Fallen officer had kind hand, ready laugh

Police, neighbors recall his devotion to family, job

July 07, 2004|By Arthur Hirsch and Ryan Davis | Arthur Hirsch and Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The little gap in Baltimore police officer Brian D. Winder's front teeth showed mostly when he smiled, which was often enough.

Detective Stanley Brandford can easily call up the mental picture of Winder out on the dance floor at a Saturday night wedding at the Preston Room downtown. As he recalls, the song was "Booty Call," and there was Winder smiling and looking so good out there that Brandford had to nudge his wife: Look at Brian. Brian can really dance.

A week to the day -- and nearly the hour -- later, Winder was hit with three gunshots at a liquor store in the West Baltimore neighborhood where he grew up, which he chose not to entirely escape even as he encouraged others to try. A short time later he was pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma Center: 36 years old, 10 years on the police force.

Yesterday, Brandford and the other police officers came to work with black bands across their badges and memories of their own.

Last month, Winder took the sergeant's exam and came out feeling confident. As his friend, Detective Timothy J. Galt remembered, he said, "`Tim, this is the start. I aced that test. I'm going to be a sergeant.'"

Sergeant, lieutenant, major -- his fellow officers figured he had the skills to make it and enough personal grace that others would be glad he did.

`Kind, respectful'

"A lot of guys in police work are rough and abrasive and brash," said Maj. Deborah Owens, the Southwest District commander. "But Brian was just a kind, respectful person.

"The officers here always went to Brian, `Brian how do we do this?'" Owens said. "If he walked into this station right now, people would gravitate to him."

They had his picture posted behind the front desk at the Southwestern District yesterday, nothing more than a wallet-size black-and-white with these words in uppercase type: "His killer still at large."

Posted next to the image of a pleasant young man with a pencil-thin mustache were two stark black-and-white photocopies of a young man with a sullen face, Charles Bennett, 33, one of two suspects in the killing. The night of the shooting, police arrested Jermaine Gaines, 31, and later charged him with first-degree murder.

Brandford was watching television at home in Northeast Baltimore on Saturday night when he saw the message crawling across the screen about an officer shot in Southwest. Right away he called in to get the word, then got in his car to head in. He was just about making the Interstate 95 tunnel when he received a cell phone call: Winder was dead.

"Last Thursday, we talked about the next football season, looking forward to getting back to do some tailgating, get back to the games," Brandford said.

He can't recall seeing Winder drink anything stronger than Diet Pepsi, but said the officer knew how to have a good time, how to make people laugh. He joked a lot about doings in the station house, Brandford said, stuff not necessarily fit for print.

Friends and relatives would know Winder's laugh by its high pitch, and would remember that he'd get a big kick watching The Bernie Mac Show and Reno 911.

"I've been through too many of these," said Detective Sgt. Kenneth Parks, adding that he had worked closely with the last four officers killed in the line of duty. "It never gets easier. It's like you lose a relative."

Parks stood outside the door of the detective unit yesterday afternoon, telling how Winder did fine work in the division, wrote sharp reports, had good computer and interrogation skills. He said Winder had had a couple of chances to become a homicide detective but turned them down, thinking the work would not allow him enough time with his family.

Winder and his wife, Lorrie, had two sons, Corey, 15, and Brandon, 7, whom Winder enjoyed coaching in football. He also had a grown stepdaughter.

Out on the street

Parks recalled trying to persuade Winder to stay in the detective unit, but the officer had wanted to go back on patrol.

"He liked the camaraderie you try to develop with the public," Parks said.

Out on the street, it's possible to see some good come of your work once in a while, Winder would say. Winder would often be the guy visiting a school or organizing a cleanup around Edmondson Village.

He was raised in that neighborhood and would let folks know, said Owens. "He'd say: `Don't say you can't get out of this mess. I got out of this mess. You can make something of yourself.'"

Winder fell mortally wounded outside G&G Village Liquors in the 4600 block of Edmondson Ave., maybe a mile from where he was raised on Mount Holly Street. Sometimes he'd take a break from patrol and have dinner with his mother, who still lives on the street.

Family members politely declined to comment yesterday. A police officer was posted outside Winder's modest white-siding and brick ranch house yesterday on Collinsway Road in Baltimore County, just a few miles west of Edmondson Village.

The Winders moved there last year from Malbrook Road, near the city line. Neighbors on Malbrook had tied a black ribbon around an oak tree where they recalled Winder playing with his children.

Neighbor David Martin remembered Winder as an affable man willing to lend a hand and fix his lawn mower, even though they did not know each other well then. Soon, they had occasion to chat often about sports and swap video games.

"He was just the kind of person who made you want to put down your stuff and talk to him," Martin said.

Susan Redmond lived next door to Winder on Malbrook. In her mind's eye, he's smiling, and making you smile.

"He had contagious laughter," she said.

Sun staff writers Scott Waldman and Lester Davis contributed to this article.

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