Cops and bikers

Baltimore police officer killed outside a bar gets an unusual sendoff from his buddies

April 29, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun Reporter

Two rows of men, police officers and bikers, faced each other yesterday morning - lining the edges of Old Eastern Avenue as bagpipes played and city police carried the casket of Norman Stamp to a waiting hearse.

The police wore their dress uniforms to honor the death of the man who spent the past 44 years working for the city's Police Department.

The motorcycle riders wore the red cross of the Chosen Sons on their backs to signal their association with the motorcycle club that Stamp helped to found 39 years ago.

It was an unusual sendoff for a man who was one of the city's longest-serving police officers. Bikers from various clubs around the state outnumbered the uniformed police officers. Photographs on display showed Stamp doing daredevil stunts on police motorcycles, posing with various police weapons and drinking beer with a woman clad in a leather bikini.

The police commissioner and mayor listened as the audience cheered for a speaker who disputed the official account of how Stamp came to be shot by a fellow officer early Thursday.

Stamp was shot in the chest after police were called to quell a bar brawl at an East Baltimore strip club. Police say Stamp burst out of the bar, with brass knuckles on his fist, and failed to comply with verbal orders to stop from a uniformed officer.

The officer used a stun gun on Stamp, who then drew his gun, police said. The uniformed officer, John Torres, drew his own weapon and shot Stamp twice, hitting him at least once in the chest.

But Rick Mueller, a member of a pleasure club called Fat Boys, stood in front of Stamp's open casket and said: "Hopefully, with the help of the witnesses who were there that night, the truth will come out." Applause from the audience lasted 15 seconds. When it died down, he continued: "Procedure wasn't followed, but it was not Norm that failed."

Stamp's widow, Suzanne, sobbed as those words were spoken. Over the weekend she enlisted the help of two attorneys and a private investigator, Michael Van Nostrand Sr., to conduct an independent probe of the shooting.

Van Nostrand, reached by phone, had questions about that account: "Did he have the brass knuckles on as they say? How do you reach for a gun if you have knuckles on?"

Police recovered brass knuckles from the parking lot where the fight occurred.

Dozens of bouquets of flowers lined the inside of the funeral home. One was shaped like a motorcycle, another like a police shield and another like a heart. Stamp's black leather biker boots and his wooden nightstick stood next to his coffin. Two cigars, his motorcycle colors and his police motorcycle helmet rested near his body.

At the service, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III praised Stamp's 44-year career with the city but appeared to choose his words carefully.

"All of us have a spiritual calling to service and responsibility to service," he said. "How that manifests itself, what that looks like ... takes on many dimensions. Norm's calling was police service.

"He dedicated himself to that for 44 years. In that time, I'm absolutely convinced, he helped many, many people," Bealefeld said.

Paul Blair, president of the city's police union, knew Stamp and called him a good officer. Though Blair usually wears business suits to police events to signal his role as the union chief, this time he put on his dress uniform. "I said, I had to wear my colors," Blair said, making a reference to the many bikers in the audience who use colors to refer to the patches they wear on their backs.

"We call it the thin blue line," Blair said, adding that Stamp's police family holds him just as dear as Stamp's biker family.

The audience laughed when Blair referred to Stamp's time at the city police marine unit as Stamp's "private navy."

The ceremony was led by Sgt. Don Helms, a police chaplain, and was organized loosely, with various speakers telling stories about Stamp's life.

Timothy J. Haefner, a police officer in the Southeastern District, had trouble getting though his speech without crying. "There were so many words that described Norm," he said. As his voice cracked, some of the women in the audience asked for tissues.

"Norm lived his life to the fullest," Haefner said. "My heart is truly broken."

The first biker to speak was Reds Sullivan, president of the Chosen Sons, who thanked Stamp for starting the club and called him a mediator. "Call Stamp and he'd fix it," Sullivan said. Then, becoming emotional, Sullivan said: "I'm going to get out of here before I begin to cry."

Mueller, who spoke last, recalled one of Stamp's favorite police stories. He said Stamp pulled over a man in East Baltimore and the man, not realizing to whom he was talking, tried to get out of the ticket by saying he was a close friend of Norm Stamp.

Because Stamp's death was not considered to have been in the line of duty, he did not receive the full police honors afforded many officers who are killed. Those funerals usually tie up city streets for hours as processions of police cars roll to Dulaney Memorial Gardens. Instead, mourners yesterday were invited to the Chosen Sons' headquarters - a clubhouse that is about two blocks north from the strip club where Stamp was shot.

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