Bealefeld: Violence Highlights Lax Gun Sentencing

… Man who shot officer served 6 months in jail for prior handgun charge …

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

10:27 PM EDT, March 21, 2011

After a weekend in which 18 people were shot in the city, including a police detective who was injured and a 4-year-old boy who died, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III used the spate of violence to argue Monday for tighter gun laws in Maryland.

Bealefeld, who has accompanied Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to Annapolis to push for tougher penalties for gun offenders, bemoaned the availability of illegal guns in the city, and said the arrest record of a man accused of opening fire on a city police officer Friday night in East Baltimore underscores the point.

Gerry Gough, 23, was arrested in 2009 with a loaded semiautomatic handgun, telling police in a debriefing that he carried the weapon for protection and knew how to get more — his cellphone wallpaper even displayed an image of him clutching a weapon, court records show. But he received just six months in jail from a District Court judge.

“After they get arrested, they get guns again. To say it minimally, it’s [exasperating] that more people don’t understand the enormous ramifications of these guys running around the city with these handguns,” Bealefeld said at a Monday morning news conference. “The … people living in this city expect that when people do bad things, they’re going to be held accountable.”

The detective, Michael Rice, had been expected to be released from the hospital Monday but underwent emergency surgery for complications from the gunshot wound and his prognosis was not known.

Police also were trying to learn more about the gun that got into the hands of 4-year-old Tyeshawn Townsend, who police say fatally shot himself in the face Sunday morning. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the boy found the gun in a rear room of the Northwest Baltimore home, but no charges have been filed in the case.

A weekend that began with record temperatures gave way to the year’s largest burst of violence this year, with shootings coming in bunches, predominantly in East and West Baltimore: two men were shot in a single incident in Sandtown Winchester, three in Broadway East, two near Druid Hill Park, and three — including one fatally – in Bolton Hill. Three men were also shot in Northwest Baltimore on Sunday night.

In all, three men were killed, including a 44-year-old man beaten to death in Pigtown and a 24-year-old city employee who police say was ambushed and fatally stabbed at a gas station in Edmondson Village.

Officials said police would be cracking down on loitering and traffic violations in known trouble spots, but denied that such efforts were a throwback to so-called mass-arrest policies that Bealefeld has sought to distance the department from.

The Police Department agreed last year to an $870,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought in 2006 by the American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, promising to “reject” zero-tolerance policies and agreeing to retrain officers.

“We did not send a message out that we should be opening the floodgates to arrests,” Bealefeld said. “We should punch these guys in the mouth that are contributing to this violence, and find out who they are and get on those guys right away. You can’t arrest enough of those guys, but patrolling the city indiscriminately is not the answer to this problem.”

Police reached into the department’s overtime funds to deploy 16 foot patrol officers to known “hot spots” near the boundaries of the Western and Central districts over the weekend. Commanders are also trying to increase visibility “in areas where we’re seeing open drug sales, some of the areas where some of these gang guys and others congregate,” he said.

While police believe most of the shootings may have gang or drug connections, homicide detectives were appealing to the public for help in the stabbing death of David McClaughlin Jr., who is believed to have been followed from a club in Woodlawn and attacked at a gas station in the 4500 block of Edmondson Ave.

McClaughlin for the past eight months has been working for the city as a street sweeper, and had been hanging out with friends Saturday night at a club called Peju’s Restaurant and Lounge on Woodlawn Drive. Detective Sgt. Kevin Hagan said police believe he was stabbed while defending himself.

“He was really trying to make something of his life,” Hagan said in making a direct appeal to the public for tips in the investigation. Anyone with information was asked to call the homicide unit at 410-396-2100.

“I was told that he fought five different individuals at that time. You know, he was fighting for his life, and I guess he was getting the best of them,” McClaughlin’s mother, Sandra Wooten, told ABC-2 television news. “It was just a senseless act that took my son’s life.”

At least two of the weekend shooting incidents, which left as many as five people injured, may be connected, Bealefeld said. Police have a “hot lead” on suspects driving a gold Acura who fired and wounded two men along Mosher Street in West Baltimore early Friday afternoon. Bealefeld said detectives believe a triple shooting in the 2300 block of Hoffman St. in East Baltimore later that night might have been in retaliation for the Mosher Street shootings.

Bealefeld led off Monday morning’s news conference at police headquarters with his frustrations over the previous gun conviction of Gough, who is charged with shooting Rice Friday on Harford Road at the same spot where, nearly 10 years ago to the day, Officer Michael J. Cowdery was shot and killed by a suspect who’d been stopped for questioning.

Court records show an increasingly dangerous series of interactions between Gough and police. In 2008, according to court records, he was stopped in North Baltimore and struggled with officers, who eventually recovered baggies of marijuana. A year later, he was at a Northwest Baltimore bus stop when detectives saw the outline of a handgun in his pants and chased him.

Gough, who at the time said he lived with his grandmother and had lost a job at McDonald’s, told officers that he had the loaded gun for protection and offered to help officers find more weapons if they’d let him go, according to court records. When he asked to make a cellphone call, the officers seized his phone and saw his wallpaper photo: a picture of Gough holding the .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

District Judge Barbara B. Waxman sentenced Gough to six months in that case and ordered him to pay a $300 fine. He never paid and was ordered to serve another three days in jail.

Waxman did not return a call seeking comment.

Police say that on Friday, Gough didn’t wait for police to approach him. Riding a bicycle at East 25th Street and Harford Road, he pulled a gun and fired at officers who had pulled up behind him in an unmarked car, police say.

Rice, a military veteran who was shot during overseas combat, was struck in the neck, and the bullet lodged near a lung. Officers returned fire and wounded Gough, who, according to one law enforcement source, is now paralyzed from the waist down as a result.

City officials cite statistics that show the average amount of jail time served by misdemeanor gun offenders — like Gough — is just four months, and 82 percent of jail time imposed by the court system for gun offenders was suspended.

Rawlings-Blake is pushing legislation that would set a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months and a maximum sentence of 10 years for those arrested with an illegal, loaded firearm. But legislators appear to have reservations about the proposal. Both the Senate and House of Delegates have held hearings, but neither body has voted the bill out of committee.

“We’re hopeful that people all across the state say here is something we can do to make our community instantly safer from these maniacs with guns who are running around,” Bealefeld said. “These men and women are out there risking their lives … willing to suffer any hazard to make this city safer.”

Before the day was through, officers were scrambling to deal with another spate of shootings over a span of less than two hours Monday night. Officers were on the scene of at least four shootings in Northeast, North and East Baltimore, officials said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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