For Detective Michael Baier, it's the start of another investigation, another day of

Chasing Shadows

Cover Story

October 28, 2001|By Story by DEL QUENTIN WILBER

Detective Michael Baier pulls his unmarked Chevrolet Cavalier to a stop outside Johns Hopkins Hospital and hurries inside, weaving through the corridors until he finds the emergency room. Inside, a large man is lying on a table. Two doctors raise one of his legs, examining a gunshot wound. Another sticks a tube into his neck, while a nurse probes a hole in his left arm.

One of the doctors looks at Baier and makes a circle with his index finger and thumb. "The wounds are this big," he says. Baier nods.

Baier, a police detective on the shootings squad in East Baltimore, knows the man on the table. His name is Troy Kane. He's a 22-year-old civilian employee in the central records section of the Baltimore Police Department. Kane, a hulking man at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, had been shot twice on a dimly lit street in East Baltimore a few hours earlier.

After 10 years on the force, and more than four years investigating shootings, Baier knows that now can be the best time to ask questions of shooting victims, a notoriously tight-lipped bunch. Sometimes, when they think they are going to die, they actually talk.

"What happened?" Baier asks, and Kane begins to mumble, barely audible through his oxygen mask.

He and some friends were driving by Rose Street after going to a Southeast Baltimore nightclub, he tells Baier. They wanted him to stop, so he did. All three got out. Someone asked Kane for a cigarette. Then another man approached with a gun. Kane "tussled" with both men and fell to the ground. He got shot with a .357-caliber handgun. One man was wearing a camouflage mask and hat. The other was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans.

Kane knows only the first name of one of the friends who was with him. He doesn't know the name of his other friend at all or where he lives.

Baier jots down some notes, tells Kane they'll talk again soon, and heads back to the Eastern District police station on Edison Highway.

It's his first interview in this case, but already Baier knows he's in trouble. His victim doesn't know the names of his "friends." There were no shell casings at the scene, meaning the gunman probably used a revolver and the detective has one less clue. One suspect was wearing the uniform of the street: a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The other was masked.

But Baier also has gotten lucky. He's picked up a lead: a pager recovered at the crime scene. Maybe it belongs to the shooter, Baier thinks optimistically. Then, about "2,000 questions" surge into his head.

First, the detective is perplexed: "Why [would anyone] mess with this guy? He's 300 pounds," Baier thinks. "There must be a reason. What is it?"

At the station house, he sits down, alone in the cluttered and humid squad room, sips cola and munches on chocolate. It's a little after 5 a.m., his second night on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, a grueling schedule that will continue for five more nights. He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. "Damn it," he mutters.

The night, the victim, the neighborhood, the guns, the lack of witnesses and clues -- the daily fare of a cop's life in the Eastern District -- weigh on him.

"I'm sure the victim won't be any more help and I'm sure his 'bunkies' won't help either," he says. "How do you hang with boys and don't know anything about them?"

Baier writes up a few reports, then goes to the board where detectives jot down information about their pending cases. For the Kane case, Baier writes the case number, Kane's name, the address and date. Then he adds: "Need w / s [witness] hope and prayer."

At 40, Michael Baier is 6 feet tall, thin, with blond hair and a weathered face. You probably wouldn't guess he did some modeling before he joined the department. That was when he was 30, a good deal older than most new police officers. He thought it might be a fun job, a job where he could "do some good."

He grew up in a conservative Northeast Baltimore household with four brothers and a twin sister. His parents drilled self-reliance into him at an early age, making him pay his own way through Archbishop Curley High School. After graduating, he worked in construction, as a meat cutter, and did some modeling for print advertisements. He married young and had two children, got divorced, remarried and had two more children -- daughters, a 10-month-old and a 3-year-old.

After joining the force, he spent some time in patrol and as a detective, then joined the Eastern District shootings squad in May 2000, when police commanders moved shootings detectives into the districts, hoping to solve more cases by putting them closer to the action. The plan was for them to become steeped in the neighborhood life, to know the stick-up men, the dealers, the snitches, the rivalries, the nicknames.

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