Crime Scenes: Feds take over downtown shooting case

Video cameras capture shooting from inception to completion

October 27, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The video surveillance camera captured security guards ejecting two groups of men who had gotten into a fight inside the Velvet Rope, a nightclub on Redwood Street near Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Cameras recorded two of the men as they walked to South and Water streets, where they met with a man standing near a white Chevrolet van at the curb, according to law enforcement authorities. Police said they watched on video as the driver directed the men to a "specific part of the front engine compartment" and removed an object.

That account is according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court that offers new details of a 1 a.m. shooting in March that angered police, who called for the club to be closed, and revived concerns about downtown safety.

Federal authorities have taken over the case, and newly filed court papers give a vivid account of a downtown shooting captured from inception to completion by a bevy of surveillance cameras that blanket city streets near the waterfront promenade.

The court documents say cameras caught the two men as they walked from the van south on South Street, tailing the men they had fought with at the club. They ended at the southeast corner of Lombard and Light streets, where police said they hid in an alley off Grant Street.

Authorities said in the court documents that a camera captured one man "lifting up his shirt and turning toward" his partner, giving something to him. That man then walked out of the alley, talking on a cell phone with his left hand and "holding what appears to be a firearm in his right hand," the court papers say.

The gunman "is then observed raising his right hand and discharging the pistol twice in the direction of the victim" the documents say. The man was struck in the lower left leg, and another man suffered a graze wound. Police said they found a Taurus Model PT .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun in an air vent near the alley and two .45-caliber shell casings at the northwest corner of Grant and Lombard streets.

Two suspects were arrested and charged by state prosecutors with attempted murder and gun crimes. They were identified as Matthew Craighead, 26, of Oakmont Avenue, and Troy Ayers, 27, of Meadowwood Court. Both suspects have now been charged with federal gun crimes.

A third man, the driver of the van, was named in court documents as the owner of the handgun and a suspect in another city shooting in February. He has not been charged. Authorities said the same gun, manufactured in Brazil, was used in both shootings.

The public defender for Craighead and Ayers did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Both suspects have extensive criminal records and convictions for drug dealing, probation violations and robbery dating back nearly a decade. The longest prison term for either suspect was seven years for drug distribution, according to court records.

It is still unclear what the men had been fighting about inside the club, located inside the historic Mercantile Safe-Deposit and Trust Co. building on Redwood Street, which can hold up to 900 patrons and attracts national acts.

Back in February, Baltimore police described a disturbance as a "near-riot" after angry patrons stormed the front door of the nightclub when a concert oversold. A month later, police called for the club to be shuttered after the fight inside and the shooting two blocks away.

Owners of the Velvet Rope worked out a deal with authorities and nearby merchants to remain open with a new security plan, and there have been no serious problems since. This summer has been relatively quiet at the Inner Harbor, through three men were robbed and beaten near the Intercontinental Hotel on Light Street this past weekend.

There has been much debate over the extensive surveillance system that police use downtown and in other city neighborhoods as to whether they deter crime or help police capture criminals. The real test will be at trial, but if the police are correct in this account, they were able to record just about every aspect of this crime.

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