Arnold Bates, accused of fatally stabbing a city social services worker because he couldn't get food stamps, was on probation at the time of the killing and had been described by a judge as "potentially dangerous" without medication for schizophrenia.
Bates, 34, also known as Johnson Thomas, of the 1900 block of W. Fayette Ave., was charged last night with first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon in connection with a butcher knife attack on Tanja Brown-O'Neal, 29, as she interviewed him at the Rosemont Multipurpose Center in West Baltimore.
Bates, shot in the shoulder by a security guard during the incident, was charged after being released from the University of Maryland Medical Center, police said.
Court records show that Bates, convicted of assault in 1989 for robbing a 72-year-old handicapped woman of her purse, requires medication for treatment of schizophrenia.
Baltimore Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes noted on probation papers the danger posed if Bates missed his medication.
"This [defendant] is potentially dangerous," the judge wrote. "If [Bates] takes his medication, there is little problem. But he threatens not to.
He virtually announced his intention to violate probation."
It wasn't known if Bates had taken his medication yesterday.
Byrnes recalled the sentencing today, saying that Bates got into an argument with his sister during the proceeding and vehemently protested his sentence to the judge. The judge said a medical evaluation showed Bates could snap without his medication.
"Once he's medicated he's as silent as a lamb," Byrnes said today. "But with what he had said in the courtroom, one could interpret that he was not going to be cooperative."
Byrnes said he scribbled a note on the probation order, hoping to "trigger an intensive observation of this man."
"I'm not being critical of the Department of Parole and Probation because they are terribly overloaded," he said. "But I assumed that they would give it special attention because of the note that
I wrote. It may have been the first time I've done it in 9 years. I don't know why it didn't trigger a special response."
The judge said the prosecutors as well as medical experts had recommended a period of incarceration along with probation to help treat Bates' psychiatric condition.
Susan G. Kaskie, spokeswoman for the state Department of Parole and Probation, said today that the handling of the case was being reviewed. Bates was placed on the lowest levels of supervision and had failed to provide his agents with proof that he had been meeting the conditions of his probation, which included drug and alcohol screening and psychiatric treatment.
"I had some concern that his attitude about probation was that he would not abide by it," Byrnes said. "I'm disappointed but I dont know the [probation department's] explanation either. It's a tragedy."
Meanwhile, William Bolander, executive director of Local 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the attack demonstrates a dire need for improved security for a profession that has become "very dangerous."
Because cases are confidential, security guards aren't allowed in the interview areas, such as the boxed-in partition where Brown-O'Neal was stabbed, making workers easy targets, Bollander said.
Employees report verbal threats daily and occasional physical assaults, Bolander said.
One employee, who asked not to be identified, said today that "nuts come in" to her office every day.
"Nothing like this has happened before, but you're always leery of it happening. Am I surprised this happened with the types of people who come in here? N-O."
Shirley Marcus, the DSS director, said yesterday her department will explore the possibility of changes in security.
"People coming to our agency for services are coming as a last resort," she said. "They come out of desperation with a lot of feelings of helplessness and despair."
The attack is the first in which a Baltimore DSS worker was killed at work, officials said.
"She was in the process of interviewing the suspect, some matter about food stamps, when he became enraged or disturbed," said homicide detective Don Steinhice.
Bates allegedly pulled a butcher knife from his shoe or sock and stabbed her twice in the shoulder and twice in the chest, Steinhice said.
"People were screaming and yelling," Steinhice said. He said the noise alarmed one of two Watkins Security Agency guards. The guard, Manuel V. Johnson, pulled his .38-caliber revolver from a holster and ordered the attacker to drop the knife.
The wounded caseworker was able "to crawl and get out of the line of fire," Steinhice said.
When the attacker refused a second demand to drop the knife, Steinhice said, the security guard fired, wounding the attacker in the left shoulder.
Brown-O'Neal, of the 2200 block of Eutaw St., died about two hours later at University. She was a wife and mother of a young son.
At Rosemont, O'Neal had been an income maintenance specialist for almost two years. Her duties included verifying the documentation of applicants for welfare benefits, food stamps and other social services, Marcus said.
"This is a very sad day," Marcus said.
The Rosemont Center, the department's largest, is staffed by 69 workers and handles about 6,500 cases annually, Marcus said. The workers were given administrative leave yesterday and had grief counseling available to them when they returned today.
The atmosphere at the center was tense today and many employees declined to talk to reporters.
"Everyone is a little shaken around here, and understandably so," Kim Wakins said as she came to work.
Bates' family declined to comment, but a sister told a television reporter yesterday afternoon that Bates did suffer from a mental illness. And, she said, "All he wanted was his food stamps, so he could eat."
She also said he lived outside the family's home.
Court records also show that Bates, who uses several aliases, was on probation in Baltimore.
In 1989, Byrnes sentenced Bates to a six-year prison term, suspended except for 15 months of jail time and four years' probation. Bates had been convicted of assault and theft charges after he snatched a purse with more than $800 from a 72-year-old handicapped woman.
On March 30, while Bates was still on probation, he was arrested again, this time on charges of theft and malicious destruction, court records show. The case was placed on an inactive docket.
Bates refused to sign court papers outlining the conditions of his probation -- even though the papers noted that he could be charged with violating probation for not signing, the records show. The judge scribbled a note on the probation papers saying that the conditions were explained to Bates and that he understood.
David Chiu, an assistant state's attorney, said the sentence Bates received for the purse snatching was "an appropriate sentence" for the crime committed.