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Baltimore police say they've solved three killings — but many more remain

Killed in a dispute over $3. #Baltimore

Witnesses helped police identify a suspect in a fatal stabbing last week over a $3 dispute, and another in the fatal shooting of a food delivery driver early Sunday morning.

A patrol officer in the right place at the right time chased down a suspect in the killing midday Monday of a teenager near the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues, the center of April's riots.

Those breaks notwithstanding — police say they have solved the three killings, with two suspects in custody and a warrant for the third — the department's homicide clearance rate stands at 36.3 percent this year, down from more than 60 percent in April.

Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announced the successes Tuesday at a news conference that he said helped fulfill the department's promise to keep the community informed "in the midst of this very busy and challenging summer."

They come as a small dent in the mounting wall of homicide cases in the city, which has seen 39 killings this month — just a few shy of the 42 deaths in May, a 25-year high.

The department's homicide clearance rate has hovered around 45 percent in recent years. The national average was 64.1 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

Davis said police are aware of the need to bring violent offenders to justice — a goal of the "War Room" they created this month with state and federal law enforcement agencies.

He said the three cases recently solved represent the best, greatest hope for Baltimore outside of that effort: community members cooperating with cops on the ground to crack cases quickly.

"We're at the end of July," Davis said. "It's a hot summer, and we've experienced an uptick in violence that has left the community and the Police Department frustrated, because we don't want these things to happen in our communities.

"But what I'm encouraged by — and it's highlighted in the three cases that we talked about today — is that those cases are being closed because of the community stepping forward."

When officers responded to the fatal stabbing of 23-year-old Clerow Myers III in the 4000 block of Glengyle Ave. in Fallstaff last Thursday, police say, community members — some of whom had witnessed the attack from a passing bus — approached immediately with information. Police used the information to track down Ta-von Marrell Harris, 35, according to Maj. Stanley Brandford, head of the department's homicide unit.

Then they learned the motive that "should shock everybody," Brandford said.

Brandford said Harris had given Myers money to rent a hotel room. Myers rented the room, Brandford said, but kept $3 in change.

"They got into an argument," Brandford said. "He was killed over $3."

On Sunday, officers responded to the 4800 block of Alhambra Ave. in Richnor Springs for the fatal shooting of Jaswinder Singh, a 26-year-old delivery driver for a local food vendor.

"As he was delivering food, he was shot and killed," Brandford said.

Patrol officers arrived quickly and were given a description of the suspect's vehicle, Brandford said. A witness to the shooting came forward and provided police additional "crucial information."

Police sent out an alert with a description of the vehicle. Officers in the Central District found the vehicle and arrested 20-year-old Marlo Lomax Jr. — who police believe had continued conducting robberies after the shooting.

On Monday, 18-year-old Michael Polston was found with multiple gunshot wounds in the 1600 block of W. North Ave. on the edge of Penn-North and Sandtown-Winchester.

Brandford said a patrol officer in the area heard the shots and saw a suspect running. The officer gave chase, and the suspect — identified as 21-year-old Rayshard Johnson — was eventually caught and found with a gun, Brandford said.

Davis said a man shot in the face by a police officer Monday night in Irvington remained in the hospital but was expected to survive his injuries.

Police said the man drove toward the officer and pinned him between his patrol car door and the door jamb. Davis said he will be charged with assault and other charges in the incident.

Davis said the shooting is being investigated by the department's force investigation team. The officer who fired his weapon "was shaken up quite a bit," he said, and is now on routine administrative leave pending the investigation.

Police have shot seven people this year, compared with eight at this time last year. The state's attorney's office could not say Tuesday how many of this year's cases remain open, or whether officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Davis said two people in the large crowd at the scene of the shooting were arrested for disorderly conduct and hindering the police investigation. He said their arrests would be "wrapped up" in the broader investigation of the incident.

"It's an emotionally charged moment when a community experiences something as significant as a police-involved shooting," Davis said. "The fact that people are out certainly doesn't weigh in, we expect people to be out. But as we're trying to conduct a crime scene investigation, we have to be able to do that safely, we have to be able to get our detectives and our crime scene investigators into a crime scene so that they can actually do their work."

Davis said he could not comment on reports from community members that an angry crowd had also gathered after the shooting on North Avenue. The department has reported an increase in crowds surrounding officers since the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death fueled protests; on the day he was buried, the city exploded in rioting, looting and arson.

Six officers involved in Gray's arrest have been charged with offenses ranging from misconduct in office to second-degree murder. All have pleaded not guilty; trials are scheduled to open in October.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said Davis is right to focus on the homicide clearance rate and community cooperation with police as violence in the city continues to spike.

"Baltimore has a special challenge," he said. "All this is connected. The inability to clear homicides contributes to the problem in the obvious ways, in that you have obviously very dangerous people on the loose …

"But it also contributes to problems like retaliation. If people feel like police and prosecutors are not ultimately going to hold people accountable, then they take it into their own hands and feel more justified, in essence, to avenge those killings."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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