Endless Refrain Of 'Bad Guy With A Gun'

CRIME BEAT

Crime Scenes

Brooklyn Shootings Stir Frustration Among Police

December 16, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Michael Sidney Guest Jr. shot Jamal Taylor above the right eye with a .38-caliber revolver on Aug. 8, 1993.

The killing occurred during an argument among teenagers inside an apartment on Forest Park Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. Both Taylor and Guest were 15.

But Michael Sidney Guest Jr. didn't spend a lot of time in prison.

His case file is convoluted, but boiled down, it shows he served just five years behind bars for second-degree murder.

Sounding a familiar refrain, court records show Guest spent his short life ricocheting from the streets to drugs to police to judges to prison cells - and back to the streets again.

He was on the street Monday afternoon, on Patapsco Avenue in front of the District Court building in Brooklyn, where police said he shot two people in the legs before officers shot him in the chest. Guest's revolving-door trips through justice stopped a few hours later when he died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

When he was shot, it was one of the brief moments in Guest's life when he was not locked up, was not on parole or probation, was not on electronic monitoring, was not on house arrest.

And for law enforcement, that makes the case even more frustrating. He had taken a life, held a gun and dealt drugs, among many other crimes for which he was convicted over his 32 years, and he had done all the time the law required.

"It raises a lot of questions in my mind about the value of life, and the sentences that people in this city serve compared to what people in Baltimore County and surrounding jurisdictions get," city police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said Tuesday.

"We can't ignore that, and the citizens of Baltimore shouldn't ignore that," he said. "This is not some new revelation that Fred Bealefeld is drawing attention to - it's something that every cop and every citizen in this city knows."

Bealefeld had expressed frustration Monday while standing on Patapsco Avenue, when all he knew was that his officers had confronted a gunman shooting people on a busy street at lunchtime near a courthouse. That was before he knew the shooter had been convicted of murder and was still walking the streets.

By Tuesday, he was in a full rage.

"I don't expect citizens to be marching in the streets or the judges to run out of the Patapsco courthouse and say, 'Damn you for firing these shots,' " he said. "If we're really gonna get serious about it, we need many, many more people to get really serious about this one issue."

As if to underscore his point, a few minutes later Bealefeld sped to another police shooting. Another bad guy with a gun, on probation in an armed robbery case and being sought in another holdup, fired at officers with a .50-caliber handgun and was shot and killed.

Trying to understand how and why Bealefeld's "bad guy with a gun" was on Patapsco Avenue in the first place is not easy.

Guest's court file was sent long ago to the archives in Annapolis and couldn't immediately be retrieved. Two judges who handled the murder case have retired, and one who was reached at his home said he couldn't remember the case. Guest's record had to be pieced together from law enforcement sources; Maryland law bars state prison officials from explaining past criminal history to the public.

According to a brief account in The Baltimore Sun in 1993, Jamal Taylor was shot in his own apartment during an argument among six youths. Police originally thought Guest had pulled the trigger accidentally, but they later decided to charge him with murder.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and a handgun violation. But the judge held off on imposing a 13-year sentence for murder. Guest served about a year of his three-year sentence on the handgun conviction and was released in 1994.

Five years later, police arrested Guest on a drug distribution charge, and he was subsequently found guilty. A different judge sentenced Guest to eight years in prison and, because the charge also constituted a probation violation, imposed the original 13-year sentence for the murder.

It would seem that Guest was receiving no more breaks. But the judge folded the eight years for drugs into the 13 years for murder, and he suspended four years. That meant the total sentence for the old murder and the new drug conviction totaled nine years. With credits earned for work and education, Guest walked out of prison in May 2005.

Guest returned to prison in July 2006 for drug possession. He was sentenced to three years but was out in March 2007.

And that's what frustrates top lawmen like Bealefeld. His officers risk their lives to protect citizens from the same people over and over again.

"You don't hear me crusading about drugs in America, or about a lot of other stuff," he said. "But damn it, if we're gonna make this city safe, every single person with a love or passion for this place has to be serious about bad guys with guns. If there's zero tolerance for anything, it's got to be around guns."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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