By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun
10:28 PM EDT, June 27, 2013
An alarming rise in summer violence continued Thursday, as the past week's death toll rose to 12 in Baltimore and politicians began sniping over blame.
City police announced arrests — including men charged in previous violence — even as detectives found themselves with new killings to investigate. Two men were fatally shot and one wounded early Thursday in West Baltimore, and three women were taken to hospitals after a shooting in Northeast Baltimore Thursday night. In all, 35 people have been shot since last Friday.
A city councilman blamed police corruption for worsening the violence, then quickly apologized to the union that represents police officers. A challenger in the nascent race for state's attorney criticized incumbent Gregg. L. Bernstein for not being more visible amid the chaos. Bernstein's office said he is doing all he can.
The comments came a day after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts sought to reassure the City Council and the public that they are using all available resources to stop the gunfire.
Councilman Carl Stokes took to the radio Thursday to offer his thoughts on what's ailing the city, telling WBAL that he places part of the blame on "too many corrupt police officers who are running drugs with drug runners."
The statements were quickly condemned by police union president Robert F. Cherry Jr., who called them "outrageous, inflammatory and untrue." Stokes soon backed away from some of his statements and personally apologized to Cherry.
Stokes said he shouldn't have used the words "too many" and called most officers "heroes." He said he based his comments on constituent complaints. Stokes stood by other remarks in which he criticized police for initially referring to the wave of shootings as a "a little bit of a spike" that's to be expected.
Sgt. Eric Kowalczyk, a Baltimore police spokesman, declined to address Stokes' comments, noting the councilman's apology.
Kowalczyk said Thursday that police had arrested four suspects in recent shootings and that more arrests are expected. "Our focus is going to continue to be on the people that are taking lives of our young people," he said.
Police charged Lamonte Sherman, 17, of Parkville, and Devin Baker, 23, of the 2700 block of Ashland Drive, with attempted first-degree murder and other counts. They are accused of shooting into a car Wednesday and wounding a man in the rear alley of the 2000 block of Northbourne Road in Northeast Baltimore. No attorney was listed in court records for either man.
Cush Ajely Wright-El, 24, of the 5200 block of Elmer Ave., was charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and 15 other counts in the nonfatal shooting of three men early Sunday in the 5100 block of Arbutus Ave. in Northwest Baltimore.
In 2010, Maryland court records show that Wright-El was acquitted on charges of first- and second-degree attempted murder, assault and handgun violations in a February 2010 shooting.
Wright-El also faces a prior charge of possession or receiving a weapon while confined or detained. He was scheduled to be tried on that charge July 15. A call to the public defender representing him in that case was not returned Thursday.
Tavon Terrel Hammond, 28, of the 100 block of Denison St., was charged this week with first- and second-degree murder in the shooting of Blake Harris, 24, in the 4500 block of Marble Hall Road in Northeast Baltimore. Police found Harris slumped in the driver's seat of a 2002 gray Dodge Caravan about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Witnesses identified Hammond, according to a statement of charges. No attorney was listed for him in court records.
Previously, Hammond was charged with first- and second-degree attempted murder in the shooting of Kaiya Parker, 24, in the 4200 block of Loch Raven Blvd. in August 2010. A year later, police found witnesses who identified Hammond as the shooter, according to a statement of charges.
But Louis Curran, the assistant public defender who represented him, said the prosecution's case was torpedoed by discrepancies between witness accounts and state evidence. He called it "one of those cases where there were too many holes to plug."
Prosecutors had also charged Hammond with trying to kill the mother of his son in November 2010. According to court documents, he threw the woman through the window of a carryout restaurant after an argument, causing a cut to her neck that required 34 stitches.
That case was not prosecuted either because the victim recanted her statement, according to the Baltimore state's attorney's office.
Marilyn J. Mosby, who announced this week that she plans to challenge Bernstein for the state's attorney post, said too many violent offenders with lengthy criminal records are rearrested when they should be locked up.
"All I can tell you is that the police are doing their jobs and making their arrests of these violent offenders and doing their investigations. Judges are doing their jobs, keeping these offenders locked up," said Mosby, a former assistant state's attorney in Baltimore and the wife of City Councilman Nick Mosby. "The state's attorney's office needs to seal the deal."
Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office, said Bernstein has taken steps to keep criminals off the street, including creating a "special victims unit" that he says engages in "evidence-based prosecution" when victims recant.
"The state's attorney's No. 1 priority is combating violent crime, particularly repeat violent offenders," he said. "The results are showing that we are making progress. We have a lot to do, as this most recent weekend demonstrates, but we're making progress."
Mosby also wondered why Bernstein hasn't been more vocal during the recent crime wave.
"At the end of the day, it's absolutely ridiculous you have the mayor under pressure, you have the police commissioner and no one's asking where the state's attorney is," she said. "He's nowhere to be found."
Cheshire said Bernstein "has routinely shared our efforts to combat violent crime and make Baltimore safer by participating in community meetings, talking to residents one-on-one and speaking to the press."
He noted that Bernstein had met with East Baltimore residents and done two media interviews amid the recent spate of shootings.
Also Thursday, police identified another victim of the recent violence. Terrell Mack Eddie McLaurin, 33, was killed Tuesday in the 2900 block of Gywnns Falls Parkway.
The shootings early Thursday took place just blocks away from the site of that incident, further distressing the people who work and live nearby.
Sunin Im works behind a plexiglass-protected counter in a windowless red-brick building in West Baltimore called Kims Liquor store. Despite the protection, she said, she doesn't feel safe.
Littered around the nearby parking lot of an EZ Mart convenience store at Poplar Grove Street and North Avenue in Walbrook were more than 10 Baltimore police field interview form cards that were folded into little tents to serve as makeshift shell markers.
Blood drops stained part of the drive-through lot between two of the markers in mid-morning as two homicide detectives in suits canvassed the sidewalks for clues and people to interview.
"Of course I'm worried," she said. "I'm scared."
On Thursday night, three women were taken to area hospitals after being shot in the 3300 block of Elmora Ave., police said.
Maj. Richard Worley of the Northeast District said there were 50 to 100 people outside who likely saw the shooting and encouraged them to come forward.
"We can't accept this," he said. "We need the citizens' help."
Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Carrie Wells contributed to this article.
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