Police open fire on robbery suspects; no one hit, two arrested. (WJZ)
A lone Baltimore police officer confronted two armed men while they were robbing a Northeast Baltimore liquor store on Tuesday morning, firing one shot — which struck a refrigerator — before managing to arrest the pair with the help of backup, according to police.
The sector patrol officer, a 16-year veteran of the force who was not immediately identified, had been flagged down by a concerned citizen who had noticed suspicious activity at the front of the Harford Road Liquor Store, on the corner of Moravia and Harford roads, at about 8:40 a.m., just as the shop's owner was opening for the day, police said.
Both suspects, aged 18 and 21, were arrested, police said. No one was injured. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised the officer for his "courageous, dedicated work."
"There's no doubt in my mind that if not for this Baltimore police officer, we'd have a much, much more serious incident on our hands," Davis said at the scene. "I can't thank him enough for being in the right place at the right time and acting courageously."
The two suspects were not immediately identified, and they have not yet been charged.
Dalip Dharam, 60, stood at the rear of the liquor store, which he has owned with his wife, Domeree, for the last 12 years, as it was scoured for evidence by the police department's Special Investigation Response Team, which responds to all incidents in which officers fire their weapons.
Dharam said he had spoken to his wife on the phone — she had been whisked away to be interviewed by police — and that she had relayed to him the sequence of events leading up to the incident in their shop. The events as described by Dharam matched those provided by police during an initial briefing at the scene.
Dharam said that as his wife was opening the store for the day, a red SUV with two men inside pulled up onto the sidewalk directly in front of the store's front entrance. She went outside and said, "Do not park the truck there. Park it in the parking lot," Dharam said.
One of the men instead stuck a gun in her neck and announced a robbery, taking her inside to fetch cash, Dharam said.
It was the first robbery at the store in the dozen years they've owned it, Dharam said. He said his wife told the suspects, "What are you going to rob me for? A couple pennies?"
Soon after they'd all gone inside, the patrol officer arrived, Dharam said.
T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the officer "walked into a dynamic situation" and confronted the two men, who both had guns. The officer "made several demands" that they surrender, he said. One did, but another did not, running to the rear of the store and into a large freezer, Smith said.
The officer fired the single shot during the 4-minute confrontation, Smith said. He said the officer was in danger and was not firing a "warning shot" — police don't do that, he said — and "would've been perfectly justified" had he wounded one of the suspects.
"Luckily, no one was shot," Smith said.
The patrol officer was able to arrest the first suspect who had surrendered, Smith said. The second suspect, in the freezer, was arrested after backup arrived, he said.
The SUV used by the suspects, a red Xterra, had been stolen two weeks before, police said. Smith said cash was still scattered around the store, and that two firearms from the suspects had been recovered.
Both Smith and Davis praised the unnamed citizen who flagged down the patrol officer.
"This is an example of a citizen and a singular patrol officer patrolling his community, being in the right place at the right time to save lives," Davis said.
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"They made a choice to arm themselves with guns at 8:45 in the morning and try to walk into a liquor store and rob her with two guns," Smith said.
The incident blocked traffic on Harford and Moravia roads and Cold Spring Lane for several hours.
Through June 17, the most recent date through which data is available, robberies were up 15 percent in the city compared to the same time last year.
So far this year, city police have shot two people, killing both. That number is considerably down from previous years; at this time last year, city police had shot eight people, and five at this time in 2015, eight in 2014, and 12 in 2013.