Shots defended, and yet regretted

Shop owner uneasy day after shooting robber

June 13, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun Reporter

The phone in Harry Goodman's tiny Charles Village dry cleaners kept ringing yesterday.

First it was a woman who works across the street. Then a former employee. Next the TV news stations.

"Yes," he told one person. "I appreciate that. No, I'm glad he's alive."

He put down the phone and, blue eyes filling with tears, said: "This has got to stop. I didn't want to kill that man."

Goodman shot and wounded a man Wednesday afternoon who he said was wielding a knife and trying to rob his store on St. Paul Street, a store he has owned for 28 years. The same man had successfully robbed the place three times before over the past two years, he said.

The fourth robbery occurred about 1:45 p.m. when a man walked into the store. He said nothing but held a knife in his right hand and pulled $46 from the cash register with his left hand, according to the police report.

Goodman reached under the register, grabbed a revolver and shot the robber once, the reports says.

"OK, you got me, now put the gun down," police said the robber told Goodman. Police said the robber went behind the counter and wrestled with Goodman. The owner shot the man a second time.

"OK, don't shoot me again, I'll leave," the robber said, according to the report. But police said the man kept coming at Goodman, who fired a third time.

The robber made it up the stairs of the shop and asked a passer-by to call him a cab, police said. Instead, that person called 911 as the robber collapsed on the sidewalk.

The wounded man, whose name has not been released, was in serious condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center with injuries to his hand, arm and hip.

Standing up to an armed robber might be seen as heroic, but Goodman said he didn't want his actions glorified.

"I did feel my life was threatened," he said, sitting behind the desk at the basement-level store. "But I don't want people to think this is the way out. This isn't a vigilante thing." He said he hopes the robber recovers fully and wants more than anything to simply ask him, "Why?"

Goodman's St. Paul Cleaners is on the southern corner of St. Paul and 32nd streets in the commercial heart of one of the city's premier neighborhoods, surrounded by the Johns Hopkins University, upscale boutiques and the new Barnes and Nobles bookstore. The cleaning store shares an entrance with a store that sells vegetable-flavored ice cream.

There are two other dry cleaners in the area - including Standard Cleaning and Tailor, which was robbed June 3, according to owner June Palk. That day, she forgot to lock her door, and a man came in and walked straight for the register. He got away, and she hasn't seen him again, she said.

"This is terrible," she said yesterday. "How are we going to live like this? It is a nightmare."

She said she was nearly robbed again Wednesday. She refused to open her door for a man, and she said she thinks he went across the street to Goodman's store.

"He looked funny," Palk said. "When I looked at him, I'd never seen him before. I know most of my customers." The man was wearing a white T-shirt and dark pants and had a beard, which matches the description of the man Goodman shot.

Goodman is a private person and the father of three. He loathed the idea of fueling media interest in his story and said he hoped to shield his family from questions about the shooting.

But the circumstances hit a nerve in a city that, even with recent declines in shootings and homicides, is troubled by violence. Robberies are up from 1,605 at this time last year to 1,659 this year, according to police. There have been 39 robberies in Charles Village this year, police said.

Goodman is a stout man with blond hair and a light beard. He spoke thoughtfully and firmly but was unafraid of showing emotion. He said over and over that he didn't want to kill a man over a fistful of bills. "It's not really worth it over money," he said. "I thought my life was in danger."

Goodman had reason to fear for his life. The first time the robber came into the store two years ago, the man claimed to have a gun. "He said, 'If you move, I'm going to shoot you,'" Goodman recalled.

"We know each other," Goodman said of the robber. "The second time he came in, he said, 'You know what this is.'" That time, the robber flashed a knife.

By the third time, the robber was bolder. He forced Goodman to lie on the ground in a back room. That time, Goodman really thought his life was over, but a customer happened to walk in and Goodman yelled to call 911, and the robber fled. Police were combing their records yesterday to find information on the earlier robberies.

After shooting the man with a revolver that he has owned for about 20 years in the latest robbery Wednesday, Goodman called 911 and then went into shock. He was treated at Union Memorial Hospital but was released and went back to work Wednesday morning.

He scrubbed the floor with bleach to get the blood out. But there is still blood on the sidewalk in front of his store, which makes him sad. His datebook was splattered.

"It is therapeutic to work," he explained of his decision to reopen a day after the incident.

Yesterday, he was still shaken by what happened and was appalled that people were congratulating him.

"It's not something that I would recommend for most people," he said. "I was struggling with the gun. How about if he took it away and used it on me?"

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