Suspect held in shooting

As officer heals, police seek link to store robberies

December 16, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin and Nick Shields | Jennifer McMenamin and Nick Shields,Sun Reporters

As the health of a wounded Baltimore County police officer continued to improve yesterday, a Baltimore man charged with attempted murder in the officer's shooting was ordered held without bail at the county jail.

Vernon E. Brown III, 34, was also charged with the early-morning attempted armed robbery of a Super Fresh store Thursday that preceded the shooting, and authorities said they were trying to determine whether he was involved in six similar grocery store robberies in Baltimore County this year.

Another suspect in the attempted robbery at the Super Fresh, identified yesterday as Learnold A. Jones, 33, was the man who shot and wounded Officer David T. Garner on Thursday, authorities said. Jones was shot and killed during an exchange of gunfire with officers who had cornered him in a shed a couple of blocks from the supermarket.

Brown, who is Jones' cousin, had apparently been arrested by police when bullets were fired between Jones and officers moving in on the shed. But because he allegedly took part in the attempted robbery of the store with Jones, police have charged Brown in the police officer's shooting as well.

"I can't think of anything that we take more seriously or would want to more aggressively pursue than someone who injured someone who's out there protecting the rest of us," county prosecutor John Cox said after Brown's bail review hearing in Towson.

The prosecutor said additional charges will likely be filed as investigators review this case and similar unsolved grocery store robberies. When police searched Brown's Ford Expedition, they found black and camouflage masks, high-powered binoculars, a walkie-talkie and more than 30 plastic zip ties, Cox said.

In some of the earlier robberies, employees and customers told police that masked gunmen cuffed their hands with plastic zip ties, charging documents show.

Garner, a decorated veteran officer who has served in the department's canine unit for the past 12 of his 16 years on the force, was the third area police officer shot in 10 days. Authorities said that the condition of the 39-year-old officer had improved and that he was taken off a ventilator last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"He was able to talk to his wife and his family. He seems to be doing well," said Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman. "Doctors, although cautious, are optimistic about his recovery."

Both Garner and Maryland State Police Tfc. Eric D. Workman, 36, who was shot Tuesday during a raid at a Baltimore County home, were in serious condition, a Shock Trauma spokeswoman said last night.

Baltimore Police Officer Momodu Gondo, 24, who was shot three times in the back Dec. 5 during a holdup outside his city home, was released from Shock Trauma on Thursday.

With his ankles shackled and his wrists cuffed to two other prisoners, Brown appeared in District Court in Towson yesterday for his bail review hearing. Asked if he had anything to say about the $5 million bail set early yesterday by a court commissioner, Brown responded, "I can't afford it."

A court official told the judge that Brown, a city trash collector who had been living with a girlfriend in the 700 block of S. Bond St., was not on parole or probation, has no pending criminal cases and has one conviction on his record - on a 1991 charge of carrying a handgun, for which he received two years' probation.

District Judge Barbara R. Jung revoked the bail that had been set about nine hours earlier, ordering that Brown be held while awaiting trial. In addition to the attempted second-degree murder and attempted armed robbery charges, he also faces two counts of first-degree assault in the holdup of a customer and a cashier at the Super Fresh store.

Brown has worked as a garbage man since October 2000 and had been assigned to the southeastern district, a city public works spokesman confirmed.

Jones, the suspect who was killed, was released from prison in April 2004, having served 14 years of a 20-year term for an assault and armed robbery in Baltimore, according to a spokesman for the state's Division of Correction.

Jones' criminal record includes a 1991 conviction for burglary in the city. He was fined $115 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but the 67 days he spent in jail awaiting trial suspended, court records show.

He was stopped at least six times for speeding in the past 16 months in three different vehicles, according to court records.

No one answered the door yesterday afternoon at the townhouse on Damsel Road in Essex where police say Jones had lived.

The robbery attempt at the Super Fresh began about 6:50 Thursday morning. An undercover detective staking out the supermarket noticed two men walk to the rear of the store, followed them in his car but lost sight of them in the dense morning fog, according to charging documents.

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