A Baltimore police officer was seriously wounded early Saturday after a man opened fire on him near the downtown nightlife hub, touching off a running gunbattle as tactical officers pursued the suspect up North Calvert Street.
The suspect fled on foot, then sped away in a silver-colored Toyota Camry before crashing into a light pole near Calvert and Franklin streets. Police apprehended him at Mercy Medical Center, where he was seeking treatment for several gunshot wounds.
A law enforcement source identified the suspect as Franklin James Gross, 29, of the 4200 block of Liberty Heights Ave. in Northwest Baltimore, who has an extensive criminal record. Police said he was hospitalized and in police custody at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Saturday night, but they did not officially release his name because he has not been charged.
The officer, who was struck above his bulletproof vest, was identified as Todd A. Strohman, a one-year veteran of the force, by law enforcement sources. Police did not officially release his name, citing department policy that conceals the identities of crime victims. The officer was taken to Shock Trauma and was expected to be released in the next few days.
The incident began just after 1 a.m. at East Baltimore and North Calvert streets.
Central District commander Maj. Dennis Smith spotted a man walking awkwardly with his pants sagging to one side, the "classic stance of an armed man," said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
Smith radioed an officer closer to the man, who approached him and may have spoken to him before the man began shooting, Bealefeld said. A bullet struck the officer above his bulletproof vest, ricocheted off his clavicle, and became lodged in his chest, police said.
Several tactical officers, who patrol the area on weekend evenings, shot at the gunman, firing at least 20 bullets on one city block, police said.
It was not immediately clear how many people were on the street at the time. Bealefeld said most of the shots were fired at fairly close range.
The suspect jumped into the Toyota with two other people and sped north, before smashing into the light police and a fire hydrant.
The car was peppered with about a dozen bullet holes in the back windshield, trunk and bumper. Police located the other two occupants of the car, but did not release their names because they had not been charged Saturday.
Officials said that police appeared to have acted appropriately in firing upon the suspect because he was armed and had committed a violent crime.
"This individual pulled a gun and fired on a police officer," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "If he did that to a cop, imagine what he would do to an everyday citizen who can't defend himself. We have an obligation to neutralize that threat."
Guglielmi said that there was no evidence that a large crowd was in the area where the officers fired. It was unclear whether they shot at the car when it was moving. The officers who fired on the suspect were part of the SWAT team, and among the most highly trained members of the force, he said.
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that she believed that the officers had acted appropriately, although the shooting, like all police-involved shootings, would be the subject of an investigation.
"The police officers that responded to the incident were highly trained and no innocent lives were put in jeopardy," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty wrote in an e-mail. "The suspect, however, was a repeat violent gun offender who had little regard for the law and life."
Gary McLhinney, the former head of the city Fraternal Order of Police and the retired chief of police for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said that by law the officers were entitled to take any action they deemed reasonable after witnessing the suspect commit a felony.
"This is about as dangerous a situation as you can get," said McLhinney. "Clearly [the officers] made the right decision because no innocent civilians were hurt and they captured [the suspect]. These officers, in my mind, are heroes."
In accordance with department protocol, homicide detectives are investigating the shooting and their findings will be reviewed by the state's attorney's office, Guglielmi said.
Court records show that Gross, who was identified as the suspect by law enforcement sources, had been convicted of three prior felonies. A police source said he was on parole for armed robbery at the time of the latest shooting.
Gross was convicted in 1998 of assault and sentenced to four years in prison, but a judge suspended three years and 10 months of the term. He was convicted in March 2008 of being a felon in possession of a handgun and sentenced to five years in prison, with time starting when he was arrested in May 2006.
In May 2008, while still in prison on the gun charge, he was convicted of a separate armed robbery charge and sentenced to 12 years in prison, with all but six years suspended. He had been paroled, police said.
Police shut down numerous streets north of the Inner Harbor after the incident. A police helicopter hovered over the two crime scenes, and police said they recovered a semiautomatic handgun.
The shooting occurred shortly before bars and nightclubs closed for the night, when streets north of the Inner Harbor can get crowded as people leave en masse. Last year, numerous robberies and violence near the harbor and farther north in Mount Vernon and Mid-Town Belvedere forced police to saturate the area with officers on weekend nights. Police have also cracked down on nightclubs and bars deemed to be troublesome.
Few problems were reported this summer, but police maintain a heavy presence Friday and Saturday nights between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Officers shut East Baltimore Street near The Block to traffic and keep a close eye on people leaving clubs.
It was not clear Saturday where police arrested the two other men who had been in the car. Bealefeld said police found the gun near the initial confrontation, but officers searched a parking garage and a lot owned by The Baltimore Sun at North Calvert and Centre streets shortly after the shooting.