A man who was free on bail when he was charged with shooting at Baltimore police officers Sunday is the latest evidence that the city's judicial system should be overhauled, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.
The mayor, a former head of the city prosecutor's office, suggested at his weekly news conference that bail for suspects accused of violent crimes or suspects arrested with guns be set higher to avoid similar situations.
"There is absolute urgency about making changes in the court system," Schmoke said. "It's frustrating to our police to have a very significant drug dealer and hit man back on the streets after being arrested 24 hours earlier."
Walter G. Ferguson, 25, was among 14 people arrested Dec. 14 in a raid on a house in North Baltimore.
Police said they seized a substantial amount of crack cocaine and three guns from the location. One gun has been linked to four shootings and a homicide.
Ferguson posted $100,000 bail Dec. 15 and was released. On Sunday, police charged him with ambushing and shooting at three police officers on York Road, one of whom had participated in his December arrest. No officers were hit, but police complained the bail amount had "no deterrent effect."
The case comes amid a growing crisis in the city's court system in which repeated delays in scheduling trials have allowed homicide suspects and others to be set free, their cases dismissed.
Schmoke said the bail issue represents another potential failure. He did not directly criticize the court commissioner who set Ferguson's bail, but said: "I think the court commissioner believes that $100,000 bail can keep somebody in [jail], and for most of us that would be the case."
Keith Mathews, the administrative judge of the District Court, which oversees commissioners, said he reviewed the case and believes the bail amount was appropriate.
"It's not like we get one or two cases like this a year," he said. "We get one or two cases like this a week. If someone put a $100,000 bail on me, I would still be there."
Ferguson's lawyer, Richard G. Berger, said he doesn't "find it unusual that law enforcement would question what they believe to be low bail amounts in any given case. If the police or the mayor were to complain about all bails, we wouldn't have bails and we'd have 14 new prisons holding everyone pending a charge."
Pub Date: 1/22/99