Baltimore police comment on the SWAT raid at the home of a homicide victim's family. (Kenneth K. Lam)
After two suspects from a nearby shootout fled into a Greenmount West rowhome, a Baltimore Police SWAT unit raided the home not knowing that a recent homicide victim's family had gathered there after his viewing late Monday.
Baltimore Police said Tuesday that the two suspects were observed jumping out of a car tracked from the shooting in nearby Johnston Square and entering the home. After the home was cleared by the SWAT team, officers recovered four handguns, one in a trash can in front of the home and three in the home's backyard, said Deputy Commissioner Andre Bonaparte.
Bonaparte said police were "still trying to ferret though everything," find the shooting suspects and determine their relationships with those in the home, including the vehicle's owner. Police seized the vehicle used by the suspects and another vehicle linked to the shooting scene for processing, he said.
Five people from the home were taken for questioning by detectives, said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, but as of Tuesday none had been arrested in relation to the shooting.
"It's believed that the suspects who had the guns may have fled out the back before officers could surround the home," Smith said.
One man taken for questioning was arrested on a probation violation unrelated to the shooting, police said.
Residents of the home had expressed frustration after the incident. Bernadette Goodman, Chase's mother, wore a black rubber wristband with his name and the years of his life — 1990-2018 — as she stood in the cold during the raid.
Chase, 28, was shot in the head, and Goodman said the family had just come from Chase's viewing at the Wylie Funeral Home when the SWAT team arrived and ordered them out of the home.
“It’s 100 percent unacceptable,” Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said Monday of Pinky Louise Ruffin’s killing, after he walked the cherry blossom-lined 3900 block of W. Mulberry St. in Allendale where she lived and was shot.
"What do you need a SWAT team for, mister?" Goodman recalled asking an officer, before a few of her nephews were taken away for questioning.
Bonaparte said police were unaware of the funeral gathering and there was "a little bit of chaos" when the incident was playing out, but the police response was in line with department protocols and must be viewed under "the totality of circumstances." He said police officers feared for the safety of individuals in the home, so they decided to call in the SWAT team and bring the residents outside.
Bonaparte said it is "very unfortunate" when families mourning violence are subjected to additional violence.
"We are working very hard toward investigating these instances, turning over every stone we can and using our resources and intelligence to try to further these investigations," Bonaparte said.
In Baltimore’s most crime-ridden zones, there’s an experiment in government going on. Under a plan instituted last year, city officials have targeted four areas — first called “Transformation Zones,” then rebranded as “Violence Reduction Zones’ — to be flooded with both police and city services.
Before the raid Monday night, Smith said, police were called to the 500 block of East Preston St. in Johnston Square about 9:44 p.m. Monday and located a victim who believed he may have been shot, but appeared to have "injured himself getting out of the way" after "there were shots fired between two groups of people."
Soon afterward, officers saw suspects flee into the home in the 400 block of East Lanvale St., in the adjacent Greenmount West neighborhood, and called in the SWAT team as they began to surround the home, Smith said.
He said 14 people were in the home or stopped while leaving it when police began their investigation.
Police later determined the shootout — in which "multiple rounds were fired by multiple people" — occurred in the 800 block of East Preston, a few blocks from where the injured man was located, Smith said.
But, while violence, particularly homicides, had declined, the difference was marginal: Violence was below 2017 levels, but above the city's five-year average.
In the last month, things have changed again, for the worse: For the last month, the city has been close to the nearly one-killing-per-day pace seen last year. Since the start of April, it has been above that pace.
There had been 21 homicides in the first 17 days of April, as of noon Tuesday. That's after 16 homicides in March and 15 in February.
Bonaparte said that many of the killings are related to "two factions" warring with each other on the city's west side, and that police "know of the urgency with these particular cases" and "have as a result of this made serious adjustments to our deployments." He declined to identify the two groups but said police are working to identify their members.
Police also made an arrest in another recent double homicide.
Rona Brand, 54, and her longtime boyfriend, Clyde Burrell, 66, were fatally shot Monday afternoon inside Brand's home in the 1700 block of E. Federal Street. Police announced on Tuesday the arrest of Brand's nephew Tavon Brand, 30, who was living in the home's basement, on two counts of first-degree murder for the couple's killings, along with various gun charges.
Police said Tavon Brand admitted to the killings and took police to the weapon, which had been hidden outside, under a mattress a couple of blocks from the home. They said they did not have a motive in the killings.
"It's an unfortunate and tragic event," Bonaparte said. "Obviously there's some domestic situation that's going on there, but at this particular time detectives have not been able to clearly establish what that motive is."
Police said Tavon Brand is well known to police. He did not have an attorney listed in online court records on Tuesday, and could not be reached for comment.
Four more people were shot Tuesday — one fatally.
Officers were called to a local hospital about 1:41 a.m. and found a 32-year-old woman who had been shot in the hand while driving in the 200 block of North Warwick Ave., in the city's Penrose neighborhood, police said. The woman then drove herself to the hospital, police said.
Penrose is at the center of a cluster of neighborhoods on the west side that have experienced the bulk of the recent violence, and where police have said they have added deployments.
Officers were called to the 3500 block of Greenmount Ave., between Waverly and Guilford, about 8:53 a.m. and found a 48-year-old man who'd been walking on the block when he was shot in the stomach, arm and leg, police said.
He was transported to an area hospital, and is expected to survive, police said.
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Officers were called to the 200 block of S. Pulaski St. in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood at about 5:20 p.m. and found a 43-year-old man with gunshot wounds to his body, police said.
The man was transported to an area hospital for treatment, police said.
Later Tuesday, officers responded about 9:26 p.m. to reports of a shooting at a vacant house in the 800 block of Herndon Court. They found an adult male suffering from gunshot wounds, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
Anyone with information in the shootings is asked to call detectives at 410-396-2221 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7-LOCK-UP.