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Crime

Police: Man arrested hours after allegedly dragging and badly injuring Baltimore police officer during traffic stop

Baltimore Police arrested Joseph Black late Wednesday morning, about half a day after officials alleged he accelerated his vehicle while engaged with a Baltimore police sergeant during a traffic stop Tuesday night, dragging the officer about two blocks and leaving him badly injured.

Black, 36, barricaded himself in a West Baltimore home Wednesday morning, causing an hourslong standoff with police, but was taken into custody without incident, police said.

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He was armed during the traffic stop and later confessed to striking the officer, officials said. Black has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, police said Thursday.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison would not say what traffic violation Black committed that led to the stop, only that body camera footage showed some of it. The department did not release any footage from the stop.

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The injured officer, whose name has not been released, was on life support Tuesday night, but officials said Wednesday he was in fair condition recovering from surgery at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The sergeant suffered broken bones and head trauma, police said.

Before Black’s arrest, a memo sent out to local law enforcement identified him as the driver and said he was “considered armed and dangerous.” It said Black also was a suspect in a recent homicide: the killing of Darrell Fulton, who was shot June 14 in the 3100 block of Spaulding Avenue in Park Heights near Pimlico. Fulton died three days later from his injuries, according to police.

Court records show Black had been freed from jail late last year after pleading guilty in two separate cases. Both times, he was arrested on attempted murder and other serious counts, then took a plea deal and was convicted of illegal gun possession — a much lesser charge that allowed him to be released on time served and placed on probation.

“When we talk about repeat violent offenders, this is what we are referring to,” Harrison said. “Black has been arrested at least 19 times as an adult with little or no regard for consequences.”

Tuesday night, Harrison said, the injured officer, a Northwest District sergeant and 27-year veteran of the force, was making a traffic stop minutes after 8 p.m. in the 5100 block of Park Heights Avenue in the Central Park Heights community when he “became engaged with the vehicle” and was dragged about two blocks.

The driver fled the scene, police said.

The standoff began early Wednesday morning in the 1600 block of Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood. Officers blocked off several streets surrounding the scene until Black was finally taken into custody.

Moses Hammett, a volunteer administrator at the Masjid ul Haqq mosque close to the standoff location, said he saw police officers posted outside the mosque by 5:30 a.m.

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“It was a little unnerving. We’ve had shootings around here and didn’t know what was going on,” Hammett said. “We’ve never seen [police] amass like that. All that firepower we saw, I said it was either the suspect had a lot of firepower, or it’s high-profile.”

When SWAT arrived, those inside the mosque were asked to stay in the building, roughly six hours, Hammett said.

Publicly available court records show Black, who lives in Baltimore, had a fraught history with Baltimore police even before Tuesday’s traffic stop.

His two most recent cases, which started with attempted murder charges, were resolved last year when Black pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. In each case, he received reduced sentences — 15 years in prison with all but time served suspended — and was released. He was placed on supervised probation, a two-year term that was still ongoing at the time of his arrest Wednesday.

Attorney Brad MacFee, who represented Black in both cases, attributed the plea deals and relatively lenient sentences to a combination of factors.

“I believe the pandemic, combined with the decimation of the State’s Attorney’s Office, is resulting in deals that might have been otherwise unattainable,” he said, referring to widespread delays in the court system due to coronavirus closures and significant turnover causing dire staffing shortages among Baltimore City prosecutors.

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The first case stemmed from an October 2019 shootout in the 1500 block of North Broadway in Northeast Baltimore, according to charging documents. Black and another man were accused of shooting at each other during a dispute. The second suspect was injured.

Black was arrested on attempted first-degree murder and other counts, but he was indicted only on five gun charges, court records show. He later pleaded guilty to felon in possession.

Speaking about that case during a news conference Wednesday, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said prosecutors determined Black had fired in self-defense, which led to the conviction on a lesser charge.

In the second case, Baltimore police responded to a Shot Spotter alert and encountered a white minivan apparently fleeing the area and driving erratically, according to charging documents. The driver refused to pull over. The chase ended when the minivan crashed and Black fled on foot, then was taken into custody. Police recovered two guns, ammunition, a scale and almost $3,500 in cash from Black and the vehicle, according to the documents.

Black was indicted on 33 counts, including attempted second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. Again, he later pleaded guilty to felon in possession.

Asked how Black, who officers observed evading arrest, crashing a car and who had guns in his possession, could avoid 32 of 33 charges, Harrison said he couldn’t answer.

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“It was a great question, I just believe you’re asking it to the wrong person,” said Harrison, referencing prosecutors’ discretion when it comes to plea deals.

Mosby said that case came down to a lack of victim and witness cooperation.

“This is a problem that I have outlined for a number of years,” she said. “We have to break down these barriers of distrust.”

She also praised the work of her subordinates and acknowledged the hurdles facing her office.

“Despite the unprecedented challenges in our court system with a massive backload in criminal cases and the lure of higher pay and lighter caseloads in neighboring offices, my prosecutors continue to deliver justice day in and day out to the citizens of Baltimore City,” she said.

But Harrison said Black is an example of the kind of repeat violent offenders his officers regularly arrest and re-arrest because they somehow avoid meaningful jail time.

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“Frankly an individual who had no business being out — who should have still been behind bars — was out wreaking havoc on the streets of Baltimore yet again,” Mayor Brandon Scott said.

In 2006, Black also pleaded guilty to armed robbery. The judge in that case sentenced him to five years behind bars with four years suspended and three years of supervised probation. In 2011 and 2012, he pleaded guilty to second-degree assault charges in two separate cases. And in 2015, he pleaded guilty to a gun charge. He was in prison on that conviction until January 2019, according to information from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

“This highlights the need to step up our rehabilitation and reentry work because clearly someone who was in and out of prison for years wasn’t properly being prepared to reenter into our society,” Scott said.

City officials said the sergeant was in Park Heights Tuesday night because it is an area that has struggled with violence.

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“This is a neighborhood in a particular block that has had issues with violence for as long as I’ve been breathing,” Scott said Tuesday.

In the area of Park Heights where the traffic stop turned violent Tuesday night, neighbors reacted with shock.

Yeshiyah B. Israel, president of the Pimlico Merchants Association, said Wednesday at her store YBI African Apparel along Park Heights Avenue, that she was “devastated” to hear about the incident.

When bad things take place in the community, local businesses suffer, Israel added. The neighborhood needs a “better quality of life for everybody.” she said

Marvin Jones Sr., who attends church in Park Heights, said he was in tears when he heard about the officer being struck. Jones said he typically does prayer stations on a block of Park Heights Avenue on Thursday afternoons, but came out a day early after hearing the news.

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“I’ve seen brazen things since I’ve been here … but that’s another level,” Jones said. “I can’t comprehend that, that we’ve gotten to that stage.”

Prayers and well wishes for the injured officer came pouring in on social media Wednesday.

“Another senseless act of violence against law enforcement has left a Baltimore Police sergeant fighting for his life. The perpetrator must be swiftly brought to justice,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a tweet. “We are all praying for the officer to make a full recovery.”

The ATF Baltimore Field Division offered “unwavering support” and Baltimore FBI officials praised his courage.

“The FBI Baltimore family wishes the courageous Baltimore Police sergeant who was critically injured in the line of duty a full recovery,” officials wrote on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with him, his family, and his colleagues in the department.”

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Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

For the record

This article has been updated to correct the misattribution of a quote. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said: "Frankly an individual who had no business being out — who should have still been behind bars — was out wreaking havoc on the streets of Baltimore yet again."


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