Baltimore soldier is accused in shootings

The Baltimore Sun

An 18-year-old Baltimore soldier was detained this week at an Army base in Oklahoma after city detectives accused him in the gang-related shooting of five people in the Barclay neighborhood last month.

Jerrell Hill of the 5600 block of Lothian Road in North Baltimore was arrested Monday afternoon by Army authorities at Fort Sill. He is charged with attempted murder in a warrant and is awaiting extradition, police said.

Authorities did not disclose a motive in the attack, but a police spokesman said investigators believe that the suspect is a member of a local Bloods group known as the Pasadena Denver Lane gang.

Hill's parents insisted last night that their son was not responsible for the attack and said they had no knowledge of his involvement in any violent gangs.

"He had a little gang he hung out with," said Robert Hill. "As far as calling them one of these Bloods or Crips, I have no idea about that."

Police said at least three of the five victims who were shot Sept. 20 have ties to a rival gang known as the Young Gorilla Family, which claims the Barclay neighborhood. Law enforcement officials believe the Young Gorilla Family and Bloods gang members have been responsible for a string of shootings and homicides in Barclay during the past year.

Police officials have pointed to an increase in gang activity in some neighborhoods as one reason for the city's higher homicide and shooting rates this year. As of yesterday, 240 people had been killed in Baltimore this year, compared with 218 for the similar period last year.

One of the victims in last month's shooting, Maxine Tate, 21, is a sister of Eric Tate, 19, a Young Gorilla Family member who pleaded guilty to killing two men - one a Bloods gang member - in Barclay last year. Under his plea deal, Tate will serve no more than 50 years in prison.

Police officials could not say whether Tate was targeted because her brother killed a Bloods gang member.

None of the other four victims - two men, a woman and a 16-year-old boy - was seriously injured in the shootings.

Police said two men approached the group on the street and one fired at least twice with a shotgun loaded with birdshot - tiny metal pellets that, when discharged from a shotgun, can spray a wide area.

The shooting, shortly before 1 a.m. Sept. 20, sent the victims scattering, and police officers found them at different locations around the 2400 block of Barclay St., according to Agent Donny Moses, a police spokesman.

Four victims were treated and released from area hospitals. Tate was admitted and treated for wounds to her back at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Moses said.

Moses would not say how the investigation led the detectives to charge Hill; information about a possible second suspect was not available.

Hill lived in North Baltimore's Mid-Govans neighborhood, in an apartment with his parents, before going into the military.

He joined the Army on April 25 and was a private assigned to 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery at Fort Sill, according to military officials. He had been assigned to the artillery unit last month, officials said.

On Monday, city police detectives went to his home at 5:30 a.m. in a visit the police report - obtained by The Sun - calls "a ruse."

Detectives showed Hill's parents a photo of a man they said was wanted for a shooting and asked whether he lived at their address, Robert Hill said. The photo was not of Jerrell, he said, and he told them that the only people who lived there were him, his wife and his son, who was serving in the Army.

Detectives then contacted officials at Fort Meade for help and were directed to Army criminal investigators at Fort Sill. After city detectives faxed a copy of the arrest warrant to the base, Army officials detained Hill, the report states.

Robert Hill said his son dropped out of one of the small schools at the former Northern High School in 10th grade, but completed a security trades program at Woodstock Job Corps Center. Jerrell Hill, the younger of two children, earned his GED in March and enlisted in April because "he decided he wanted to get off the streets and do something with his life," his father said.

His parents had served in the military and had convinced him it was time to leave childhood activities behind, Robert Hill said. Jerrell Hill graduated from basic and advanced individual training by Aug. 15 and returned to Baltimore for leave and to assist an Army recruiter in West Baltimore.

The soldier spent most of his leave at his parents' house. "A big part of him staying in the house was because he didn't want to fall back into the same things he was into," Robert Hill said.

At his home yesterday, Robert Hill, wearing an Army sweat shirt and a baseball cap with an artillery insignia, said his son could not have been involved in the shootings because he had returned to the base Sept. 11.

Hill and his wife, Quintina, said they took their son to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport for an 11 a.m. American Airlines flight Sept. 11 and watched him pass through the security checkpoint, "and he was supposed to report back to base," Robert Hill said.

"Now had he not, he would have been AWOL and they would have come looking for him," his father said.

The date of his son's departure sticks in his mind, he said, because Jerrell Hill was worried about flying on Sept. 11 and had hoped to leave Sept. 9.

Their son also transferred money from his credit union at Fort Sill to his grandmother's bank in time to help his parents pay their rent Sept. 20."There's no way he was here," Robert Hill said.

"I'm not worried about this," he said later. "He's being inconvenienced now, that's about it."

But Sterling Clifford, a city police spokesman, said detectives confirmed through military records that Hill was not in Oklahoma the day of the shooting.

Army officials said it was against regulations to publicly release information about when individual soldiers leave and return to bases.

After he was arrested at the base, Hill was transferred to the Comanche County Jail to await extradition proceedings, according to Emily Kelley, a Fort Sill spokeswoman.

Army officials said that recruits undergo city, county and state criminal background checks, as well as fingerprint checks for known prior offenses. And Army officials screen recruits for gang membership.

Maj. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman, said the service must consider several criteria in judging whether a person is a gang member.

Army officials consider whether a recruit acknowledges gang membership or a reliable source identifies a gang connection. Officials must also consider whether a recruit lives, dresses and acts like a gang member, lives in a gang area, adopts a gang lifestyle of dress and tattoos, and associates with known gang members.

Last, the Army weighs whether a recruit has a record of multiple arrests with gang members or is stopped with gang members four or more times, Banks said. Any two of the criteria could disqualify a person from military service, he said.

Banks said the Army does accept recruits with felony records, but only after a general officer looks at the circumstances of an individual's application and issues a waiver.

Hill, according to electronic Maryland court records, did not have a conviction in the state. He had been arrested once, April 17, and charged with trespassing. Eight days later, Hill enlisted in the Army.

The charge was dismissed May 7, court records show.

Sun reporter David Wood in Washington contributed to this article.

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