Thirty-four years later, man shot by city police dies

Prison work detail escapee reportedly swung hatchet at officer in 1975

April 27, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Thirty-four years after he was shot by Baltimore police for swinging a hatchet at an officer, a 62-year-old city man has died as a result of his wounds, according to police and the medical examiner's office.

Police said James Cornelius Watkins died March 12 at Northwest Hospital Center from sepsis. He had been paralyzed and held at a care facility since he was shot Dec. 3, 1975, after escaping from a prison work crew and committing a home invasion. According to reports from the time, he lunged at an officer and was shot in the chest.

For the moment, his death counts as a homicide, with the medical examiner determining that his health complications stemmed from the shooting. However, such cases are typically cleared from the city's murder tally as a "justifiable" homicide.

Watkins was serving 20 years at the Hagerstown Correctional Camp for rape when he escaped from a work crew at the East Monument Street landfill.

Police said at the time that Watkins and another man went to an apartment in the 4100 block of Belvieu Ave. in Northwest Baltimore, displayed money and asked, "Where's the stuff at?" One of the men then pulled a hatchet and struck one of the victims in the head.

Officer Richard Boronyak arrived in front of the apartment building, and one of the victims pointed to the two suspects. Watkins approached the officer with a hatchet raised over his head, Boronyak told The Baltimore Sun.

"He was coming at me like lightning. My head was thrown back when he lunged at me with the hatchet and he must have grazed me," Boronyak said. "I shot him once and he was down on the ground. When a man's bearing an ax down on your head, you cut him off."

Ten years later, Boronyak, as a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, was first on the scene after Detective Marcellus "Marty" Ward was fatally shot during an undercover drug buy. Boronyak exchanged fire in a stairwell with the suspect, Lascell Simmons, and received powder burns to his face and hands. Police and federal agents commemorated the 25tth anniversary of Ward's death at a ceremony in December.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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