The daring armed robberies of two suburban jewelry stores might have been solved by an unlikely source: a Baltimore policeman who has admitted taking some of the nearly $1 million in loot during a traffic stop of one of the robbery suspects.
Police zeroed in on Officer David A. Williamson after his wife pawned diamonds at a Dundalk shop, according to court documents. Williamson's attorney told investigators that the officer "obtained" the items during the arrest in Baltimore of Brian O'Neal Hodge, 39, on a gun charge, documents show.
Williamson has not been charged with a crime. He was suspended with pay Nov. 24 and the Baltimore Police Department is investigating how he came to have stolen property, said spokesman Matt Jablow.
"Officer Williamson is being fully cooperative with all authorities," said Michael J. Belsky, the attorney for the officer.
On Tuesday, Baltimore County police arrested Hodge and Harford police arrested Corey Reuben Cooper, 26. The Gwynn Oak men were charged with armed robbery in the thefts at J&M Jewelers in Bel Air on Nov. 14 and Bromwell Jewelers in Timonium on Nov. 26, according to police.
A third suspect, Rodnell Shirley James, was arrested on allegations of involvement with the Timonium robbery, according to police. Police say she confessed during an interview and implicated Hodge and Cooper, according to charging documents.
At the time of their arrest, Hodge and James were wearing jewelry that had been taken in the robberies, Harford County Sheriff's Office spokesman Robert B. Thomas said.
Police have recovered $100,000 worth of stolen items, Thomas said. Still missing are a silver chalice and paten, given to the Rev. James Barker of St. Ignatius Church in Forest Hill when he was ordained 25 years ago. The items had been taken to J&M Jewelers for refurbishing. Considered a family heirloom, the chalice was "irreplaceable," Barker said, and a parishioner has offered a $5,000 reward for its return.
Robert I. Lear, a deacon and business manager at the church, said Barker was disheartened that the chalice was not found: "He was hoping to have it back for midnight Mass at Christmas."
On Nov. 23, a Dundalk pawn shop owner told police he had purchased $1,550 worth of diamonds - which resembled those stolen from J&M Jewelers - from a woman named Paris Williamson. According to charging documents, Belsky told police that the woman's husband, David Williamson, had recovered the items during a traffic stop of Hodge on Nov. 17 and went with her to pawn them.
A police charging document from that incident said David Williamson and two other officers arrested Hodge on handgun charges and seized a loaded Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun and $3,200 in currency as evidence. It makes no mention of jewelry.
Charging documents for Hodge said Belsky told investigators that a green jewelry box containing rings, a bracelet and other jewelry was given back to Hodge to be submitted with his personal property at Central Booking.
Williamson, 28, joined the city police force on June 24, 2002. He had been working as part of the Northwestern District's special enforcement team, which targets "quality of life" crimes.
The robberies are alleged to have centered on the premise that Hodge was looking for an engagement ring for his fiancee and involved lengthy face-to-face discussions with store employees as customers shopped.
In the Timonium robbery, police said, James played the part of the fiancee, entering the store in the 2100 block of York Road with Hodge about 11 a.m. to discuss the cost of engagement rings.
Documents show that they told employees how long they had been together and looked at rings, settings and loose stones. They even argued over whether to put a deposit on the ring, police said, and left the store after deciding to check for a lower price elsewhere.
A short time later, James allegedly phoned the store and said the couple was returning to put a deposit on the ring. When they returned, they again argued about the deposit and said they would return later, the documents show.
"I'll see you Monday," an employee told Hodge, according to the documents.
Hodge replied, "I got a surprise for you; you're gonna see me right now," charging documents show.
He removed a handgun from his waistband and ordered the employees into a back office, according to the documents. Cooper joined Hodge and James, and the three collected $200,000 in jewelry and diamonds from display cases and drawers, police said.
Police said the suspects ordered the employees to lie on their stomachs and tied their hands with wires, a tactic used Nov. 14 in Bel Air in the theft of about $800,000 in merchandise.
In that robbery, police say, Hodge entered J&M Jewelers in the 2100 block of Blue Spruce Drive about 2 p.m. and scanned a case of diamonds, telling the owner that he was looking for an engagement ring for his fiancee. He settled on a $3,800 diamond ring but said he'd have to consult his fiancee.