Camera points police to suspect

Footage of fatal shooting shows possible witnesses, boy running from scene

August 05, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

It was a crime scene all too typical in Baltimore: a young man shot on the steps of an East Baltimore rowhouse in the middle of the afternoon. No witnesses to be found. No motive. No suspect.

Paramedics took Darrell Winston, 21, to the hospital, where he died about 15 minutes later. Yellow tape blocked off the area where he was shot and police tried, with little luck, to glean information about a shooting that supposedly no one saw.

But the camera saw - and it was recording.

Nearby was a nondescript police surveillance camera perched on Monument Street, pointing down North Curley Street where the Aug. 2 shooting occurred. It didn't catch the actual shooting, which was obscured by trees, but it captured other bits of vital information: a boy thought to be a suspect running away and witnesses who would later help police link him to the shooting.

The camera helped police do basic investigative work in a city where witnesses are often threatened and are notoriously hard to come by.

"Without the cameras, we would've had a half dozen people who said they didn't see anything," said Deputy Police Commissioner Marcus Brown.

A few hours after officers had left the shooting scene, police officials were still watching live scenes of North Curley Street from the still-rolling camera. And they discovered an interesting phenomenon: many people who were on the block during the shooting slowly returned. Police said some of them were even buying and selling drugs out of a rowhouse close to the shooting.

"That's when the cameras allow you to begin an investigation," Brown said. "Because you can match the homicide film to the people who returned."

For hours, police watched people coming and going from the suspected drug house on the corner. About five hours after the shooting, officers chased a suspected dealer into the house and busted in the door with a battering ram. They reported seizing two guns and a small quantity of drugs.

The camera allowed police to identify witnesses and develop leads that led to the identification of the shooting suspect, police said.

The remote-operated camera is one of about 120 that police have set up around the city. They plan to install another 80 by October. Some of the cameras are easy to spot because of a blue light that flashes above them. Others, such as the one that caught the fringes of the homicide scene Tuesday, have no conspicuous markings, police said.

Other cities, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, have deployed video cameras to address crime concerns, as well as potential terrorist threats. Chicago has about 2,000 cameras, and in Philadelphia, cameras recently caught a murder on tape, and helped lead to the arrest of a suspect.

The video footage of the slaying on North Curley Street was shown to top police commanders at yesterday's Comstat meeting, where the officials study crime patterns and discuss strategies to make the city safer.

About a half dozen witnesses were seen ducking for cover and running into houses when gunfire erupted.

Seconds later, a boy is seen dashing across North Curley Street and into an alley. Soon after, the videotape showed other people running toward the victim in an apparent effort to help him.

By 10 p.m. Tuesday, nearly nine hours after Winston's death, police had identified a 15-year-old boy as the suspect.

But other people - who may have been seeking revenge for Winston's killing - apparently tracked down the boy before police could. The boy was shot in the 700 block of Kenwood Avenue shortly after midnight Wednesday. He was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was in good condition yesterday, police said.

Police have issued an arrest warrant for the boy in connection with Winston's murder. The slain man's family could not be reached for comment.

Two men were arrested on handgun violations in the area immediately after the boy's shooting, but so far no one has been charged, police said. Police were reviewing video camera evidence in that shooting as well.

Yesterday, at police headquarters, police officials said their use of the cameras in this case exemplified the potential of the equipment in criminal investigations.

"It gives us a force multiplier," said Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm. "It gives us extra eyes and extra ears on the streets."

Brown said the cameras help provide valuable intelligence on all types of criminal investigations.

"Everybody goes for some sort of cover" during a shooting, Brown said. "But minutes later, they're back on the street, almost in the same positions."

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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