In Baltimore, no targets are unfair in gun crackdown

This Just In...

August 09, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

SIXTY-NINE-year-old Charlie Cimino spent Monday night on a concrete bench in the Big Mussolini downtown because he walked across York Road on Monday night with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver sticking out of his shorts, and he didn't have a permit to pack the thing. What are we going to do with Charlie?

"I know," he says. "I'm stupid, but the police officers could have used a little common sense."


Charlie went into the Central Booking and Intake Center - I call it the Big Mussolini because, at night, the front of the place looks like an edifice designed during Il Duce's reign - about 11 p.m., and he did not see sun again until Tuesday afternoon, about 3 p.m.

All because he was carrying a handgun without the little piece of paper that said he could.

And all I can say is: Come on, Mr. C.

You own a liquor store and you don't know you need a permit to pack? This is Baltimore, the city that bleeds way too much and, unless you've been in Tashkent for the past year, you should know there's a big, brawny effort by police to get guns off the street. There's also been a raging war of words among O'Mayor, the city state's attorney and the U.S. attorney about gun prosecutions. We're kind of Gun Top of Mind in this town.

Charlie's store is in what I call North Govans - some call it York/Belvedere - and he's been the proprietor for 13 years. Nice man, this Charlie. Right in the middle of this mess, he invited me over to his house in Hamilton to partake of fresh figs growing in his back yard. "They're just starting to come in," he says.

That's what a 69-year-old Italian-American should be talking about in August - fresh figs. Not pretrial services.

Every day, Charlie goes to his store, just south of Northern Parkway on York Road, and he sells the usual - booze, beer, lottery tickets and scratch-offs. In 13 years, he's never had a robbery at the store. (However, he and his friends were robbed one night a few years ago in Burdick Park, in Northeast Baltimore, while playing a game of boccie.)

Charlie keeps the gun with him because he handles a lot of money.

In Maryland, you're supposed to get a permit to carry a gun outside of your business or your home.

Charlie got the gun 13 years ago from a since-deceased uncle. His wife, Mildred, says a gun shop owner told her that Charlie didn't need "a license" for the gun, which is kind of true. He might not have had to register it with state police, but he should have had a permit to carry it.

This caught up to him the other night.

Charlie closed the liquor store a little after 10, and he walked across York Road toward his car. Three Baltimore police officers were nearby, doing what they and their fellow officers did 168,842 times citywide from Jan. 1 through July 27 - they were conducting "field interviews," part of the new, aggressive policing efforts implemented by Police Commissioner Ed Norris. One of the officers spotted Charlie - in a white cap, white T-shirt and blue shorts, the Smith & Wesson visible at his waist - from 40 feet away.

They stopped him, questioned him, learned he did not have a permit to carry the gun and arrested him.

If any part of this story is worth a snort of outrage, it's this - 69-year-old Charlie Cimino spent the night sitting on a concrete bench in a room with 10 or 12 other, younger, arrestees. He never slept. You'd think some corrections-systems genius could arrange accommodations for senior citizens down at the Big Mussolini - a separate room away from all the usual suspects on the rare occasion when someone over 65, and relatively harmless, gets locked up.

Charlie was released on his own recognizance Tuesday afternoon. He'll go to trial in District Court next month.

He knows he did a dumb thing. But he doesn't think he should have been arrested and taken to the Big Mussolini.

"Confiscate my gun and give me a warning, but don't lock me up," he says.

Sorry, Charlie. If you'd been driving home and coasted through a stop sign on a quiet street in Hamilton, I could see a cop cutting you a break.

But a handgun without a permit?

I don't see how a Baltimore cop could take a pass on that one.

I know Charlie will be 70 in December. He seems like a very nice man. And, as I said, he invited me over to his house to pick and eat some figs, and I'd much rather be writing about his fruit than his gun.

But you can't have it both ways in this town - demand and even get the increased presence of cops in your neighborhood, then complain when they try to do their job, especially when there's a gun involved.

And I say that knowing full well I might not get to try any of Charlie's fresh figs.

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