2 Baltimore officers shot during traffic stop

March 22, 2010|By Susan Reimer

An early Sunday morning shooting that left two police officers injured and a suspect dead is the latest stain on a part of the city trying to improve its image after a dozen people were shot at a barbecue last summer.

"We've been working toward changing the mind-set and changing the community," said McElderry Park Community Association President Ernest Smith, as the two city police officers remained hospitalized, recovering from their wounds. "As these things, these numbers, begin to go up again, it's a concern. It's quite discouraging."

The latest incident occurred after three officers, making a traffic stop, thought they smelled drugs. They were in the process of arresting the car's three occupants when the driver grabbed a gun from his car and fired at them -- wounding one in the finger and another in a cheek.

All three officers returned fire.Neither their names, nor the names and addresses of the three occupants of the car have been released.

But police said they will continue to devote resources to McElderry and the surrounding area -- as they have done since last summer.

"It is a reminder that we need to stay focused," Robert Cherry, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore, said Sunday after leaving the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where the two injured officers were undergoing surgery.

An exasperated Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III didn't mince words when he referred to the shooting suspect as an "idiot."

"These guys are walking and riding around the streets of Baltimore armed," the commissioner said. "They pose an incredible danger to all of us."

The shootings are a vivid illustration of the need for the department's Monument Street Initiative, Cherry said. The year-old effort focuses police resources on the dangerous corridor that forms a border between East and Southeast Baltimore and between the city and Baltimore County.

The shooting occurred just after midnight Sunday morning, when police said three plainclothes officers stopped a car in the 2600 block of McElderry St. The car, a Chevy Caprice with three occupants, was driving next to another car, police said.

Smelling marijuana, the officers found the drug in the car while conducting a search and were arresting the three occupants when the driver broke free, jumped back in the car and grabbed a 22-caliber semiautomatic handgun, police said. He started shooting and all three officers opened fire.

"It defies logic," Bealefeld said, that anyone would dive back into his car to retrieve a gun while surrounded by armed police officers.

The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene; he remains unidentified until next of kin are notified.

"These officers stopped a vehicle and someone in that vehicle had a gun and was willing to use it," Cherry said. "If they are willing to use it against three armed police officers, what is going to stop them from using it on someone else?"

A bullet in the 34-year-old officer's cheek broke his jaw. A 23-year-old officer, shot in the hand, nearly lost a finger. Neither lost consciousness during the ordeal and both were able to speak with family before undergoing surgery. Cherry said both were in good spirits and expected to recover from their wounds and return to duty.

Baltimore police began to focus efforts to get weapons off the streets in this part of the city after a horrific shooting last summer in which a dozen people were wounded while attending a cookout in the 2600 block of Ashland Ave. in the Madison-East End community.

"[These] shootings are another reminder that the city has a long way to go in terms of removing those violent men from our streets," Cherry said. Bealefeld acknowledged that some might object to his calling the suspect an idiot and "a maniac."

"The adjectives can't be harsh enough. And the penalties can't be harsh enough," Bealefeld said. "We remain resolute and we will be back out there tonight." Sunday's was the second police shooting during Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's brief tenure. She has asked the General Assembly for stronger gun laws.

"We have to do more in our state courts and we need the help of the legislature," Rawlings-Blake said.

Both of the wounded officers have only a year of service in the department.

The other two occupants of the car were detained but not charged.

Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this article.

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