Crime Scenes: Officer shot at nearly same spot where colleague was killed in 2001

Cowdery was shot execution-style after busting drug corner

March 22, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Both cops were members of high-profile squads targeting the most dangerous city criminals. One followed his father, a 28-year veteran of the Philadelphia force, into policing. The other took a bullet during combat in Iraq.

Both Baltimore officers confronted men with criminal pasts — one for drugs, another for a gun. And both cops got shot — one died, the other survived — on the same street, separated by nearly 10 years to the day.

Michael J. Cowdery Jr. interrupted a drug deal and was fatally shot in the 2300 block of Harford Road on March 12, 2001. The gunman fired a bullet into his leg, then stood over Cowdery's body and pumped another round into his head. Detective Michael Rice was shot and wounded in the 2300 block of Harford Road on Friday, when he approached a man riding a bicycle and holding a revolver.

The parallels are inescapable, and sad.

A decade ago, the mayor was Martin O'Malley, who said Cowdery was trying to "rescue this city from a chokehold of violent crime." On Friday, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III told reporters that Rice and his colleagues were doing what he and the mayor had "asked them to do — they're risking their lives to make this city safer."

Ten years. Two cops shot. One city block. It's no safer now than it was back then.

After the man convicted of shooting Cowdery was sent to prison for life without the chance of parole, the slain officer's father from Philadelphia tearfully addressed the public, saying he hoped other parents wouldn't have to experience what he went through. "I hope this sends a clear message to people in the underworld," he said.

It didn't.

City leaders are still struggling to bring order to this part of Harford Road. Their anger remains palpable, their promises of more patrols the same, their frustrations over repeat violent offenders wreaking havoc a familiar refrain.

Police commanders sent Rice to this very spot because of failures of the past.

"We picked this stretch along Harford Road because of the level of violence in that neighborhood and the frequency of the people armed in that neighborhood," Bealefeld said at the hospital just hours after the shooting Friday night.

Harford Road splits the neighborhoods of East Baltimore Midway and Darley Park a few blocks up from the district courthouse on North Avenue. It's a dingy, desolate commercial strip of vacant shells and ramshackle storefronts that include churches, beauty salons and convenience stores.

Mike Brown was busy cutting hair at Up Close Barbers when the bullets flew up and down Harford Road on Friday night. The 34-year-old said he saw the first shots but didn't see Rice get hit. He rushed outside to grab a 5-year-old boy who was playing alone on the sidewalk.

"I just wanted to get that boy out of the way of the bullets," Brown said.

His colleague, Yoshi Kearney, wasn't working Friday, but he was in the shop when Cowdery got shot in 2001. He didn't know the slain officer personally but remembered that he had been the son of a Philadelphia officer.

The 40-year-old Kearney has been at Up Close for two decades, and people at one place for so long usually like to talk about the better times. But Kearney said he can't remember better times. "It's Harford Road," he said. "Harford Road has been like this since I can remember. … I don't want to say you get used to it, but you get used to the rough neighborhood."

Inside the shop, the workers and customers talked about the lack of opportunities, of nothing for people to do, of police sweeping up the honest folks along with the bad, creating mistrust between the two groups. The promises of a better neighborhood don't resonate here; they've heard them before.

Cowdery was shot outside the Joy Garden Carryout, which was closed Monday evening. Many of the shops were either shuttered or boarded up, the only words of hope coming from the signs posted outside the storefront churches.

One says, "Life in all its fullness."

By Monday night, worrisome news came from the Baltimore Police Department. Rice, who had been expected to be released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center, was rushed into emergency surgery. The 30-year-old officer had been shot in the left side of the neck, and the bullet lodged near his right lung. The six-year veteran will be hospitalized longer.

Rice was shot at the start of a spasm of weekend violence in which 18 people were wounded by gunfire, including the officer, the gunman and a 4-year-old boy who died after shooting himself in the head. One man was beaten to death, another fatally stabbed.

And Monday night, as Rice's condition worsened, gunfire again erupted across the city, one shooting after the other, from Broadway to Belair to Greenmount to Elmley. A man shot in the foot. Another shot in the arm. Two more hit in the back.

Just before midnight, the cops put out some good news. Detectives had arrested a man and seized a .380 caliber handgun on West Belvedere Avenue. One more gun, and gunman, off city streets.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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