The first person who called 911 about the melee in front of Taps bar at Fort Avenue and South Charles Street spoke in a calm voice.
"There's a bunch of people yelling and screaming and saying ‘ow,' " the man told a police operator. "I can't tell if it's a fight or what's exactly happening. If the police just come and drive around … that should do."
The calls quickly became more frantic. "A bunch of guys, I think they are beating up one guy," a woman said. A man driving by reported "a big fight on the street. … Ten guys and five girls."
The operator asked whether she should send an ambulance. "Yes," the driver answered. "They are trying to carry one away. It's pretty bad."
This was the first of two fights involving the same group of football players called the "Hitmen" from Anne Arundel County who were on a pub crawl in South Baltimore. It was a Saturday afternoon, Feb. 27. An argument after a girl was called a vulgar name sparked the fisticuffs in front of Taps that led a few minutes later to a stabbing in front of the Luckies market seven blocks to the east.
Transcripts of the 911 calls were released to The Baltimore Sun this week in response to a Public Information Act request, which was made to clear up early discrepancies about whether police had arrested anyone at the site of the first fight before it began anew at the second location.
Police did arrest one man at Fort and Charles, but he was released without charges. In the aftermath of the first fight, which had pretty much broken up by the time police arrived, the group came together again to resume their argument. This time, one had a knife.
The altercations sparked a citywide debate over pub crawls. Several local lawmakers, including a state delegate, said they would consider sponsoring bills next year to restrict the way groups roam from bar to bar, getting drunker and drunker, to raise money or to simply have fun. The bar crawl season began in earnest on St. Patrick's Day when the crawls wound their way through Federal Hill, including one sponsored by an out-of-state company that attracted 2,000 people.
Members of the Hitmen initally had said they were attacked by a South Baltimore resident, but it turned out the prime suspect was an invited guest of one of the pub crawl participants. Postings to Internet community and Baltimore Sun forums debated the volatile subjects of city crime, gentrification of old, established neighborhoods and irresponsible drinking.
The newly released 911 tapes, which include banter between police officers, provide another side to this much-parsed incident that sent dozens of officers and a police helicopter to both scenes on Fort Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares of South Baltimore going from Fort McHenry to the neighborhood just south of Federal Hill.
At the stabbing in front of Luckies, it was the victim himself, 25-year-old Michael Kooser, who made the first 911 call.
"I got stabbed in the back," Kooser yelled into a cell phone.
"Who did it?" the operator asked.
"Someone down here," the victim answered. "I'm at Fort Avenue at Luckies in South Baltimore."
The operator demanded an address and Kooser tried for about a minute to come up with one. "Hey, what block we on?" he shouted, amid loud yelling in the background.
"Who stabbed you?" the operator asked again.
"Some girl with some dudes," Kooser answered. In the background, a woman screamed: "Somebody help this guy!"
Another woman called police. "I pulled over because there was a fight," she said. "They stabbed him. They're going to get the cops. Oh my God, they're all going to get stabbed."
The operator interrupted: "I'm trying to help you."
The woman answered, her words almost drowned out by her footsteps as she ran after one of the suspects. "The dude is bleeding profusely because of the stab wound. … I'm chasing them down."
Police arrived just then. They started rounding up witnesses and two female suspects, who were charged with assault with intent to murder and have trials pending. Police are still searching for a third suspect, a man. Kooser lost enough blood to require a transfusion at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Even the police were racing around and talking over one another on the radio. As cars sped to the first fight, some from more than a mile away, an officer in the police helicopter demanded that others stay off the radio: "Hold the air. Three officers getting ready to approach a fight in progress."
The seemingly divisive issue of pub crawls — whether they can be regulated, can be controlled and can be held without disrupting neighborhoods — has yet to be resolved. One 911 caller seemed to sum the whole episode when he told the operator:
"People are just too crazy."