Baltimore police have made an arrest in the killing of a 50-year-old man whose body was set on fire in April, and court documents appear to offer some insight into the tougher requirements new State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein has imposed on city homicide detectives.
Eugene Emmett Bates, 36, was indicted last week and charged in the death of Elmore Rembert, who police say was killed during an argument as the pair used drugs in a vacant home in the Booth-Boyd neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. Bates is accused of setting the house on fire and stealing Rembert's truck.
Police appear to have been led to Bates as a suspect in May, and obtained his DNA in June and determined they could link him to evidence at the crime scene. But they continued to interview witnesses and gather statements, before seeking a warrant for Bates' arrest six months later on Dec. 9, records show.
Earlier this year, the interim commander of the homicide unit compiled a memo outlining cases where detectives believed they had enough evidence to charge suspects but were being "stalled and hindered" by city prosecutors. As of last week, the clearance rate was 47 percent, on track to be one of the lowest on record despite a 30-year low in overall killings
In an interview last week, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who sparred with previous State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy over the quality of police cases, appeared to have taken a new tack, saying that his detectives need to bring better investigations.
"We've been internally captivated around this notion of closing cases, but that's not going to be enough," Bealefeld said. "That's not what the mayor wants. The mayor wants to make sure we're holding violent offenders accountable, [not] just throwing them through a revolving door and they come back out on weak charges."
"We certainly need to improve our clearance rate, but it's also about training," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. It's not enough "to check it off and say it's cleared, but not have a solid case for the state's attorney to prosecute. We need to focus on our clearance rate but do it in a way that continues to promote safety, and not just safety, but the perception of safety - that there's a criminal justice system that works."
Rembert had last been seen by his wife on April 23, at about 7 p.m. A broadcast was put out to officers for Rembert's 207 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which Officer John Sellers spotted on May 11 in the 1100 block of Edmondson Ave. Sellers pulled the vehicle over, and asked the driver for identification. He said his name was "Emmett," but fled after Sellers requested backup and was able to elude officers.
As he was fleeing, a baseball cap fell off his head, which police collected as evidence. Detectives later developed Bates as a suspect and were told that Rembert and Bates had gone to 10 S. Monroe St., a vacant home, to use drugs.
The detectives on May 25 showed Sellers a photo lineup, and he identified Bates as the man he had pulled over, records show. That day, homicide detective Juan Diaz charged Bates with car theft and he was ordered held without bond as the investigation continued.
Then in June, Bates' DNA was later collected and submitted for examination, records show. In August, prosecutors placed the car theft charges on the "inactive" docket. "In furtherance" of the murder investigation, detectives wrote in court papers, they interviewed several witnesses who identified Bates as teh person responsible for the murder and the person they saw driving the victim's stolen truck immediately after he was killed.
Bates' prior record underscores Bealefeld's comments about getting a case right: In 2003, he was charged with fatally shooting a man in the head in 1992. Records show all of the charges were dropped by prosecutors 10 months later.