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More suspects arrested in string of robberies in north Baltimore

A citywide surge in street robberies that has hit north Baltimore especially hard appears to have ended — for the moment, at least — with the arrests of five juveniles and one adult, including the suspected ringleader, and one more juvenile suspect being sought, police and city officials said.

"I think we're hopeful that this particular siege we're under may be over," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who hastily arranged a meeting Friday with 30 community leaders and Maj. Kimberly Burrus, commander of the police department's Northern District. But Clarke said Saturday that the most recent robbery linked to the suspects in custody was committed just two days earlier.

"We won't know until next week whether we're getting a reprieve," Clarke said.

The media first reported three juveniles were in custody in connection with a recent rash of cellphone robberies of joggers and pedestrians, but Burrus told the Messenger on Saturday it was five juveniles and one adult, with one of the juveniles captured on Friday. Police are still looking for one more juvenile suspect, she said.

Burrus said police citywide have taken several steps to combat the rash of crimes, including implementing an "all out" strategy last Thursday, in which all police officers were placed on patrol, except for those who are on desk duty for medical reasons. She also said the city police department's "Foxtrot" helicopter was assigned to patrol north Baltimore Thursday and Friday, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., mirroring the time of day when most street robberies happened.

The helicopter will be back in the area Monday and Tuesday, but the "all out" policy will not be repeated, Burrus said.

"That's not something we can sustain on a regular basis" wit the police department's current manpower, she said.

Clarke said her understanding is that the police department's Regional Auto Theft Task Force will step up traffic stops of suspicious cars. Police spokesman Sgt. Eric Kowalczyk said earlier last week that the suspects were believed to have driven around in stolen vehicles, looking for victims with cellphones out.

But Burrus said the task force's involvement is not new and that the task force helped find one stolen car linked to the robberies and helped to develop and identify several of the suspects

Police say the suspects are linked to more than 20 recent cellphone robberies and two carjackings, mostly in north Baltimore. Police believe the suspects are behind 12 crimes in the Northern District, six in the Northeastern District and several in the Southeastern District.

Earlier last week, police held a news conference saying they would beef up patrols in response to a spike in robberies in city neighborhoods, including Roland Park, Little Italy and Fells Point. Robberies were reported recently in Wyman Park, Hampden, Remington and Butchers Hill, too.

At least four people jogging or walking the morning of Aug. 2 reported being assaulted and robbed after being boxed in by two vehicles — at least one of them stolen.

Kowalczyk said detectives are exploring possible links to other crimes, including the shooting of 36-year-old Zebadiah Drinkwater, who was wounded Aug. 14 in the 4000 block of Roland Avenue, on the border of Hampden and Roland Park, while helping a friend to her car. But Burrus said it is unclear whether that case is linked to the others for which the suspects are in custody.

Although the shooting occurred in the same area as some of the other crimes, police "don't have anything to suggest that it's one and the same," Burrus said.

Beaten and robbed

Richard Gilmore told police he was out for a run on Wyman Park Drive in Remington when he was beaten and robbed Aug. 14.

The same day, in the 4000 block of Roland Ave, two people approached Drinkwater, who was shot during a robbery attempt in the early afternoon. He was taken to an area hospital and listed in stable condition, police said.

Two more north Baltimore robberies in early to mid-August were reported by Johns Hopkins University security officials. Both occurred during predawn hours and involved nearby getaway vehicles, officials said.

On Aug. 15, a JHU affiliate was walking east in the 200 block of Wyman Park Drive when a juvenile pulled her to the ground and stole her purse. The juvenile and two others, who were walking ahead of the victim, then were seen by witnesses fleeing in a car that police said was stolen and used in an earlier robbery. The victim had abrasions on her legs and was treated at the scene by Baltimore City medics, according to a JHU incident report.

On Aug. 11, according to another JHU report, a graduate student was walking northbound in the 3600 block of Greenway Avenue when he was knocked to the ground from behind by three assailants, who took his cell phone, wallet, and backpack, then fled in a white or silver SUV.

Police stressed that the street robberies were not concentrated in any one part of the city. But Deputy Police Commissioner John Skinner said several of the incidents resembled a recent pattern in the Roland Avenue corridor.

"We're very concerned as a city," Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere said.

Overall robberies are flat across the city this year, compared with the same time last year, but street robberies are up 6 percent, the latest crime statistics show. Shootings are also up 14 percent.

Despite hearing about the crime surge, Gilmore said he didn't think it would happen to him.

"I was talking to people in our neighborhood who had read about some of these incidents, and then to have one of them happen — it's scary," he said.

Gilmore, a library assistant, said he was running in the 400 block of Wyman Park Drive when he was assaulted. One of the assailants motioned as if he had a gun, and the robbers shoved or tripped him, knocking his glasses off and breaking his shoulder, he said.

The robbers fled with his cellphone and money clip in a four-door gray sedan, where two others had been waiting, he said.

Similar patterns

Police said they began taking note of these street robberies on Aug. 2, when a group of men stole a vehicle in Waverly, then joined up with another group and cruised around north Baltimore, confronting at least four people and stealing cellphones from runners, according to police reports

A wave of street robberies over the last few weeks fit similar patterns of young adults or juveniles targeting distracted people and stealing their cellphones, wallets and other valuables and fleeing in cars, police said.

Some cases involved suspects flashing guns, making threats or assaulting or shooting victims, according to victims and police reports.

Police said they had no evidence showing that the robberies were run by an organized group, but they did say that the crimes were well-planned. Young adults or juveniles accosted victims, while accomplices waited in nearby cars. The groups appeared to be targeting "distracted" people, who were running, talking on cellphones or listening to music with headphones, Skinner said.

As for Drinkwater, a website was set up after the assault to help him financially and raised more than $1,700 by the end of the week. The benefit called "Help Zeb with bills and stuff" was set up on http://www.gofundme.com and had raised more than $1,700 by Friday, according to friends of Drinkwater.

Luke Broadwater and Kevin Rector of the Baltimore Sun Media Group contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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