When a grocery-store security guard shot at police last weekend and ran off, city leaders said the man had been angry over the amount of his paycheck. In fact, the circumstances weren’t so simple.
Staff at Compare Foods supermarket in North Baltimore tell of missing cash, a growing resentment as coworkers hinted they may have his money and an impending snowstorm that combined to set off Dontae Green in the chaotic shootout.
The five-day manhunt for the 34-year-old Baltimore man ended Thursday morning after U.S. marshals tracked him to a westside row house. In a shootout there, one deputy marshal was critically injured; Green was killed.
“It’s just a sad case — a sad, crazy case,” said Tonya Smith, his coworker at Compare Foods. “All this could have been avoided.”
Green worked as an unarmed security guard at the grocery store in The Alameda Marketplace, catching shoplifters and even helping to clean the carts and carry bags.
“He did everything. He loved working there,” said Corey Jenkins, a fellow security guard who helped him get the job.
Green had run-ins with police before. Three years ago, officers were called to his home after he allegedly pointed a gun at his sister’s head and ordered her out. He barricaded himself in his bedroom with the gun, according to the police account at the time. Officers persuaded him to surrender and no one was hurt. Online court records show no charges over the incident.
Two years later, Compare Foods opened and Jenkins started working security there. He convinced Green to join him as an unarmed guard. The only gun Green was supposed to carry held pepper spray.
Smith, a cashier, was working at the store last Friday when she said Green came to her, upset. He had dropped $500 cash on the floor and couldn’t find it. He suspected another cashier had snatched his money.
“You don’t know for sure,” she remembers telling him. “Let me look more into it. Let me find out.”
Forecasters were calling for as much as six inches of snow in the days ahead. When the store opened Saturday, the crowds came to stock up on groceries.
Green came in even angrier than before. Smith tried to distract him by asking about his favorite recipes.
The security guard wouldn’t calm down, said Luis Valencia, a store manager.
“He was claiming one of the cashiers took the money,” Valencia said. “He got very hyped up.”
Green demanded the managers check their security cameras to find out who took his money, but they were too busy, Valencia said. The store was filled with shoppers because of the coming snow. The manager said they asked Green to be patient and offered to check later; he wouldn’t wait.
“He got a girl at the front and pointed a gun at her ribs,” Valencia said.
Green continued to demand they play the cameras or return the money, and someone called 911.
Valencia said they were trying to settle the matter. They took $500 from the office upstairs — from store money — and handed it to Green, telling him to get out.
He accepted the cash and turned to leave just as the officers were walking up.
Police have not released the officers’ body camera footage. One supervisor at the store said he saw Green shoot first.
“I saw Dontae about to leave and the cops were about to come in,” said Luis Peralta, the supervisor.
A series of gunshots rang out, Peralta said. He took cover.
A glass window shattered. Shoppers dove to the floor. Smith said she was shaking, crying.
Peralta saw the door to the upstairs office — a door that locks from inside — had been left ajar. When the shots stopped, he ran for it.
“I opened the door and that’s when I got shot, exactly,” he said.
Peralta said he believes a police officer inside had mistakenly shot him as he rushed in. Police have not confirmed his account.
The officer and store employees treated Peralta and tried to stop his bleeding, he said. They took off his bloody sweatshirt and tied a T-shirt around his upper arm. He feels lucky; the bullet went right through his bicep.
Green ran out the back door and got away.
“I’m happy to be alive and happy there wasn’t more casualties,” Peralta said.
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Police identified two officers who opened fire: Daniel Jensen, a 4-year veteran; and Wesley Rosenberger, who has served one year on the force. Both are on routine administrative leave while the investigation continues.
The other security guard, Jenkins, said he heard some of the cashiers had been goading Green, teasing him that they spent his money.
“With them provoking him, that’s what put him in a frenzy,” Jenkins said.
Smith, the cashier, had tried to help him find the money, and she was frustrated to hear the police account spread that he was angry over his paycheck. On Thursday, she learned he had died in the shootout with marshals.
The ending to this story should be different, she said. The thief — if there was one — should have returned the money. The managers should have checked the cameras. Green should have chosen another way.
“Nobody will ever know what it was really about. Nobody will ever know who picked up the money,” she said. “It was all written wrong.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.