Shoot to Kill: Baltimore ranks as most lethal among nation's largest cities

Police hope Owings Mills shooting victim can provide clues in New York officers' killings

Ismaaiyl Brinsley's past included arrests, mental health issues before he killed 2 NYPD officers.

New York detectives and Baltimore County investigators are convening in Owings Mills, hoping the lone survivor of a deadly rampage will provide clues as to why Ismaaiyl Abdula Brinsley gunned down two New York City police officers.

Detectives are waiting to speak with Shaneka Nicole Thompson, 29, who remains in critical but stable condition at a local hospital, after Brinsley shot her in the abdomen early Saturday and then traveled to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he unleashed a fatal hail of bullets upon unsuspecting New York officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. He then shot himself in the head, committing suicide, in a nearby subway station as police closed in.

The shootings of Liu and Ramos brought a heightened sense of alert and concern for police departments across the nation, which have been under scrutiny since a Ferguson, Mo., police officer fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, launching waves of protests against police brutality and excessive force.

Police officers say they feel "targeted," according to a local union leader, and that perception was furthered after a Florida police officer was killed early Sunday. A Baltimore officer was also shot and wounded earlier this month.

"We are all deeply saddend and outraged by the murders of two police officers in New York City last night," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference Sunday morning with leaders from the Police Department, police union and NAACP at her side. "These events hit very close to home."

Police on Sunday continued their search for a motive in the deadly shootings. They said Brinsley, 28, lived in Georgia and had dated Thompson for less than a year. She is a member of the Air Force Reserves, police said. They have no children together and Baltimore County detectives believe he has no other ties to the area, police said.

"There is no indication of prior criminal activity by Brinsley in Maryland, detectives say, nor is there any confirmation of gang affiliation," Baltimore County police said in a statement.

Court records show Brinsley dropped out of high school in 10th grade and had a history of mental health treatment. He had been arrested nine times since 2004 in the Atlanta area for charges ranging from carrying a concealed weapon to trespassing, and he was convicted of disorderly conduct and shoplifting, according to records from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office.

He had also violated probation for several years by not checking in with a parole officer and failing to complete court­ordered evaluations to screen for drug and alcohol abuse and potential anger management problems, records showed.

Police reports from Atlanta show a history of strange behavior and violent threats. In February 2010, Brinsley argued with a woman at a Waffle House and threatened to kill her, Atlanta police say. He returned four days later, threw a slushy in the same woman's face and left, telling the victim he would return with a knife, the police report said.

Nearly two months later, Brinsley was at a Waffle House again, when employees asked him to leave because they said he was being disrespectful, a police report states. He returned days later on April 3, 2010. When asked to leave again, police say, he began calling the employee a bitch and threatened "to throw a [expletive] drink in her face." He tried to hit the victim, police say, and told her that if she came outside the restaurant, he would slap her.

On July 6, 2011, in the Atlanta area, Brinsley shot a woman's 2007 Chevy Malibu with a stolen .25­caliber semiautomatic handgun, according to Cobb County, Ga., court records. He was charged with receiving and possessing the stolen gun and shooting the car near a public street and obstructing two Cobb County police officers "by fleeing from said officers and refusing to obey said officers' lawful commands," according to a criminal complaint.

A judge appointed a defense attorney to represent him after he was found to be too poor to afford one, and in less than a month he pleaded guilty in exchange for seven years of probation and a 180-day probation "boot camp," a state prison run program with a "highly structured … military regimen." The boot camp is for younger offenders who have not previously spent time in an adult prison.

In a plea­deal questionnaire, Brinsley answered "yes" to a question that asked, "Have you ever been a patient in a mental institution or under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist?" No further information was provided other than that Brinsley said he understood the plea deal and what was happening in court.

On June 7, 2013, an Atlanta police officer came into contact with him as he and another man "appeared to be dancing as they crossed a street." The officer asked for identification, and Brinsley gave an alias before fleeing from police. After a foot chase, police arrested him, and he provided his real name and birthday. Atlanta police said they learned that he had a warrant out for his arrest for theft, criminal damage to property, felon in possession of a firearm, obstruction and simple battery. It is not known what happened to Brinsley following that incident.

Baltimore County police reported he had an outstanding warrant from Georgia.

But nothing in Brinsley's past would compare to the deadly series of events police say he set in motion on Saturday.

At 6 a.m. Saturday, Brinsley arrived at the gated Greenwich Place apartment complex in Owings Mills, where police say Thompson lives, and shot her, stole her cell phone and left. Detectives used the phone to track Brinsley's movements, and also found a round from the silver semi-automatic handgun police say he used to shoot Thompson.

Baltimore County investigators believe it was the same gun he would use on the New York police officers just hours later, an attack police say he began to foreshadow on social media using Thompson's phone.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, a friend of Thompson's notified Baltimore County police about Instagram messages believed to have been made by Brinsley threatening to kill police officers, police say.

One included an image of a silver handgun and the message, "I'm Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours…..Let's Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMikeBrown This May Be My Final Post."

The social media posts indicated that Brinsley was in Brooklyn, N.Y., police said. At about 2:10 p.m., Baltimore County police said they called the 70th precinct in New York to warn them about Brinsley. Officers passed on information about the specific Instagram threats they say Brinsley had made, the agency said.

Baltimore County police also say they faxed a "wanted" flier to New York police at the same time with information about Brinsley that included two photos of him and a description of what he was wearing — camoflage pants, white shoes and a dark colored coat. The flier said Brinsley also went by the name "Moses."

The fax, released Sunday, carried a chilling warning: "He is currently believed to be in the New York Area, possibly the Brooklyn area. Suspect is armed with a 9 mm handgun and has posted pictures of the handgun on Instagram saying that he will shoot a police officer today."

About 50 minutes later, police said, Brinsley fired multiple shots into a parked New York police vehicle, striking officers Ramos and Liu in the head.

On Sunday, bouquets of flowers, candles, a Christmas wreath and a menorah began covering the sidewalk near the busy intersection where the officers were gunned down. One of those stopping by to visit was the police commissioner, William Bratton, who earlier attended Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

As night fell, scores of people gathered at the spot for a candlelight vigil in the officers' memory. At the same time, marchers in Harlem were holding a separate "vigil for justice" organized by a group that has also held demonstrations alleging police brutality.

This time, there were no anti-police chants or signs among the roughly 50 marchers.

"Not since the political unrest of the 1960's have police officers been so targeted," Baltimore police union president Gene Ryan said at Sunday's news conference at Baltimore City Hall with Rawlings-Blake, police and NAACP Baltimore branch president Tessa Hill-Aston.

Ryan said the United States was facing a "national crisis."

Earlier, Ryan had released a statement on the police union's website criticizing President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying they had created an "atmosphere of unnecessary hostility and peril" by not being more supportive of law enforcement.

"Poor national leadership and lack of strong support for our men and women in law enforcement has created a vacuum where lawlessness can grow," he said at the news conference.

Tensions have been high within the Baltimore police force, Ryan said, especially after a city officer was shot nearly a week ago following waves of police brutality demonstrations protesting the deaths of Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner of New York by police. Officers have been cleared by grand juries in those cases

On Dec. 14, Baltimore police officer Andrew Groman was shot and wounded in the abdomen while asking 19-year-old Donte Jones to get out of the back seat of a silver Cadillac officers had stopped, police said. Groman had drawn his Taser on Jones when, police say, the suspect pulled out a concealed.357 caliber handgun and shot Groman under his police vest. Jones was arrested after a short chase.

Groman continues to recover from surgery and was listed in fair condition, Rawlings-Blake said Sunday.

Both Rawlings-Blake and Ryan have raised concerns that there might be unease among Baltimore officers who may feel hesitant to draw their guns and use deadly force when confronted with dangerous situations.

"This is a very troubling time for all of those in the nation who wear a uniform and put their lives on the line every day," Baltimore police Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at Sunday's news conference.

Early Sunday, a Tarpon Springs, Fla., police officer was shot dead responding to a call about a man banging on apartment doors, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Charles Kondek, 45, had served 17 years on the Tarpon Springs police force and was a father of five. Police arrested a 23-year-old man in the slaying.

Before moving to Florida, Kondek had been a New York City police officer, the Tampa Bay Times reported. His father was a retired NYPD officer.

Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Rodricks and Tribune Newspapers contributed to this article.

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