2 crimes linked by 1 suspect

Some police say failure to look into carjacking left man free to kill officer

August 04, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

Donta Robinson and Jamal Carter had just parked their car in West Forest Park when a man with a gun came up and yelled, "Get down."

The gunman took Robinson's wallet and keys, and drove away with his 2005 Mercury.

Robinson rushed to a neighbor's house and called the police. Officers found Robinson's car a few blocks away, but they didn't find a suspect. They also didn't take a report, dismissing the complaint as unfounded.

That was Jan. 5.

Four days later, police believe, the same gunman killed Officer Troy Chesley in a shootout that took place blocks away from the carjacking.

Brandon Grimes, 22, has been charged with the Jan. 5 carjacking and the Jan. 9 slaying of Chesley. The link between the two cases was first reported this week by WBAL-TV.

In the aftermath of Chesley's death, some in the department have pointed to the failure to report the carjacking as a missed opportunity to catch Grimes. Paul Blair, the police union president, said that this incident was the result of pressure officers feel to downgrade crime.

Sterling Clifford, a police spokesman, said commanders do not want crimes to be downgraded and said he doesn't believe the officers who investigated the Jan. 5 carjacking did anything improper.

"The officers made a determination based on what they saw in front of them, that the report [of a carjacking] was unfounded," Clifford said. "Officers on the scene did what they could with the information they had. Later on we got more information and the report changed."

The carjacking was uncovered when Detective Richard Purtell, a homicide detective investigating Chesley's death, was re-examining evidence and came across a wallet with Donta Robinson's credit card and driver's license from the van allegedly used as the getaway car for the suspect in Chesley's shooting.

Detectives reached out to Robinson, looking into the possibility that he was another Grimes victim, according to a homicide report. They discovered that there were three unauthorized charges on Robinson's credit card and that his friend, Jamal Carter, had been pistol-whipped during the carjacking.

On Jan 31, Robinson went to the fifth floor of police headquarters and sat for a taped interview with homicide detectives, where he painted a scenario that is eerily similar to the one that unfolded when Chesley was killed.

Robinson was carjacked on the 4200 block of Bonner Road, and Chesley was killed on the 4500 block of Fairfax Road.

Robinson said that the suspect's gun had a "beam" on it. Police recovered a Sig Sauer handgun customized with a laser targeting device four days later from the yard where Chesley was killed.

That report also says that Robinson saw a green van with tinted windows and a "for sale" sign in the rear drive away from the scene. Police said Grimes was driven away from the slaying scene in a van with the same description. Police found Grimes' bloody wallet in the green van, along with Robinson's credit cards, watch and digital camera, according to police documents.

The same day that homicide detectives interviewed Robinson, 26 days after he was carjacked, a detective assigned to the Northwestern District wrote an incident report.

That report provides a sketch of what happened on Jan. 5, and also notes that Robinson "stopped cooperating with the investigation" when he learned that his car would need to be towed and processed by the crime lab.

Clifford, the police spokesman, said: "I'm not going to second-guess the judgment of the officers who responded. I don't think anyone is in the position to do that."

Robinson could not be located. The car that he was driving belongs to Patricia Dixon, a woman with whom Robinson once lived.

Reached yesterday, Dixon declined to be interviewed. "He doesn't live here anymore," she said. "I'm not interested in it."

Grimes is scheduled to go on trial for the armed robbery charge on Sept. 11.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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