City police officer fights for his life

He is shot three times in Westport confrontation

March 31, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND BRENT JONES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTERS

A plainclothes city police officer was fighting for his life last night after he was shot in the neck, chest and stomach during a confrontation in a public housing community in South Baltimore, where authorities said he was working undercover.

Officer Dante N. Hemingway, 28, underwent hours of emergency surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center and has another operation scheduled for tomorrow. He was reported in critical condition last night.

A suspect in Hemingway's shooting was shot in the leg and was being treated at the same hospital, police officials said.

Colleagues, friends and relatives of Hemingway - a 1996 graduate of Carver Vocational High School who has won several awards, including one for saving the life of a fellow officer who had been shot four years ago - converged on the hospital yesterday to await word on his condition.

"He's not out of the woods yet," Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm told reporters hours after the shooting, which occurred about 12:30 p.m. on Wilgrey Court in the Westport neighborhood.

Because Hemingway was working undercover, he was dressed in civilian clothes and was not wearing a bullet-resistant vest to avoid being detected.

According to Hamm, the wounded officer told colleagues who rushed to his side, "I hurt. I'm in pain."

Mayor Martin O'Malley told reporters: "He's still fighting for his life. We need our city to pray for the police officer and his family."

Police identified the other wounded man as 20-year-old Jobrey Lodge, who was in fair condition last night at Shock Trauma. Police and prosecutors said that charges had not been filed as of last night.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said Lodge was a potential witness in the killing of another police officer, Detective Thomas G. Newman, who was ambushed outside a Southeast Baltimore bar in 2002.

Burns said Lodge is the stepbrother of one of the men who plotted Newman's attack. She said he was in the house when the killing was planned but was not implicated in the plot. She said Lodge was not called to testify at the shooter's trial that ended in the conviction of three men who were each sentenced to life in prison.

Lodge was convicted of theft and assault in 2003, and was arrested March 22 and charged with stealing an automobile, court records show.

Scores of patrol and plainclothes officers and heavily armed members of the Quick Response Team, clad in body armor and carrying assault rifles, flooded Westport after the shooting. They blockaded the community and conducted a door-to-door search looking for possible suspects and the missing officer's gun, which was recovered last night.

Police vehicles lined Hollins Ferry Road and the small streets that branch off it and lead into the neighborhood.

"I was scared as hell," said Jonathon Adams, 46, who said he heard five or six gunshots while he was inside his house, a block away from the shooting. "Nothing like this normally happens. Actually, on this side, it's pretty quiet."

Police said they were investigating what happened in the moments leading up to the shooting. Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, said detectives did not believe that the officer had been shot with his department-issued handgun. They would not say where his gun was found. It was also unclear how the suspect was shot.

John Hughes, who lives in West Baltimore but was visiting his niece in Westport, said he was walking to a relative's house and could see the wounded suspect lying on the ground moments before other officers sped to help. "He looked like a teenager," Hughes said.

Erica Rogers, who lives three streets from the crime scene, said she knows Lodge. She said that he and her son are friends, and that she sees him daily.

"He has never been disrespectful to me," Rogers said. "He speaks to me when I see him in the evening. I see him sometimes playing with his little nephew."

At Shock Trauma yesterday, Hemingway's friends and relatives gathered, waiting on news of his condition as police officers stood vigil outside the hospital.

Christopher Houser, a retired Baltimore police officer Hemingway helped when he was shot during an undercover drug operation nearly four years ago, rushed to the hospital from his Pennsylvania home to be with the officer's family.

"He's very even-keeled," Houser said of Hemingway. "He doesn't get too riled up about things."

Houser said he was with Hemingway's mother, father and sister at the hospital. "People are trying to stay upbeat," he said. "Everyone's exchanging stories about Dante. ... Most of them are funny."

Hemingway is among the 179 officers assigned to the department's Organized Crime Division, which targets drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling and other vice crimes.

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