Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Police officer praised for helping homeless man

County police Officer Max Mills has been praised by the department for going “beyond the call of duty” to help a homeless man in Catonsville find shelter.

The nearly nine-year veteran of the Wilkens precinct drove the man to a homeless shelter, made sure the man had space and food, and even took a trip to Walmart to get him new shoes.

“You meet homeless people every day,” Mills, a Pikesville native, said. “But this guy, he was different. He just seemed like an extremely humble person … he wasn’t asking for anything.”

Though in some ways the encounter was unique, Mills’ supervisor that day, Sgt. Sundia Gaynor, said that the compassion Mills showed that day reflects other little-known acts of kindness that officers engage in every day.

“I’m lucky enough to work with a lot [of officers] that helping supersedes everything else,” Gaynor said, saying that though law enforcement is important, “it’s also hand-in-hand to be active with community relations and outreach, and getting down to the root of whatever the issue is.”

Mills said he was responding to a call the morning of Nov. 14 about smoke in a wooded area near South Rolling Road with two other officers when he met the man, whose name he did not learn.

The man said he had started a fire to keep warm, and the smoke had occurred when he put it out, a police news release said.

“When we got there, the guy was just standing there with his eyes closed, and he was mumbling,” Mills said. “So I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was praying for food.”

The man was 28 to 30 years old, Mills said, and about 6 feet, 6 inches tall — the officer described the man as a “gentle giant — so quiet and easy to deal with.”

Mills took the man to the Westside Men’s Shelter, a Baltimore County shelter in Catonsville that can house up to 110 men, to have his clothes washed and get him something to eat, he said. Mills said he spoke to the person running the shelter to make sure they had space for the man.

The officer said he noticed that the man’s shoes were worn. The man told Mills that he had walked to Catonsville from Pennsylvania. Mills said he went to Walmart, where the manager agreed to donate the store’s last pair of size 14 shoes.

“I went to hand him the shoes, and he wouldn’t even put his hand out,” Mills said. “I think he was shocked that somebody was helping him, and he stood there and cried. That’s what shocked me.”

“He didn’t even say thank you,” Mills said. “He just tapped his chest and nodded his head and I knew that’s what he meant.”

Gaynor said that he decided to praise Mills in a department news release because the story was moving and made him want to act to share it.

“In our profession … we need more stories like this,” Gaynor said. “When you do it not for recognition, not for any kind of accolades, that’s when it matters the most.”

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