Neighbors question lack of information after stabbing in Federal Hill

Lacking official police response, people turned to conflicting accounts on social media

August 19, 2014|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Word of an attack in Federal Hill appeared Monday on a neighborhood Facebook page, warning that a man had been stabbed early Sunday after being chased for his wallet. As news spread, different accounts emerged.

A posting on the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association page said that, according to Baltimore police, the victim had been seen "staggering around" the 1200 block of Wall St. and had gotten into an "altercation" with a group of people. Then another posting reported additional information — that turned out to be wrong and led some to believe another man had been stabbed Monday outside the bars on Charles Street.

Meanwhile, the Police Department's Twitter and Facebook were silent on the attack.

The case underscores what some Baltimore residents complain is a lack of information about crime in their neighborhoods, and misinformation on online platforms that include community Facebook pages and sites such as Nextdoor, a social networking site for neighbors.

Police didn't release an official account of the Federal Hill case to media outlets until Tuesday, confirming one incident early Sunday in which a 24-year-old man was attacked and robbed by a group of teens on mopeds. The victim, a Loyola Blakefield alumnus identified by the school as Sal Schittino, was listed in critical but stable condition.

Baltimore police have a policy of tweeting all shooting incidents and homicides, as well as occasional gun seizures, but residents say they want more information about robberies, burglaries and other crimes. Logs of incidents are available through the OpenBaltimore website, though it can be nearly two weeks before they are posted.

Many police departments across the country have set up Twitter accounts, public newsgroups or Facebook pages to disseminate a broader range of information about crime and trends. At least one Baltimore police commander, Maj. Richard Worley of the Northeastern District, sends regular email to neighborhood leaders about crime trends, which are then passed through their respective channels.

Baltimore police did not respond to questions Tuesday.

Brent Frederick, a homeowner for seven years who lives near the site of the stabbing, said residents want to know so they can be more vigilant. In May, a couple walking home from an Orioles game was assaulted and robbed in the 100 block of E. Ostend St., just around the corner from the site of Sunday's stabbing. Police made four arrests in the robbery case.

"Stuff like this just doesn't happen in Federal Hill, and when citizens who weren't doing anything almost get killed, we see ourselves in that victim," Frederick said.

Paul Robinson, a former president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, said police should be providing more information.

"What the police are missing is that when a bunch of false information goes from email to email to email, it actually creates a greater sense of alarm in the neighborhood than if a credible source for information were to tell everybody precisely what happened," Robinson said.

Residents such as Peter Hinton, who lives in Canton, said the resident-driven posts are often on shaky ground and lack context.

"I've lived here since 2010, and I see things seemingly getting better," Hinton said. "But with the rise of community Facebook pages, I've got my wife sending me emails every day saying, 'We've got to get the heck out of here.'"

A first account of the Sunday stabbing from police, sent Monday evening to neighborhood leaders and obtained by The Baltimore Sun, did not fully explain the circumstances. It said the victim had been on someone's porch and was asked to leave, "was seen staggering around," and was stabbed in an "altercation." It made no mention of a robbery or the severity of his condition.

Adam Naymick, a friend of the Federal Hill stabbing victim, said he was disappointed to see that version appear on Facebook, because it suggested that the victim had been stabbed in a fight rather than a robbery. "It was pretty outrageous," he said.

Naymick alerted friends and neighbors in Canton about the incident, explaining that he did so because he wanted them to be alert and aware of their surroundings. But he said such posts do not take the place of official updates from city officials.

"Social media is a great way to do, but at the same time it's still people's opinions," Naymick said. "Getting a solid report of the incident in a timely manner is more important and hands down going to [have] more impact than what someone is saying."

Schittino, a 2008 Loyola graduate, was a standout basketball player for the Dons. He also played basketball at Washington College from 2008 to 2012.

jfenton@baltsun.com


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