Approval of tipster reward expected


The city Board of Estimates is expected to approve a reward payment today to the tipster who directed detectives last summer to the killer of Officer Brian D. Winder.

Days after providing the crucial tip, the informant and his attorney held a news conference, during which they urged the city to immediately pay the reward, criticized police for calling attention to the informant's home and declared that the informant and his family had fled West Baltimore in fear.

In a telephone interview yesterday, the tipster -- who requested anonymity because he remains fearful -- said that since he leveled his criticisms five months ago, the city has treated him well. He also said he doesn't regret telling police where to find suspect Charles Bennett, who killed himself as police closed in.

Police say Bennett shot Winder on July 3 at a West Baltimore liquor store as the officer investigated a domestic dispute report.

"There's a lot of stuff going on in Baltimore that people overlook and pretend they don't see," said the informant, a 40-year-old city native. "I don't think it's right to take someone's life."

A police spokesman said it typically takes months to distribute rewards because an investigation is required. In this case, authorities had to look into why the informant allowed Bennett to stay at his house.

On the eve of receiving $20,000 from the city -- to go along with $10,000 he has received from the Fraternal Order of Police and $5,000 expected from a police organization that represents minority officers -- the informant and his attorney, David Ellin, detailed how he steered police to Bennett.

After arresting one suspect at the G&G; Liquor Store in the 4600 block of Edmondson Ave. after Winder's killing, police launched a manhunt for Bennett.

The informant said yesterday that Bennett approached him at an Edmondson Avenue gas station two days after the killing. Bennett said he had been in a fight with his wife and asked the informant to sign him into a hotel, the informant said.

Unaware that Bennett was wanted for murder, the tipster said he refused but allowed Bennett to stay the night at his West Baltimore home.

The informant didn't know Bennett, but it appeared they had some mutual friends, the informant recalled. Bennett said his name was "Rick," according to the informant.

Before leaving, Bennett shaved his facial hair and head, the informant said. Again, Bennett tried unsuccessfully to get the informant to register him at the Relax Inn in Northwest Baltimore.

That night, the informant said he saw Bennett's face on television.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, that's him,'" recalled the informant, who said he works in home improvement and is retired from the Army.

The informant said he drove to the house of a friend, who is a police officer, and told investigators what he knew about Bennett, including the hotel.

The informant said his neighbors learned about his role in the case because police swarmed his house that night. Early the next morning, he heard on the radio that Bennett had killed himself as police entered his hotel room.

The informant, who said he spent several months in housing provided by the city, is living with friends. He said he will buy a new house with the reward money and the proceeds from selling his former home.

"My whole life has changed," he said.

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