Link seen between crimes, self-inflicted gun wounds

Many victims hurt by illegal weapons, city detectives say

September 03, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Many Baltimore gun-toters seem to ignore the maxim: "Don't shoot yourself in the foot."

In another illustration of the city's gun-related violence, 50 people have shot themselves by accident this year, mostly with illegal handguns, police say.

The victims (many of whom become suspects) are often trying to pull a loaded handgun from their waistbands or pants pockets. Their fingers get stuck on the trigger, and they blast a hole in their leg or groin.

In one case, a man shot himself in the leg as he tried to hide his gun in his pants while riding a bike. In another, police say, a man shot himself through the thigh as he tried to draw a weapon in a gunbattle.

"Pulling it out to use it is obviously a problem," said Col. Robert M. Stanton, who heads the department's detective division.

During the past two years, police have increased their focus on nonfatal shootings, assigning detectives to investigate the cases. Detectives have also begun to more closely track accidental shootings, which represent about 9 percent of all nonfatal shootings.

Police say the victims often have information about other crimes or have committed them. "This is another avenue for investigation," Stanton said.

Police sometimes charge the wounded with illegally discharging a firearm and, often, lying to police.

In July, a 17-year-old boy told police that he had been walking in the 4300 block of N. Rogers Ave. in Northwest Baltimore when he was shot by unknown attackers, said Detective Gregory Robinson.

Inconsistent story

The teen-ager was hit in the right leg. But Robinson said he noticed an inconsistency in the teen's story: The detective saw no bullet hole in the boy's jean shorts. A few minutes later, Robinson said, he found a bullet hole in the pocket of his shorts.

"What he said didn't gibe," Robinson said. "The wound looked self-inflicted to me."

Robinson said he never recovered the handgun but has charged the youth in an arrest warrant with discharging a handgun and giving a false statement to police.

"If they didn't shoot themselves, what would they have done?" Robinson said.

Another 17-year-old gave Robinson a similar story, the detective said.

The teen told investigators he was walking toward a 7-Eleven in Northwest Baltimore in June when he was shot in the inside part of his left palm by an unknown gunman, Robinson said.

"That's a one-in-a-billion shot," Robinson said. "You would hit the lottery before that would happen."

It turns out that the teen was clearing a jammed handgun when it fired, Robinson said.

It's not only owners of illegal guns who shoot themselves.

A 63-year-old man was in his house in the 500 block of Millington Ave. in April and was moving or cleaning his handgun when it went off, said Detective Robert Dohony, who has handled four accidental shootings this year. The man suffered a gunshot wound to his left hand.

He told detectives he was shot while being robbed, though he owned the gun legally, Dohony said. "He was afraid of what was going to happen to him," he said. The man was not charged.

But detectives say a more typical scenario involves men using the guns illegally.

Attempted murder

For example, detectives say Brandon Spencer, 24, shot himself in the upper thigh one night in June - hours after he was accused of firing into a crowd of people in the southern part of Baltimore and hitting a 26-year-old man in the chest.

Spencer was charged with attempted murder.

In another case, two men were in a car at a stoplight in the 200 block of S. Augusta Ave. in Southwest Baltimore last month when someone approached the group and opened fire, Dohony said.

A 20-year-old Southwest Baltimore man sitting in the car was shot in his right thigh. The man drove himself to St. Agnes HealthCare and later told detectives he was wounded in the gunbattle.

But the wound went straight down - through the man's thigh, through the car and into the road, Dohony said.

The man was pulling a .45-caliber pistol out of his waistband to fire back at the attacker, Dohony said, when he mistakenly fired a round into his leg.

Police have issued a warrant for the man's arrest on handgun charges.

"We're paying more attention to accidental shootings," Dohony said. "We want to get the guns off the streets. These are the people doing the shootings and homicides. You could use these shootings as a barometer. It just shows you how many people are carrying guns."

Sun staff researcher Dee Lyon contributed to this article.

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