On the night of Jan. 31, Theron Richardson heard a noise in front of his Old Frederick Road house and looked outside to see two men wearing ski masks kicking and beating a young fellow from the neighborhood.
Richardson rapped hard on his window. The two men looked up, waved him off disdainfully, and went back to their beating. Richardson realized he knew their victim. He was Jada Lokeman, a family friend he'd known since he was a child. And he saw that he had blood all over his face, and his eyes were going back in his head.
"Call the police," Richardson, a custom furniture maker, told his wife, Germaine.
Then he reached for a gun that he keeps in his house, as two thoughts ran through his head: He'd had to call the police before, and they might take 20 minutes to arrive; by then, it would be too late for Jada.
Also, he knew that he couldn't walk outside with a loaded gun. The law says so. But Richardson, not knowing if the muggers were armed, didn't want to go outside without a weapon.
"So I emptied the gun of all bullets," he said yesterday. It's a .32 caliber semiautomatic. "And I ran outside, yelling, 'What do you all think you're doing?' I let 'em see my gun, but I didn't point it right at them. They got up. I said again, 'What are you doing?'
"They said, 'We think this guy robbed us last week.' They're standing there in ski masks over their faces, right, and they want me to believe he robbed them. I said, 'No way. I know this boy since he was 6 or 7. He's not that type of guy.' "
In fact, Jada Lockman, 21, is a senior at UMBC, a premed student who expects to start medical school next fall. He's never been in trouble. He was walking home from a neighborhood store when he heard the two men come up behind him.
"I suppressed a notion to turn around," Lokeman said yesterday, "and then felt one of them jump on my back. At first, I thought maybe it was a friend, kidding around. But then he had his arm around my neck, and the other one said, 'Where's the money?'
"I said, 'I don't have any.' The guy on my back was choking me. I went unconscious. When I awoke, I had the feeling that a space of time had been lost. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't function. I was relieved to see Mr. Richardson standing there, and they were telling him, 'We'll just go.' He wouldn't let them. So they tried to say I'd robbed them a week earlier."
"Yeah," Richardson confirmed, "they told me, 'Well, the guy who robbed us had this same coat, and he was light-skinned like him.' "
Richardson looked at Lokeman and saw his nose and eyes had been hit hard, and there was blood all over his face. He seemed dazed, and couldn't focus his eyes. Now Richardson's wife came running out of the house.
"Call the police," he said.
"I did," she said.
They were still standing in the driveway of their home when a police car pulled up and an officer walked toward them.
"I held my hands out from my body," Richardson said, "and I called out, 'Officer, I have a gun, but it's unloaded, and it is registered.' "
"Drop the gun," the officer said.
"I did," Richardson said yesterday, "but he came up, threw me on the ground, and stuck his knee in my back. I'm on the ground, in socks, sweat pants and a T-shirt, in that cold weather, and I said, 'Officer, the gun was unloaded, the registration papers are in the house. They were beating up this boy.' He said, 'Shut up. You're not supposed to have a gun on the street. You're going to jail.' "
And, minutes later, Richardson -- and the two men he says were beating up Jada Lokeman -- were all riding, handcuffed, in the back of a police wagon, on their way to Southwestern District lockup, where Richardson spent the next 26 hours, until he finally got to see a bail commissioner. He was released on his own recognizance.
"I don't get it," Miles Lokeman, Jada's father, was saying yesterday. "This man is a hero and should be commended by the police and all the citizens of Baltimore. He saved my son. When he came home, my wife and I treated him as best we could, and then we went to the station house. They said we couldn't talk to (Richardson). We went back at least six more times, trying to get someone to listen to reason. They said nothing could be done once the paper work had been put in."
Jada Lokeman added, "The officer put me in his car and told me, 'I know he was trying to help you, but he can't carry a gun off his property.' But, of course, he was on his own property. All I know is, it could have been fatal for me if Mr. Richardson hadn't come out."
Yesterday, city police spokesman Rob Weinhold, pointed out the subtle nature of such incidents. The officer, Robert Benson, saw a gun in Richardson's hand. Having no backup, he ordered everyone at the scene to lie on the ground.
"He didn't know what he had," Weinhold, said. "He did determine that the two men had assaulted (Jada Lokeman). But Richardson had a gun. The officer was obligated to arrest him. It's up to the court to determine if there were mitigating circumstances." So there's your irony for the day. In a city crawling with guns, the cops have to arrest everybody and let the courts ask questions afterward. The two alleged assailants of Jada Lokeman have been charged with robbery, battery, theft, and possession of a deadly weapon, a slapjack.
They will stand trial on March 1 -- which is the same day a gun possession trial is set for Theron Richardson, who was only trying to do the right thing.