Suspect in killing has long record

Man, 21, charged with police officer's slaying has been arrested often, convicted several times

January 10, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey | Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey,Sun reporters

A 21-year-old man with at least 17 arrests on his criminal record was charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the killing of an off-duty Baltimore police officer during an apparent robbery attempt outside the officer's girlfriend's home in Northwest Baltimore.

The suspect, Brandon Grimes, was being held under police guard at a city hospital, recovering from a leg wound that police said was sustained during an early-morning gunbattle with Detective Troy Lamont Chesley Sr., 34, who was struck several times and died at Sinai Hospital.

Police said Grimes escaped in the chaotic moments after the 1:20 a.m. shooting on a quiet street in West Forest Park that left cars and houses pockmarked by bullets.

Detectives closed in on the suspect after they learned someone had been admitted to St. Agnes Hospital with a gunshot injury. Police said they recovered key evidence, including a handgun and blood from the scene that did not belong to the officer.

The day - in which the city's homicide total for this year rose to 13 - left Baltimore officers grieving and frustrated over Grimes' extensive record of arrests. Despite several convictions, he had not spent significant time in prison.

Col. Fred H. Bealefeld III, chief of detectives, noted that Grimes had been arrested twice within the past year for handgun violations; court records show those cases are pending.

"This is the third gun Brandon Grimes has had in his possession in less than a year," Bealefeld said. "We took two of them away from him. It's extraordinary, to say the least. This is the sort of mayhem and craziness we see all too often."

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said that officials who participate in the city's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council - a group of elected officials, law enforcement agency representatives and others - "need to start getting serious about getting people off the street."

Hamm said Grimes' 17 arrests occurred over the past 3 1/2 years. "I think that what has to happen is that the city of Baltimore has to get fed up, because we are fed up," he said.

Asked about the city's stubborn homicide rate, the commissioner said: "When this pager goes off at night telling me someone's been killed in this city, I die a little bit. Everybody dies a little bit."

The officer's death highlighted another pervasive problem that city police have struggled with over the past year: robberies. In 2006, according to preliminary figures through mid-December, the city saw a roughly 8 percent spike in robberies - an increase that mirrored a troubling national trend.

Chesley was attacked in the 4500 block of Fairfax Road, outside his girlfriend's house. Less than two months ago, and two blocks away, Andre Alexander, 21, was killed in front of his house by someone who shot him about 1:25 a.m. and then ran away.

Police officials said yesterday that they are looking at that case - which remains open - to see if there are any similarities to yesterday's shooting, which left residents once again stunned.

Kelly Lloyd, a neighbor who lives in the block, said she heard nine or 10 gunshots in what is a usually quiet neighborhood. "I was shocked," she said. "I thought it was firecrackers. They shot a lot of times."

Chesley, who was in plain clothes and not wearing body armor, was pronounced dead soon after his arrival at Sinai, police said. Police said they believe that the suspect, after getting shot in the lower leg, limped away from the scene and was taken to St. Agnes Hospital by other unidentified people in a minivan. His condition was not available.

Police said it was too early to determine whether other people would be charged in the slaying.

Chesley, a Baltimore native, joined the Police Department in 1993. He served in the Western and Northwestern districts, and later in tactical and organized crime units. Most recently, he worked in the department's public housing section, doing undercover drug investigations in the some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods.

Relatives of Chesley declined to comment.

Law enforcement officials yesterday scrambled to understand and explain Grimes' extensive and convoluted criminal record. The city state's attorney's office released a timeline that showed Grimes pleading guilty to car theft in February 2004 and receiving a 10-year sentence. But that sentence was almost entirely suspended, and Grimes was put on probation.

A separate hearing last May on his violating an earlier probation led a city judge to sentence Grimes to four concurrent sentences of six months; after Grimes served that sentence, his case was closed and his probation was terminated by a judge, court records show, though the reason for that disposition could not be determined yesterday.

A handwritten letter that Grimes wrote to the judge before the sentencing indicated that he has a young son and had been working toward a high school graduate equivalency diploma. He asked the judge for leniency, because his son needed him in his life.

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