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Annapolis police kill man after woman is fatally stabbed in domestic incident

"He sends me text messages saying he is going to kill me," Ronnesha Simms wrote in a police document last summer of her ex-boyfriend, William Ranaldo Brown Jr. "I'm afraid for my life."

Little more than a year later, Brown took Simms' life early Tuesday. According to police, he attacked her outside her Annapolis home, first with a folding knife, then a kitchen knife after her screams caught the attention of a neighbor who got the first weapon out of Brown's hands.

The violence ended with Brown being shot at least five times by an Annapolis police officer.

Both Brown, 31, and Simms, 29, were pronounced dead at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

The events capped a 13-month period during which Brown had received two separate 10-year sentences for assault convictions — one of them involving Simms — yet ultimately served less than four months.

He had been arrested several times over the years, had violated parole and was enrolled in a specialized parole program intended to keep tabs on violent offenders. On Tuesday, officials said Brown had complied with that program since he got out of federal prison in June.

"This was a tragic situation," said Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, appearing stone-faced at a news conference.

In a court document, Brown listed "Roniesha Simms" as his wife, and stated he had two children. On Tuesday, two children living with Simms, ages 2 and 9, were taken in by relatives.

The relationship between Brown and Simms had been violent before, according to an application for charges Simms filed Aug. 12, 2012. Writing by hand, she said Brown had tormented her for weeks, "breaking into my house and fighting on me chasing around my house with a knife chocking and slapping me also punching in the face."

She wrote that Brown would take her clothes so she couldn't run away, or hide her cellphone.

A breaking point happened the day Simms filed charges: While she was back-to-school shopping with the children at a mall, Brown showed up and poured water all over her.

"My 8 yr old was trying to fight him telling him to leave her Mommy alone," Simms wrote.

Brown was charged with two counts of second-degree assault following Simms' complaint. He pleaded guilty to second-degree assault, according to court records, and in January was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

All of it was suspended, court records show. He paid $57.50 in court costs.

On Aug. 15, 2012 — three days after Simms' complaint — Brown was accused of accosting a woman, pulling out a gun and trying to steal her groceries as they got off a bus. Initially charged with robbery, armed robbery, second-degree assault, theft and kidnapping, most charges were dropped and Brown pleaded guilty to another second-degree assault charge, according to court records.

He was sentenced in September 2012 to 10 years in prison, but more than nine years was suspended, and Brown was released in December 2012. At that time, though, he was sent to a federal prison in West Virginia for six months for violating an earlier probation on a weapons offense, according to state officials.

He got out June 20.

The assault convictions were far from Brown's only brushes with the law. Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop said his officers arrested Brown at least 10 times over the years.

Brown was on both state and federal probation at the time of Tuesday's attack, enrolled in the state's strictest probation program, Violence Prevention Initiative or VPI.

The initiative targets the most violent offenders — about 2,100 people at any time, said Rick Binetti, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Offenders in VPI must meet with their parole or probation agent twice a week in person and once a week on the phone. They also undergo drug testing and may have additional conditions as part of their sentence.

If VPI offenders make a mistake or have any new offenses, their agent automatically asks a court to find them in violation of probation, Binetti said. He described the program as "massively strict."

Parole and probation agents work with local police to keep an eye on VPI offenders, Binetti said. In Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George's County, parole agents have quick access to police reports and other resources to check up on VPI offenders.

Brown landed in the VPI program last summer, about the same time Simms filed charges against him, based on his history of offenses and probation violations.

Tuesday's shooting shook officials in Annapolis, where officials say crime has been declining. The Police Department's daily summary of incidents often includes thefts from unlocked cars as the most common offenses.

"Crime is at an all-time low in the city," Cohen said. He noted that the Bywater Mutual Homes community, where the stabbing and shooting took place, has had fewer criminal problems than in past years.

"It's not by happenstance that an officer was just one minute away," he said.

On Copeland Street, neighbors tried to understand how things turned so violent.

Paula Holmes and her 18-year-old granddaughter Kiara Holmes peered out from the doorway of their home down the street Tuesday morning as police officers continued to work behind yellow crime scene tape.

Kiara said the neighborhood has been safe in recent years after security was improved. "For the most part, it's quiet," she said.

Paula, who has lived in Bywater for 11 years, said troublemakers no longer linger in the streets after dark. "At nighttime, there's nobody out here," she said.

The shooting will be investigated, but Pristoop said the officer's actions appear to be justified. The officer who shot Brown has not been publicly identified. He was involved in one prior fatal shooting, about seven or eight years ago, when multiple SWAT team members fired at a dangerous suspect, Pristoop said.

Just after midnight Tuesday, neighbors reported hearing the screams of Simms as Brown attacked her outside her home in the 1900 block of Copeland St., Pristoop said. A neighbor intervened and kicked the knife away.

"It was very heroic on the part of the neighbor to try and intervene," Pristoop said.

Brown went back into the house and got a kitchen knife, police said.

That's about the time police arrived — one minute after a 911 call, police said — and the officer saw Brown attacking Simms, who was lying on the ground, Pristoop said. The officer fired his gun several times, hitting Brown five times.

Brown managed to stab Simms one last time after he was shot, police said.

"The officer tried very hard to stop this assault," Pristoop said.

The chief said there would not have been enough time for the officer to use a Taser. All patrol officers in Annapolis carry Tasers, and the department is working on outfitting all officers with the devices, Pristoop said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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