'He Chose It. He Chose It.'

Dominic Baker Died At 16, A Victim Of The Streets And Of His Decisions

April 18, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

D'Arice Wicks Sr. isn't angry at the police or the government for the death of his 16-year-old grandson, Dominic Baker.

He isn't angry at the juvenile justice system that placed Dominic on home monitoring two weeks before the boy was found shot in the head on the second floor of a vacant rowhouse.

He isn't even angry at whoever pulled the trigger.

He's angry at Dominic.

Here was a kid who grew up without his mother or father in the picture, who lost his home and 2-year-old sister in an April 2007 house fire. A kid who got into drug dealing at age 14, was locked up a half-dozen times and dropped out of school.

But he also had a strong support system - hundreds squeezed into a tiny West Baltimore church on Friday for his funeral - and none was more important than Wicks, his grandfather whom he called "Dad." Wicks himself turned his life around to become a pastor after kicking an addiction to heroin, and he often reminded his grandson about the importance of making the right choices.

"People look to the government to do everything," said Wicks, 55, whose arms bear the scars and abscesses of years of drug addiction. "But our kids have to listen. We have to be an example. Just because you're poor doesn't mean you have to do wrong."

Committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Services last summer, Dominic was released and in January enrolled at Baltimore City Community College to work on his GED. After a month his attendance was spotty at best. Caseworkers gave him two weeks to turn it around.

On Feb. 28, while riding his bicycle in the Mondawmin neighborhood, Dominic was stabbed in the neck and taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Wicks visited the boy in the hospital. Dominic was crying. "He tried to kill me," Dominic told his grandfather. Perhaps the boy had finally received a wake-up call. Whatever he was mixed up in, it wasn't a game, and now he had a scar to prove it.

Caseworkers were so concerned about the stabbing that they called a meeting with Dominic to inform him that they planned to recommend that he be detained.

The boy asked to use the bathroom. He ran off.

A warrant was issued, and he was arrested six days later, on March 11. Detained at the Juvenile Justice Center in the infirmary, where he was still recovering from the stabbing, he appeared before a juvenile master. Juvenile Services recommended that he stay in detention pending placement in a facility, or at least until a safety plan could be developed.

Maryland's juvenile court stresses the least restrictive option possible, emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment. That's not what Dominic needed, his grandfather said.

"They try to help them. They try to give them breaks," Wicks said. "Dominic needed to be locked up."

The master ordered that he be placed on community detention - home monitoring with a GPS device placed around his ankle. Dominic was allowed to leave only to attend BCCC and the Mountain Manor treatment facility. In the meantime, he kept appearing every second Saturday of the month at the church across the street from his home, where he played drums for the youth choir.

He was to be locked up the first time he stepped out of line, with a review scheduled in a month.

Dominic cut off the ankle bracelet on March 28 and ran away.

On April 8, Lt. Sean Mahoney, of the Tri-District Initiative, reported that one of his officers had been in touch with a confidential informant who said that there was a body in a vacant rowhouse on Wilkens Avenue. The dead male carried no identification and had been shot in the head.

It is unclear whether Dominic was shot in the home or whether his body was dumped there, or if he had been staying in the vacant building.

"In this instance, the police and every other juvenile justice partner did all we could to prevent a high-risk youth from becoming a victim of violence," said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

The vacant home is just a half-mile from the South Payson Street home that burned down in 2007 with Dominic's young sister, Breanna, inside. Wicks said the family took the tragedy hard, but they got through it together. As for how Dominic got involved in drugs, Wicks said the answer is simple yet frustrating.

"Look around you," Wicks said, outstretching his hands.

"All I have to do is go that way, or that way, or that way. There's probably people selling right there," he said, pointing to people down the street. ... "It's all about decisions."

More than 300 people, including employees from the city's Operation Safe Kids program and children in school uniforms, crammed into the Church of the Living God on Walbrook Avenue, with those who couldn't find seats spilling out into the streets after paying their respects. Women wailed; hardened teenage boys welled up with tears. The leader of the youth choir said Dominic "wasn't perfect; none of us are."

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