Admittedly, the early hours of the investigation were anything but clinical. From his own time in the Western, McLarney had known Cassidy; the younger officer had served in his squad until McLarney — wounded himself two years prior, shot during a gas station robbery on Edmondson Avenue — had transferred back to homicide. In the immediate aftermath of the Cassidy shooting, with the young officer expected to die at University Hospital, a certain fury colored the police work. Witnesses might say anything in such a maelstrom; many did.
So in the months after, McLarney had to clean it up with careful, deliberate police work, knocking down the bad witnesses and eventually finding credible evidence that pointed to Clifton "Butchie" Frazier as the shooter. And when detectives and plainclothesmen were at last able to piece together the encounter on Appleton Street, McLarney was able to put another fear to rest, because Frazier, thank God, was a genuinely bad actor.
"That's important," McLarney remembers, "because I could tell Gene, this happened because you were trying to take a bad guy off the streets."
For most of us, the suspect's villainy goes without saying, given the fact that a police officer was the victim. But to Baltimore police, all of whom understand the gradations of sin and vice in ways that civilians never do, this was, by 1988, something to be considered in more precise shadings.
Even 25 years ago, the drug war was creating a wedge of disconnect and alienation between the Baltimore department and places like Appleton Street. Even then, it was getting harder to make alliances with residents, to prioritize arrests in communities consumed by the burgeoning narcotics trade. By 1987, there were different reasons a Baltimore officer might get out of a radio car and jack up a pedestrian. Some of them were essential and meaningful — others, less so.
With Frazier, however, Gene Cassidy had pulled up on a man whose name had been read out at roll call, who was wanted on an open warrant for badly battering an elderly victim. The older man had told Frazier to stop beating a girl and Frazier had turned on the interloper, permanently blinding him in one eye.
Cassidy had recognized Frazier on Mosher Street and had pulled around on Appleton to cuff the suspect. He wasn't hassling touts or runners, or clearing an "indicted" corner of pedestrians, or randomly jacking up residents for loitering. This was police work — precise, necessary, and worthy of the risk. Whatever else people living in different Americas might believe, whatever the disconnect has become, all of us want the same thing when someone beats an old man and a young girl.
"It was clean," McLarney remembered.
And it was still clean when McLarney waited in the hallways outside Judge Elsbeth Bothe's chambers that May, listening to shouting from the jury room, shouting that seemed to go on for hours. McLarney and the other officers waiting on that jury were appalled that this might be the one — the first case in which a Baltimore officer is killed or seriously wounded and a jury gives the suspect a walk.
When the jury did come back, police and prosecutors were elated to get the verdict they needed — first-degree attempted murder — but dismayed to stand in a courthouse hallway and hear the tale of a young, blond-haired juror. She told them nine fellow jurors had no opinion, they just wanted to go home. And another sought acquittal, saying she no longer trusted police and telling the others: "If you lived in my neighborhood, you wouldn't trust them either."
A college student training to be a special education teacher, the young juror, allied with an older woman, fought a pitched battle to bring the rest of the jury around. It was a transforming experience, so much so that years later, that juror would be a Baltimore City prosecutor, her life changed by the experience in that jury room.
"I still think about what happened in that room," says Tracy Varda, who joined the state's attorney's office in 1999 and now heads the new mental health unit there. "It was one of the things that made me want to do what I do."
For McLarney, the verdict was a temporary reprieve. There would be other juries, other verdicts, and the distance between the department and the city that it sought to police would grow. Eventually, a decade or so later, the fears would be realized and the death of a city officer would go unavenged. But not with Cassidy, thank God.
McLarney was there, too, that day in Jessup a decade later, when Cassidy stood in a hearing room and offered a loose-leaf binder to the parole commissioners, explaining that while they could view the pages, the contents should remain private from Frazier, who sat nearby, staring at Cassidy.