levitt, a trauma center spokeswoman. "That led to a very strong response."

Police said no arrests were made and no disturbance occurred. But one officer called a Signal 13 - an emergency alert - which drew a dozen squad cars and prompted the brief closing of streets around the trauma center.

"It was a precautionary call," Levitt said.

Whitworth's family could not be reached for comment yesterday. He has several addresses listed, and one given out by police Monday, on Crenshaw Avenue, was wrong; his family was evicted from that apartment five years ago, said the complex manager, Bruce Campbell.

People identifying themselves as relatives have told local television stations that Whitworth apparently mistook Cowdery - who, with his three colleagues, was in plainclothes but had a badge around his neck - for a man who had shot at him a week earlier.

Police said they have not established a motive. Detectives are trying to determine whether the gunman knew Cowdery was an officer or mistook him for a criminal about to harm friends. Detectives have not interviewed Whitworth, who is expected to survive.

Police are searching for a man who they say might be able to shed light on a possible motive. The man, whom officers were questioning when Cowdery was shot, ran away during the commotion.

He has been identified as William "Mookie" Houston, 20, and police call him a crucial witness.

Houston lives near where the shooting occurred but has not been home since, police said. His description was repeatedly broadcast on police radio yesterday.

"Anyone who comes in contact, stop, detain and transport subject to homicide," a dispatcher said.

Houston's mother, Maureen Carter of North Baltimore, urged her son yesterday to surrender and talk with detectives. She said she has not seen him since the incident, and that to her knowledge, he does not know Whitworth.

Another man who was being questioned when the shooting occurred was released Tuesday night. Police have not released his identity, since he is a witness.

Cowdery, assigned to an extra duty squad responsible for cracking down on crime in the city's violent east side, was helping conduct a field interview, a routine part of the job that calls for officers to question people they suspect.

"We've done 20,000 [field interviews], and 19,998 are done without a problem," said Capt. Michael J. Andrew, the officer's boss. "The next thing you know, someone comes up behind an officer and shoots him in the head."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has ordered that state flags be lowered to half-staff through Saturday's funeral, and Mayor Martin O'Malley asked for a two-day public display of mourning.

"We're calling on everybody in the metropolitan area, black and white, rich and poor, city and county, to turn on their headlights ... in a show of solidarity," he said.

Viewings will be held from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 4905 York Road.

A Mass of Christian burial for the officer, who was the father of a 10-year-old boy, will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in North Baltimore. Burial will be in Dulaney Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Police said area roads would be closed and traffic detoured around the funeral home during the funeral and the procession.

The officer's family did not want to talk publicly yesterday. His father, Michael J. Cowdery Sr., is a 28-year Philadelphia police veteran assigned as a detective in the district attorney's office.

Cowdery's parents decided to bury him here because this is where he chose to work in law enforcement nearly five years ago, said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the city police union.

"They recognized that we have a special way of honoring our heroes," McLhinney said, referring to Dulaney Valley, where many officers and firefighters are buried.

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