Homicide ruling brings back memories of 1981 police shooting

Two retired Baltimore police officers relive the only time they fired their service weapons

  • Robert Menas, a retired Baltimore police officer. was one of two officers involved in shooting Carl D. Robinson in 1981 after a reported hostage situation.
Robert Menas, a retired Baltimore police officer. was one of… (Courtesy photo / Baltimore…)
June 17, 2013|By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

The two police retirees remember the shooting as if it was yesterday. The chill in the air. The call that came in as a hostage situation. The nickel plating on the gun they wished the man had never drawn.

The suspect missed, but the officers didn't. Three decades passed and Lawrence "Larry" Knott and Robert Menas often thought back to the only moment they ever fired their service weapons as Baltimore police officers.

"The whole thing was like three seconds," Menas recalled. "Boom. Boom, boom, boom."

The intensity of those seconds gripped the officers again this spring when they learned that Carl D. Robinson had died of his injuries after 32 years. The coroner recently labeled Robinson's death a homicide, and police and prosecutors consider it justified.

When the former partners look back on that day in 1981, they feel sorry for Robinson but have no regrets. Had they not pulled the trigger, they said, they believe they could have been the ones buried.

"I never felt so close to being killed," Menas said.

Over 32 years, Knott and Menas both experienced the deaths of wives and the births of grandchildren. Knott, 62, spends his time tending to his hunting dogs and his cats, while Menas, 68, does as many household chores as his aching hip, knee and surgically repaired back will allow.

They complain about their fading physical capabilities, but their memories from the morning of Jan. 17, 1981, remain clear.

Knott, then 29, was a sergeant and shift commander in the Northwestern District. He had been an officer for almost nine years. Menas, then 35, had been on the force for 13 years.

They were both at the Northwest Baltimore police station when dispatchers sent them to the 5000 block of Norwood Ave., where a man was reported holding his mother hostage.

At the house, a teen told officers that Robinson, his 21-year-old brother, had accused him of stealing a pencil, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, reading an old police report.

Speaking to the family, Menas said, he remembers learning that the argument had grown into a fight. The brothers ended up on the ground. Their mother broke it up and slapped Robinson. He felt disrespected.

He went upstairs, pulled out a .357-caliber Colt Python revolver and pointed it at his mother, Menas said. He threatened to shoot her. He said he was tired of being blamed for everything. He said he didn't get any credit for anything. He threatened to hurt himself, police said, then he left.

Knott ordered a few officers to guard the house in case he returned.

Believing that the situation had calmed, the sergeant returned to his patrol car with Menas and headed back toward the station. It was an icy morning — the temperature hovered around 26 degrees — and Knott felt a detour was in order.

"Menas," he said. "Let's go get a hot chocolate."

On their way, the officers saw a man walking up the street with an arm around a girl's shoulder. They recognized Robinson from the description his family had provided. Menas could make out the outline of a gun in Robinson's right jacket pocket. It was pointed toward the girl.

Knott pulled the car over.

"Hey Carl," Knott said. "Do me a favor and take your hand out of your pocket. I want to talk to you for a minute."

Robinson had never been arrested, and Menas said he knew from his family that he had once applied to the Police Department. He didn't seem like a dangerous suspect, so Menas hadn't drawn his gun.

Menas had disarmed "hundreds" of people without violence, he said: the man who charged down a flight of stairs with a knife, an armed thief he pinned to a restaurant wall and the man who stabbed himself repeatedly in a bathroom to get out of going to Vietnam.

"Come on, Carl," Menas said. "Let's talk about it."

Robinson didn't say a word. He pushed his girlfriend away. Knott saw his knuckle pull out of his pocket.

"He's got a gun," Knott said.

In an instant, Menas saw the gun pointed at his head, then a puff of smoke.

Menas owned a clamshell holster for his Smith & Wesson .38 special. The holster purposefully unclasped frontward instead of from behind, allowing for a quicker draw. As Menas grabbed for his revolver, he took a simultaneous crouching step left as the police academy had instructed.

Robinson's bullet whizzed by. The recoil of the powerful gun kicked Robinson's hand above his head — just enough time for Menas to fire three times.

A bullet pierced Robinson's abdomen and sliced into his spleen. Another hit his neck and carotid artery. Knott shot Robinson in the arm, dislodging the gun.

"By the time I fired the third shot, I had the gun up to my eye," Menas said, "but I could see him going down."

Menas ran over to Robinson and stood between him and the gun he had dropped. He took off his police hat. "How'd he miss me," he thought.

He couldn't comprehend why Robinson had fired the gun, and he felt pity as the man gurgled blood on the ground.

"Why'd you do a stupid fool thing like that," Menas muttered.

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