Police seeking help on teen's death

Detectives say motorists could have seen assailants who shot college student

May 30, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police detectives appealed yesterday for the public to help solve the shooting death of a 19-year-old college student near a downtown nightclub during a robbery, saying that motorists stuck at a stoplight might have seen something.

The detectives also urged the assailants in the Sunday night fatal robbery of Rio-Jarell Tatum to turn themselves in, suggesting that the gunman's accomplice might face a more lenient sentence if he cooperates.

"We are sure that individuals at the intersection witnessed" what happened, Sgt. Darryl Massey said as he stood at the parking lot in the 400 block of N. Paca St. where the shooting occurred. "We need their assistance."

Detectives, who passed out fliers yesterday, also revealed new details about the death of the promising scholar-athlete who had just returned to Baltimore after his freshman year at Pennsylvania State University, where he was on a full scholarship. Tatum graduated near the top of his class at Polytechnic Institute last year, was captain of two varsity sports, and was voted prom king.

Family members said the funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul Baptist Church at 3101 The Alameda.

Police said Tatum and a friend parked the car they were driving about 10:30 p.m. Sunday and were walking toward the Tunnel nightclub about a block away when two men approached them and one pulled out a gun.

The robbers herded the teen-agers back to Tatum's mother's car and began going through their pockets, Massey said. The robbers took about $10 and several other items from Tatum, Massey said. Tatum then "got scared," Massey said, and was just beginning to break free when the gunman opened fire.

A bullet hit Tatum's left side and pierced his heart.

The gunman also fired a shot at Tatum's friend, who was not hit and whom police declined to identify. The robbers ran north on Paca Street and have not been seen since.

Police said the robbers appeared to be in their late teens and were wearing dark clothing.

Massey said the robbers had apparently "scoped them out somehow."

Maj. J. Charles Gutberlet III said the robbers were likely targeting patrons of the Tunnel.

"They were lying in wait," Gutberlet said. "They were targeting people going to the club."

The Tunnel has drawn criticism from police for the amount of violence it appears to attract.

Last month, a bouncer was shot just outside the club's doors and was wounded in the neck, police said.

The same month, a 19-year- old man was stabbed in the club.

In March, another 19-year-old was shot and killed in a nearby barbershop after exchanging words with a man outside the crowded nightclub, police said.

In September, two people were stabbed inside the club.

The landlord of the building housing the Tunnel was charged with reckless endangerment after the September stabbing, police said, because he ignored an earlier Fire Department order to close the club. Prosecutors put those charges in the inactive docket in October, and the landlord, Jay A. Benjamin, was ordered to obey all fire safety laws, court records show.

Benjamin, who also holds the club's liquor license, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Gutberlet said he often deploys 30 to 40 officers near the Tunnel when the club is open to control crowds. He said officers found several liquor code violations two weeks ago.

Last year, police joined forces with two powerful business groups to try to revoke the club's liquor license. Under pressure from the liquor board, Benjamin agreed to hire more security and submit a security plan.

Gutberlet said he would take his case to the city's zoning board to see if Benjamin is allowed to operate an entertainment complex in that area.

Massey and Detective Melisa Anderson urge anyone with information to call them at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 410-276-8888. Information leading to the indictment of a suspect is eligible for a $2,000 reward.

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