Former Poly basketball player latest victim as Baltimore killings mount

Poly Engineers' Darius Kelly (center) loses the ball to Edmondson Westside Red Storm guard Chaz Lassiter (right) while trying to drive past guard/forward Rashad Wattie (left) during boys' varsity basketball in this 2014 file photo.
Poly Engineers' Darius Kelly (center) loses the ball to Edmondson Westside Red Storm guard Chaz Lassiter (right) while trying to drive past guard/forward Rashad Wattie (left) during boys' varsity basketball in this 2014 file photo. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Darius "Jack" Kelly was nicknamed for his skill at firing off shot after shot — "jacking," in slang — as a standout basketball player for Polytechnic Institute.

Coach Sam Brand remembers marveling at the young guard's toughness and potential — but also worrying about his future in a city that lures many of its sons into a far more brutal game and an entirely different line of fire.


On Sunday, his fears proved prescient. Kelly, 20, was fatally shot in an East Baltimore parking lot under circumstances that remain unclear.

"He was loved. He had potential. But he fell in love with the streets," Brand said.


"We all make mistakes and questionable decisions in our teenage years. But when you're from where Jack is from, those decisions have different consequences."

Kelly was one of 12 people shot, three of them fatally, last weekend in Baltimore. His death was the 166th homicide in 2016, pushing the pace of killings this year close to that of 2015, the city's deadliest year per capita, with 344.

There have been 35 homicides in the last 30 days, and nonfatal shootings are up this year. Most have gone unsolved.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chair of the Public Safety Committee and co-founder of the anti-violence group 300 Men March, called the pace of killings unacceptable. It is not enough to keep homicides below the historic 2015 rate, he said, when killings were so far below that level in other recent years.


In 2011, the city saw 197 homicides. In 2014, there were 211.

"I don't want to hear about 2015. I want to hear about 2014 and — more importantly — 2011," Scott said. "I want us to be setting the bar as high as our best year."

Other officials have also expressed frustration. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis says the department is taking record numbers of guns off the streets and has identified hundreds of "trigger pullers," those most likely to commit violence or become the victims of it.

Still, he has said, those efforts have not produced a commensurate drop in violence.

On Saturday, a 26-year-old woman named Eboni Thornton was killed in a double shooting that also left a 34-year-old man injured at a house in Poppleton. Two small children were present but not injured.

Police believe the building was a drug house that was targeted by the gunmen who forced their way inside. Officers called to the scene found narcotics and paraphernalia used to package drugs for distribution.

On Sunday, a woman and her boyfriend got into a fight, and the man stabbed the woman, police said. The man then was shot, though it was unclear by whom, police said.

The man, whose name was not released, will face charges, police said.

As in 2015, the victims of fatal shootings in Baltimore this year have overwhelmingly been young black men.

Officers called to the 900 block of N. Caroline St. in East Baltimore about 5:30 p.m. Sunday found Kelly wounded in a parking lot near his family's home. He was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police did not release information about a suspect or a motive in the shooting.

Family members who gathered at his home Monday declined to comment.

Brand said Kelly often told the coach that he loved him. He would tell his teammates the same.

He was "as tough of a basketball player that I've ever been around," Brand said, known for "being fearless and being determined, not worried about whose court we were on."

Brand described Kelly as the "heart and soul of our program for four years."

During Kelly's senior year, the team started off with a strong record, Brand said. But then Kelly was kicked off the team for poor grades, and "the season went down the drain," Brand said.

Losing his spot on the team had an impact on Kelly, Brand said. He ended up graduating, but things were never the same.

"He was very worried about how things were going to go after that," Brand said.

"He was tough, and he was smart, and he was charismatic. You could always tell he wasn't sure where he was going to use those things, and where he was going to apply them," Brand said.

The coach said he could sense the streets held an allure for Kelly, but he was "hopeful that wasn't where he was going to turn."

Court records show that it was. After Kelly graduated, he started getting into trouble with the law.

He was convicted of second-degree assault in April for an incident in 2015 and sentenced to a year in prison. He was also found guilty of theft in 2015, and faced charges, later dropped, of illegal gun possession.

Davis has said police are working to slow the pace of killings but are undercut when those convicted of crimes, particularly gun possession, aren't convicted or don't face steep penalties. He has criticized the law in Maryland that makes illegal gun possession a misdemeanor.

Still, he said, he sees the city changing course, and hopes the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into his department's practices — expected to result in a sweeping report with scathing critiques and binding recommendations for improvement — will propel the city forward, in part by mandating investments in the department and equipping officers with new technology.

"Our city is 10 years away from being a model American city. I'm convinced that progress is coming to Baltimore. It's on the way and it's happening," Davis said. "It's just a matter of what route we take to get to that point."