Man who shot city police officer sentenced to 30 years

A 31-year-old man with a violent criminal past has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for shooting a city police officer in Baltimore’s downtown, which sparked a running gun battle with tactical officers who pursued the gunman up North Calvert Street.

Prosecutors said Franklin J. Gross Sr., whose last known address was on Liberty Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to attempted first-degree murder and using a handgun in a crime of violence.

The officer he shot, Todd A. Strohman, had been on the force just one year when he was wounded in the shoulder while patrolling North Calvert and East Baltimore streets in the early morning hours of Nov. 27, 2010.

Police said the bullet struck Strohman just above his bullet-resistant vest, ricocheted off a small metal plate on his uniform, missed an artery by 1 millimeter and lodged 2 inches above his heart. He recovered after surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The arrest of Gross, who was struck by bullets fired by several officers during the chase, prompted discussion about the suspect’s criminal past. In 2008, he had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for armed robbery and five years for a handgun charge.

But his sentences were backdated to 2006, when he had been first arrested, and a plea agreement with prosecutors meant half his 12 year sentence was suspended. Jail credits shaved another two years off the sentence, and he was released in May 2010.

Robert Cherry, the president of the union that represents Baltimore police officers, called Gross’ sentence — life with all but 30 years suspended — a satisfactory outcome.

“I think it sends a strong message to the others out there who carry guns and use them against police,” said Cherry, a former homicide detective, “especially given the track record in Baltimore City where many times defendants with handgun violations have gotten their entire sentences suspended.”

Cherry said Strohman, who is in his mid-20s, returned to work shortly after getting out of the hospital and recovering from his wounds. He is now assigned to the Violent Crime Impact Division, which works in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.

“He’s a young officer who became a police, got shot in the line of duty and was determined to come back,” Cherry said, noting the .32 caliber slug is still lodged in his upper chest. “And he wanted to go right back out chasing drug dealers.”

Three months after he was shot, Strohman testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Annapolis, helping police and prosecutors in an unsuccessful push for stiffer sentences in gun crimes. He gave a brief but stirring speech, noting Gross’ record that included 10 prior arrests, five involving guns.

The officer told lawmakers that had the proposed new laws been on the books, Gross would not have gotten of prison in May 2010. Strohman recalled confronting the suspect — who was walking awkwardly with his pants sagging to one side, a hint of a gun in one pocket — and how he said Gross “smirked at me” before opening fire.

After the shooting, three officers assigned to the department’s tactical squad — Lt. Scott Mezan and officers Jeffrey Schmitt and Irving Hinkson — opened fire on Gross as he jumped into the passenger seat of a Toyota Camry being driven by his wife.

Police chased the car six blocks north on Calvert Street — describing the scene as a “running gun battle” — until the Camry crashed into a fire hydrant at Franklin Street, near Mercy Medical Center, riddled with 13 bullet holes. A bystander took Gross into Mercy, where police arrested him.

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