Crime unrelated to Freddie Gray protest spikes

Mounted police ride west on East Saratoga after the rally at War Memorial Plaza a day after six police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray.
Mounted police ride west on East Saratoga after the rally at War Memorial Plaza a day after six police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Mark Dantzler arrived home from a party early Sunday morning to find his neighborhood blocked off and his street saturated with blue police lights.

A man had been shot in the head across the street from the house he shares with friends in Northwest Baltimore, police said. The 45-year-old, who works as an insurance administrator, was surprised at the brutal violence on the normally quiet block of single-family homes.


"It just shows you can be in the nicest place in the world and something can happen," Dantzler said.

The crime was one of eight homicides and 12 shootings since Tuesday — a significant spike that has been overshadowed by the death of Freddie Gray, rioting on Monday and subsequent protests.


During the same period last year, police logged one homicide and five shootings.

Gray died a week after his arrest by Baltimore police on April 12, from injuries that included a severed spine. Six officers were arrested on various charges in connection with his death and later released on bail. The case sparked days of peaceful protests as well as the rioting that left some businesses looted.

Police have increased their presence on city streets to address unrest, and key personnel have been diverted. Maj. Stanley Brandford, the homicide unit commander for the department, has been leading the internal police task force investigating what happened to Gray.

Officials said that support from other law enforcement agencies, called to help keep the peace, would ensure Baltimore police could adequately respond to unrelated crimes.

The Maryland National Guard deployed thousands, and neighboring jurisdictions sent additional officers. The extra forces were stationed primarily in key protest areas, such as downtown and West Baltimore.

But as police and government officials focused on the case and its aftermath, crime unrelated to Gray's death erupted.

Baltimore police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk declined to speculate on causes behind the spike in crime and wouldn't detail how the department was addressing it, saying that would compromise their tactics.

He said the department is concerned about the rise in violence.

"We have to move to address it," Kowalczyk said. "We're doing that. We have investigators who are working very hard to find suspects in these cases, and we're going to work to make sure we can do everything that we can to stop the violence."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she wants to make sure the police strike a balance between monitoring the protests and enforcing the "ongoing crime fight," her spokesman Kevin Harris said.

"We don't get a break on crime because of the unrest that is ongoing," Harris said. "We have to figure out a way to do both. It's something we're working on."

City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector also expressed concern as two homicides happened in her district this weekend. But she praised the police, too.


"It speaks to the time, this is what we have been living with," Spector said. "We have to ... fix what is going on."

Residents in some of the neighborhoods where crime occurred over the weekend said they don't blame the lack of police focus. They said police responded quickly to the scenes.

Ted Warnick, Dantzler's neighbor, was watching television when he heard gunshots. A few minutes later he heard the sound of sirens, and police were on the scene. He went outside to see them put a man into an ambulance.

Warnick described the 2800 block of Silver Hill Ave. as stable, with a mix of young families and older people who have lived there for years. He is hoping the shooting was an isolated event.

"It definitely makes you a little nervous," said Warnick, who has lived on the block for three years.

Dantzler, who had been at a watch party for the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao boxing match that night, did wonder if some criminals may be more brazen because they think the police are preoccupied.

"It gives people a chance because cops are busy," he said.

A few hours earlier, on the opposite side of the city in the Cedmont community, Eric Crabb and Andrew Zill came home from a Kentucky Derby party to find a man screaming in pain near their home on Greenhill Avenue.

The 25-year-old victim had been shot in the leg and shoulder around the corner on Mary Avenue, Baltimore police said. He eventually dragged himself to Crabb and Zill's driveway, where paramedics treated him before taking him to a hospital.

Crabb and Zill cleaned blood stains off their driveway the following morning. They think the shooting is isolated and related to an abandoned house where they suspect drug activity. The area is normally quiet, the men said.

"The police were here very quickly; the response was very effective," said Zill, who works for an event production company.

On Sunday, police found a 33-year-old man at 2 a.m. in the 400 block of N. Montford Ave. in East Baltimore, suffering from gunshot wounds to the buttocks and lower leg. He was taken to an area hospital for treatment, and detectives are still investigating a motive.

Kowalczyk said the police will build on an effort to improve police rapport in the community that began before Gray's death.

"Our efforts to continue the community outreach — the investigations that go on, our patrol officers that are on the street every day to try and make Baltimore safer — those are going to continue," Kowalczyk said.

"That's got to be our concern, is working the neighborhoods, working with partners to make sure that we are addressing violence where it is and working to find the people responsible and make sure that we are able to take them into custody," he said.

Sun reporters Colin Campbell, Scott Dance and Justin Fenton contributed to this report.

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