Officer charged with murder after barricade situation in W. Baltimore house

An off-duty Baltimore police officer gave himself up late Tuesday after barricading himself in a home with a toddler in a six-hour standoff that began when he fatally shot a woman, authorities said.

Officer James Smith, a 20-year veteran and member of the motorcycle unit, was taken into custody before 9:30 p.m. and was charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday morning, among other charges, according to court records. Police had evacuated residents in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood from their homes during the incident.


The woman, who was not identified, lay wounded in the street for nearly an hour after she was shot in front of Western District officers who police confirmed had been called to the home. But because of the barricade and fears that Smith might fire into the street, police and medical personnel were unable to take her to a hospital immediately.

About an hour into the barricade, which began around 3:30 p.m., a tactical truck drove into the 1100 block of N. Parrish Street, and officers exited with shields raised. They placed the woman into the back of the vehicle, then reversed back to Riggs Avenue and into a police command post.


The woman's clothing was covered in blood, and she did not appear to be moving. Paramedics strapped her onto a gurney, and she was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. SWAT members cleaned off their bloody hands with a bottle of what appeared to be rubbing alcohol, wiped down the blood from the floor and seats, and returned to the barricade site.

A 4-year-old boy, who police said they believed was Smith's son, was removed from the house about an hour before his surrender, police said. Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the boy was taken for evaluation.

Batts told reporters he wanted to focus on the shooting victim.

"We have a 4-year-old that's probably traumatized. We unfortunately have lost the life of our victim," Batts said as he stood inside of the nearby Western District roll call room. "We need to wrap around that family. We need to secure the family within the police organization, too."

Police said nearby residents were evacuated and taken to Gilmor Elementary School. Batts said the crime scene was expected to be inaccessible until later the next morning, and residents would be put up in hotels.

During the attempts at negotiations, officials said, Smith communicated with colleagues and others via cellphone and social media. "There were times where he had access to cellphones, until we got capabilities to limit that and cut it off," Batts said.

The woman died soon after being taken to the hospital, police spokesman Anthony Gugliemi said, but police officials withheld disclosing her death in part out of concern that it might further upset Smith.

Scores of residents stood on the fringes of the crime scene, unable to get to their homes.

"I know it's not going to end good," said Tracie Nelson, a 47-year-old neighbor of Smith who said she saw him go to work every morning with a department motorcycle. "You hope for the best, but you know it's not going to end well."

Police would not disclose the circumstances of how officers had arrived at the scene before the shots were fired, saying it was an active investigation.

A neighbor, who declined to give his name because he feared for his safety, said he had returned home and saw his neighbor, a woman, outside. He asked her if she was OK. The woman told him she was, but asked him to call 911.

The neighbor said he went inside and heard "fussing" and yelling. Police officers soon showed up on the block. Then, the neighbor said, he heard a gunshot. He looked outside and saw the police officers running and then heard three more shots. The neighbor hid in his home and later looked out, seeing the woman lying on the sidewalk.


For hours, the SWAT vehicle entered and exited the block, alternating between Winchester Street to the north and Riggs to the south. At about 6 p.m., the truck rumbled onto the sidewalk near the single-family home, and officers could be seen attaching something to an iron gate on the front steps between the front door and the street. The vehicle reversed, yanking out the iron gate and dragging it away.

At about 6:40 p.m., police used their Twitter account to send an update that "negotiators are working to peacefully resolve the situation."

"There is no specific threat to the community," read the message.

Batts said in a press update that police were working to "slow the situation down and to try to negotiate Mr. Smith out of the residence."

Officers from the Baltimore County Police Department arrived throughout the evening, including a mobile command vehicle, a tactical truck and several patrol vehicles. A private ambulance service had to wait for permission for access to the crime scene to make a pickup at a senior high-rise building inside the police crime scene tape.

Batts said he could not comment on whether Smith had any problems within the agency. As a member of the motorcycle unit, Smith took part in many high-profile events.

Of the surrender, Batts said, "We just gave it time. We gave it time, we had our psychologists speaking with him, trying to calm him down.

"We were very happy he released the toddler," he said. "We have a young lady who lost her life. That's the biggest focus right now."

Smith was being held without bail on Wednesday, according to court records.


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