Delay in case of 8-year-old with gun angers Baltimore police

School system waited until a day after arrest

March 09, 2010|By Peter Hermann |

School police who arrested an 8-year-old boy Thursday and charged him with bringing a loaded handgun to a South Baltimore elementary school purposely did not notify the Baltimore Police Department until the next day, which city police say impeded efforts to find out how the child got the weapon and whether any adults should be held responsible.

Four days after the third-grade student was arrested at Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School, city police said they had not yet traced the .380-caliber handgun to determine who owns it and have few leads on how the child obtained it and secreted it in his book bag.

The delay meant it took 28 hours for city police detectives to get to the child's house in North Baltimore, and police officials say that a search by that time was all but useless. It was not clear Monday night whether police had gotten inside the child's home.

Officials said that in most cases, school police immediately inform city police of a breaking crime, but this one was treated differently because the suspect was a third-grader with special needs.

Edie House, a school system spokeswoman, issued a statement saying city police were kept in the dark on purpose. The statement says school police concentrated Thursday on securing the weapon, making sure the school was safe and trying to figure out how to appropriately deal with an 8-year-old.

House said in the statement that school officials first notified the city police's Southern District on Friday and provided a copy of the arrest report.

"School police and city police have a very good working relationship and are diligent about keeping everyone informed," the statement reads. "However, due to the sensitivity of this particular case, numerous factors required consideration prior to taking action."

The Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said that he could not comment on the investigation but that detectives "are making progress in the case."

City police officials, including four top department commanders, spoke on the condition they not be named because publicly criticizing another law enforcement agency is considered poor form and politically unwise.

School police work for the school system and are a separate agency from the 3,000-member Baltimore Police Department. There is no written requirement that the two agencies share information, but they often work together and use the city Police Department's vast investigative resources on serious cases.

But several top city police commanders were angry that they were first informed of Thursday's gun arrest on Friday.

Some high-ranking police officials said they first learned of the arrest from the media, while other sources said the Southern District commander received a wake-up call Friday morning, even though he was at work Thursday as the arrest was made.

And while school police handled the incident on school property, as they are required to do, city police are taxed with finding out more information about the .380-caliber handgun.

They said the delay in being told of the arrest makes their job more difficult, if not impossible, and that they will be blamed if they fail to learn enough new details to file additional charges.

City police also said the youngster was too quickly taken to the Department of Juvenile Services, where he was placed on community detention.

Police sources who have read the arrest report noted that it said the child took the gun to school in his backpack because he was having a dispute with a classmate.

A Baltimore police commander said that detectives should have had time to "dig a little deeper" into that aspect of the case and that they aren't sure whether school police interviewed the classmate or determined whether that student had or had access to a weapon, or whether the classmate had information about the 8-year-old's gun.

According to a police source reading from the school system report, the arrested child told authorities he "didn't know how the gun got into his bag."

The source said an interrogation immediately after the arrest - "for the shock value" - might have produced fruitful leads.

Sharp-Leadenhall is a small school for special-needs children between Federal Hill and M&T Bank Stadium. Just 66 students are enrolled there.

Authorities said staff thought the boy was acting suspiciously and monitored him until they decided to search his backpack and found the gun.

A police source said the boy was overheard threatening another student, saying, "I got something for you."

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