Examiner editor charged with assault

May 25, 2007|By Doug Donovan and Peter Hermann | Doug Donovan and Peter Hermann,Sun reporters

Frank J. Keegan, editor of The Baltimore Examiner, was charged early yesterday with pointing a shotgun at a next-door neighbor and his family - including a 3-year-old girl - during a dispute over cigarette smoke.

Keegan, 58, was charged with three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to injure in connection with the Wednesday night incident. He was released from the Central Booking and Intake Center late yesterday afternoon after posting $75,000 bail. A trial was set for June 26.

Keegan's attorney, Charles N. Curlett Jr., said the incident is "based on a misunderstanding between neighbors."

"He is innocent of the charges against him," said Curlett, of the Saul Ewing firm in Baltimore. "The facts do not support these charges. He is very much looking forward to resolving the issues."

Police said in a detailed report that Keegan's neighbor, David P. Ayers, claimed to be engaged in an "ongoing dispute" with Keegan over cigarette smoke Ayers said was emanating from the editor's rowhouse. The two live next to each other in the first block of E. Montgomery St., an area of expensive red-brick rowhouses in Federal Hill.

About 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, police said Ayers, 38, complained that smoke from Keegan's house was causing his daughter, Sophie, to have trouble breathing. Ayers called for a paramedic, then, carrying his child and accompanied by his wife, Christine, went next door to "confront" Keegan, according to the police report.

Ayers told police that he "pounded" on Keegan's front door and heard someone say, "You [expletive] lunatics, get away from my door."

Ayers shouted back through a first-floor window, "Look at what you're doing to my daughter," according to the report.

Next, Ayers said he saw Keegan holding "what appeared" to be a long gun. Keegan "racked the gun in a manner consistent with a shotgun and shouldered the weapon, pointing it at the entire Ayers family from inside the house and behind the glass of the first-floor window," the report said.

"Mr. Ayers, still holding his daughter in his left arm, reportedly raised his right arm and said, `Whoa Whoa!' and backed away," the police report continued.

Once police arrived, they interviewed Keegan, who, according to the report, said he went downstairs after hearing the pounding on his door. He told police he saw Ayers and went back to bed. The report said Keegan made no mention of a shotgun at first.

"When asked if he pointed the shotgun at Mr. Ayers, Mr. Keegan changed his story" to say he did bring the weapon - a Remington 870 Wingmaster 12-gauge pump-action shotgun - with him to the door. But Keegan told police that he did not point it at Ayers and his family. He then took police to his second-floor bedroom closet where the gun was stored.

Officer David J. Devincentz said in the report that he decided to arrest Keegan because the Ayerses "would not have known that Mr. Keegan owned a shotgun unless they'd seen it."

The report said that police seized the weapon and found there was no round in the chamber, but that there were four rounds in a tubular magazine. Police also found and seized a German military P-38 9 mm pistol, the report said.

A state police spokesman said Keegan does not have permits for any weapons. The state does not require permits for weapons that are kept in the home or carried, unloaded, from home to firing ranges.

David Ayers, an employee at Under Armour, said his lawyers asked him not to comment. "I would rather not exacerbate the situation. It was shocking enough for us," he said.

The Examiner is a free tabloid launched in 2006 and owned by Clarity Media Group Inc., Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz's media company. Keegan was named editor in January 2006. He came to Baltimore after being fired as editor of the Connecticut Post, according to local news reports.

Michael Beatty, The Examiner's publisher, said in a statement that he had spoken to Keegan and reviewed the police report regarding his arrest.

"Like every citizen, Frank Keegan should be afforded the presumption of innocence as the judicial process moves forward," Beatty's statement said. "Frank Keegan is a valued and experienced editor of the Baltimore Examiner and we stand behind him. His employment will not be effected [sic] unless warranted by future events or findings."

Byron L. Warnken, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore, said prosecutors would probably try to prove the second-degree assault charge using an element of the law that prohibits actions intended to frighten by threatening the possibility of immediate harm.

Warnken said Keegan could defend himself by stating that it was reasonable to respond to someone "pounding" on his front door by bringing a weapon. The law permits such an action if a judge or jury finds the defendant's actions were justified.

"I could argue this case either way," Warnken said.

He added, however, that the prosecution could try to prove that once Keegan saw that it was his neighbors and their daughter he was not defending himself against harm.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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