Police advise crime victim to move

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

December 19, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Linda Dennis doesn't want to move.

Sadly, it might be her only choice.

She says she has received more threats since the windows of her two cars were shattered because of her refusal to sell her aging white Volvo sedan to a drug dealer in her neighborhood near Pimlico Race Course.

Dennis discovered the damage Tuesday morning, and I found her while headed to a fatal shooting two blocks away. She talked to me - feeling that going public was the only way to get attention - dealt with her insurance company, got a rental car and drove to the Pennsylvania line to her job as a home health aide.

She returned home about 11 that night.

"I pulled up, and there were all kinds of cars and trucks in front of my house," Dennis told me yesterday when I called to make sure she was OK. "Guys were standing in the street. When I tried to park, one of them came up to me and said they had a bullet with my name on it."

Dennis said she sped off to the Northwestern District police station and got an escort home. When I called yesterday, she was talking with two Baltimore police officers from the Community Services Division. Officer Keith Harrison was trying to persuade her to move, at least for a while.

"I understand that she doesn't want to go," Harrison told me. "Ms. Dennis paid for her house and she doesn't want to be chased out of her community."

Harrison is assigned to Lt. Col. Rick Hite, who works with the city's youth and heads the department's Community Services Division. I met Hite in 1996 when he was a sergeant in the Eastern District and decided one day that loiterers had taken over the corners.

I went out with him as he rounded up kids and sent them to Central Booking in the back of a wagon. That most were released a few hours later didn't matter. The Eastern District was sending a message. Hite told one: "One way or another, we will get you to understand."

Twelve years later, I don't think the message has sunk in.

Hite told me yesterday that he watched the video clip of Dennis on The Baltimore Sun's Internet site "and felt compelled to get involved."

He sent two of his officers to Dennis' rowhouse, the house in which she grew up, moved away from and returned to so that her ailing mother could die at home. Instead of shade trees and friendly neighbors, she found police surveillance cameras and drug dealers.

"We need to send a message that that is unacceptable," Hite told me yesterday. "If you threaten one of our citizens, you threaten all of us. We need to have a caring spirit and try to help her, but we also have to show that this urban terrorism can't be tolerated. We can't have people terrorizing the good, hardworking citizens of our city, not in a civil society."

Dennis has told me she is out of money, having spent her inheritance from her late husband renovating her house and making repairs after vandals set it on fire, burglarized it and repeatedly damaged her cars, all because she admonishes the dealers not to hide their drugs on her front lawn.

Hite said he wants to help Dennis feel comfortable in her home. That might mean putting her in a hotel until police can investigate and maybe make arrests so she can return later. It might mean finding a relative with whom she can stay. Hite noted that perceptions of safety are relative; some people on Queensberry have bars on their windows or alarms; others don't.

"I believe that she feels threatened," he told me. "We have an obligation to help her as much as we can." The colonel added that he has received calls from some of Hite's neighbors and a minister who are offering to help. "This whole idea of not getting involved is starting to wane a bit," he said.

Harrison said that police have just begun to investigate her complaints. There's a police camera a half-block from where Dennis lives, but no word yet on whether it caught the vandals or the drug dealing Dennis says goes on nightly outside her front door.

The police officer who responded Tuesday to the smashed car windows wrote up two reports - one for each car. He heard Dennis' rant about the drug dealers and her complaints she says have gone nowhere, about how scared she is and how she fears she will end up dead.

The report doesn't get into any of that. It is succinct and official-sounding, noting the broken glass and ending: "No suspect info available or witnesses." Perhaps the supplemental report, which is not public, puts her concerns on the official record, so that when someone checks it is not dismissed as another nuisance complaint about broken windows.

Dennis asked me for help. She wants Barack Obama to hear her story when he visits Baltimore next month, three days before the inauguration. She wanted to know how to get in touch with him when he arrives.

I had no idea what to tell her.

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