Suspect in killing jumps to his death at hospital

October 29, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN REPORTER

A man who confessed to fatally stabbing his ex-girlfriend, a Coppin State University student, slipped his handcuffs while being treated at Mercy Medical Center, fought with a police officer, and dived out a window yesterday, plunging 10 stories to his death, city police said.

Damon D. Smith, 27, was pronounced dead about 11:30 a.m., after hospital staff brought him to Mercy's emergency room.

Smith had been detained since Friday afternoon in connection with the homicide of Veronica Fludd, 26, who was found fatally stabbed in her home earlier that day. Smith confessed to killing her, police said.

"I don't think he was a bad person; I really don't," said Annie Pitts, 64, Fludd's aunt who let the South Carolina native live at her West Baltimore home while she attended Coppin. "It just was one of those relationships that wasn't smooth. I do believe he loved Veronica, and I think that was the problem. When she broke it off, he just couldn't handle it."

Pitts and her husband found Fludd dead at their home about 11 a.m. Friday. About 3:30 p.m. Friday, Maryland State Police detained Smith after he struck a pole while driving on an Interstate 795 ramp to Owings Mills Boulevard. Troopers discovered him with self-inflicted wounds and bloody socks.

Smith was turned over to homicide officers from Baltimore, who had been investigating the death of Fludd, an early-childhood education major at Coppin. Though police said Smith had confessed Friday night to killing Fludd, he had not yet been formally charged and booked for the crime, because he had to be hospitalized on three different occasions since his arrest, city police said.

Shortly after the car crash, Smith was treated at Sinai Hospital. After he was in city police custody, he was taken on two occasions to Mercy for medical evaluation.

Police officers were aware that Smith was a suicide risk and officers were watching him closely, according to Sterling Clifford, a city police spokesman. While Smith was being interviewed at police headquarters Saturday, police decided to take him to Mercy for evaluation. They took him back to the hospital later that day after he complained of discomfort while being processed at Central Booking and Intake Center, Clifford said. After the second visit to the medical facility, Smith was admitted.

About 11:20 a.m. yesterday, Smith -- who had one arm handcuffed to the bed and his feet restrained in leg irons -- was attempting to use a bedpan with his free hand, Clifford said. The officer who was guarding him helped him sit up in bed, he said.

Smith suddenly slipped his hand out of the handcuff, fought with the officer and tried to get his gun, Clifford said. With his leg irons still on, Smith ran out of the hospital room, struggled with the officer in the hallway, punched through a nearby window and then jumped to his death, according to Clifford.

"He was determined" to kill himself, Clifford said.

Relatives of Fludd previously told The Sun that Fludd and Smith had a "rocky relationship," which included instances in April where each filed a restraining order against the other. The orders were dismissed when neither showed up in court. In a dispute over a Honda vehicle, Smith was charged with second-degree assault against Fludd that same month, and given probation before judgment.

Last month, Fludd was in a car accident with the same car. About two weeks ago, Fludd told Smith that he needed to give the title to the Honda to the insurance company so that a settlement check could be issued, relatives said. That led to problems between them, relatives said.

Clifford said the officer who had been guarding Smith has worked for the Police Department for slightly more than a year. The officer, whose name was not released, was nearing the end of a 12-hour shift when Smith broke free, Clifford said.

According to the city Police Department's General Orders, officers who are guarding detainees in hospitals are supposed to "call medical personnel to provide for a patient's needs," and may not "obtain anything" for the detainees.

There are no specific written guidelines for how long an officer should guard a detainee at a hospital before being relieved by another officer, according to the department's regulations.

Clifford said that police investigators will look into whether the officer followed department protocols in guarding the detainee.

A Mercy hospital spokesman declined to comment and referred questions to the police.

Pitts said a funeral service is being planned for Fludd on Saturday in her hometown, Summerton, S.C.

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