Shootings give police increased caseload

Department officials say detectives stretched by unusual jump in violence

Recent violence adds to police caseload

Annapolis

September 29, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Annapolis Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson, who joined the department 11 years ago, calls it "absolutely unprecedented."

Officer Hal Dalton, a 25-year veteran, can't remember the last time it happened.

The small Annapolis Police Department, which employs no homicide detectives and just eight criminal investigators, has its hands full this month with two open homicide cases and two unsolved attempted murders.

In addition to the high-profile fatal carjacking in the historic district Sept. 19, police are investigating the fatal shooting of a man at a local American Legion hall Aug. 10 and two recent near-fatal shootings.

"We're just not accustomed to having one investigation run right into another," Johnson said. "Obviously, our resources are stretched thin."

Capt. Stanley Malm and the seven other detectives in the criminal investigation section closed 65 percent of violent-crime cases last year and investigated four homicides - up from two in 2000, according to last year's annual report.

Despite the increasing caseload, Johnson said, eight detectives are adequate for a city of about 36,000 residents. Because all of the department's 110 or so officers are trained in crime-scene investigation, patrol officers often chip in with witness interviews, canvassing and even following up on leads, Dalton said.

The chief called the open investigations "a juggling act," with detectives shifting from case to case to follow fresh leads.

Police got a new batch of tips Thursday night in the fatal shooting of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, who was killed in what appears to be a carjacking outside his home on normally quiet Cumberland Court in the historic district, Johnson said.

"The detectives have taken a personal interest in this case," he said. "The way they're working, if this can be solved in the short term, it's going to be done."

Meanwhile, an arrest warrant was issued early last week for a suspect in the Sept. 21 shooting of Craig McKelle Ireland, 29, on Medgar Evers Street.

Police are looking for Ronrico Marcello Coates, 23, who has been charged with attempted murder.

Another shooting three days later in College Creek Terrace sent Carlester Sellman Jr., 21, to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.

Sellman gave nicknames and descriptions of his attackers, and detectives are optimistic that the case will be solved soon, Dalton said.

But the homicide at the American Legion hall on Forest Drive remains a mystery.

Police arrested and charged Calvin Watkins, 22, of Annapolis in the fatal shooting of Damon Michael Rhodes, 38, of Northeast Baltimore. But Anne Arundel County prosecutors dropped the charges earlier this month because of a lack of evidence.

"He's still an active suspect," Dalton said. "But we're going back and re-interviewing witnesses. People who were present have not been forthcoming with us."

At least 50 people were at the private party, held at Cook-Pinkney Post 141, when the shooting occurred, police have said.

Meanwhile, police recently made an arrest in a third non-fatal shooting.

Shahid Amin Durley, 25, was arrested and charged in the shooting of Sarina Michelle Hopkins, 31, outside a Farragut Court apartment complex Aug. 26. Hopkins told police she was shot after a dispute over drugs, Dalton said.

Each of the four open cases except the historic-district shooting appears to be tied to a personal dispute, Dalton said. Annapolis has asked the FBI and several other agencies to help investigate the carjacking and killing, he said.

Some of the city police detectives have worked as many as 36 hours straight with no sleep hoping to crack that case, Dalton said.

The criminal investigation section is usually split into two units - one for property crimes and one for crimes against people. But detectives have pooled together to work on the four open violent crimes, Dalton said.

"Every investigation runs hot and cold," he said. "Having so many cases keeps you from getting bogged down in one. It keeps the adrenaline high."

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