Elderly tenant slain by police in apartment

Standoff ensues after man shoots complex manager, locks himself inside room

Rent increase said to stir anger

Gun-wielding 78-year-old shot after stun gun fails to subdue him, officers say

December 09, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A 78-year-old gun-wielding tenant of a senior apartment complex was fatally shot by police yesterday after a standoff with officers who were unable to subdue the man despite hitting him twice with a 50,000-volt stun gun, police said.

The standoff developed after the tenant, Cephus Smith, shot and seriously wounded the manager of his apartment complex over a $10 rent increase, according to police.

The apartment manager, Stephanie Gilliam, 50, was listed in critical but stable condition last night at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Representatives of the building's ownership, listed in state records as the Oliver Plaza Limited Partnership, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Police said the incident began about 10:20 a.m. in the normally quiet Oliver Plaza apartment complex at 1401 E. Oliver St.

Smith visited Gilliam's office on the first floor to talk about his $10-a-month increase in rent, police said.

He became angry, police said, went to his second-floor apartment and returned with a handgun. He shot Gilliam three times in the chest before heading back upstairs and locking himself in his apartment, next to a stairwell.

Police evacuated the building, and officers talked to Smith through the door to try to persuade him to surrender. The man refused, threatening to kill himself and saying he did not want to go to jail, police said.

About 12:10 p.m., using a large shield to protect themselves, several police officers stormed into the apartment and confronted Smith, who was holding a handgun, police said.

The officers ordered the tenant to drop the weapon, but he refused to do so, according to police.

Officers hit Smith twice with a Taser, a device that fires electric shocks into suspects to incapacitate them. But the shocks failed to subdue the man and he began firing his handgun in the room, police said.

An officer in the department's Emergency Services unit then opened fire with his handgun, shooting Smith three times in the upper body and killing him. It was not known yesterday how many shots Smith fired.

Police said a preliminary investigation showed the shooting appeared to be justified. Officers recovered two revolvers and a semi-automatic handgun from Smith's apartment, police officials said.

It was the fourth fatal police-involved shooting in Baltimore this year. Last year, during the comparable period, three people were killed by officers. Five nonfatal shootings by police occurred this year, down from 10 during the comparable period last year.

Yesterday afternoon, police removed portions of the walls in Smith's apartment, apparently looking for evidence, and homicide detectives were questioning witnesses to determine what had happened.

Though gun-related violence is relatively common in the neighborhoods surrounding the apartment building, yesterday's shootings came as a shock to elderly residents of the complex. Several sat in the building's lobby, watching television, while others roamed the halls, expressing disbelief at what had happened only a few hours earlier.

A dozen residents said in interviews that they did not know Smith and only knew Gilliam in passing. Several described Gilliam as nice and helpful.

Robert Jones, who lives next door to the second-floor apartment where the shooting occurred, said he was watching television yesterday morning when the incident began. He said he didn't know anything had happened until police came to his door.

"This has never happened in any building I've ever lived in," said Jones, 72, who added that he did not know his neighbor. "It's sad."

John Butler, 89, who lives down the hall from Jones, said he could not believe that two people had been shot in the normally peaceful complex.

"It's the first commotion I've heard since I've been here," Butler said.

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