I have been the victim of three street robberies and a burglary during the last decade. Two of the street robberies took place within the past 13 months.
My experiences with the criminal justice system have caused me to fear the inaction of Baltimore’s police department more than the actions of the criminals themselves. I believe the most recent of these street robberies illustrates just about everything that is wrong with criminal justice in Baltimore.
Demetria A. Simmons was charged with two simple misdemeanors after she used my bank card at a 7-Eleven shortly after I was robbed on the street.
On the surface, the case looks like a simple credit card theft case. It is, however, just one piece of an escalating pattern of activity by Simmons, a 24-year-old who is accused of recruiting young men into a crime ring responsible for at least eight armed robberies in southeast Baltimore and five in Baltimore County.
The BPD’s handling of my case and the other robberies has been half-hearted at best. Had they been more aggressive, perhaps they could have stopped this crime spree in its early stages.
Children with Guns
My piece of the puzzle began in the early morning hours of May 31, 2017. Three men walked briskly around the corner of Gough Street onto Chester Street in Upper Fells Point.
I was returning from a late night’s work and was a block away from home.
The men approached me side-by-side. One of them held a handgun sideways at shoulder height, just like they do in bad movies.
The robbers looked like children.
They were nervous and scared. I handed my cellphone to one of them. It was enclosed inside a flip-over wallet case. I had to explain to them that the phone case and wallet were one and the same.
The robbers were so hurried that they didn’t bother to take my over-the-shoulder briefcase. My laptop was saved.
As the three men departed, the phone started to ring. It was my wife calling wondering where I was. They didn’t answer.
Robbed the Same Night
A neighbor from across the street saw the whole thing as he sat on his front steps reading emails. He said the robbers moved so quickly that he first thought he was witnessing the warrant squad grabbing a fugitive.
We used his cell phone to call the police at 2:32 a.m.
A patrol officer drove me for an interview at the “Citywide Robbery Unit” in Remington where I met two other residents of East Baltimore in the lobby. They had been robbed the same night.
I was candid with the detectives, telling them that I probably couldn’t identify the robbers if I saw them again. It was dark, they were well covered with hoodies, and I maintained a laser-like focus on the gun they waved at me. Their faces weren’t going to kill me. The gun might have done so.
While I was commiserating with the other victims in the robbery unit’s lobby, the robbers were busy.
The bank reported to me that my bank card was used to make a purchase at the 7-Eleven at 2701 West Franklin Street at 3 a.m.
Then again, at 3:18 a.m., at the 7-Eleven at 400 West Franklin Street.
Effective County Policing
The next evening, a neighbor from the block where I was robbed was held up at gunpoint. The city’s online 911 records show that there were nine calls for armed robberies in the greater Fells Point/Butcher’s Hill area between May 30 and June 2, with three armed robberies on my street alone. As word spread through the neighborhood, a sense of alarm started to develop.
The police, meanwhile, had developed a solid lead that a white Ford Windstar minivan was connected to this series of robberies, and similar ones in Baltimore County.
On June 2, BPD’s Aviation Unit observed the suspected van driving along Moravia Park Drive near the county line. A ground unit pulled the van over and police detained Simmons and a 14-year-old juvenile.
Because the city’s detectives hadn’t put together the charges in the robbery spree, the patrol officers turned over the two suspected to the Baltimore County police. County detectives quickly filed a detailed 15-page Statement of Probable Cause.
The county police accused Simmons of participating in five armed robberies in Rosedale and Dundalk between May 30 and June 2. Unlike the city police, the county patrol officers obtained video evidence of the robberies and use of stolen bank cards almost immediately after the acts. The county detectives interviewed the juvenile, who confessed to his role in the robberies and implicated Simmons.
Simmons has been in custody in the Baltimore County detention center since then. The juvenile disappeared into the juvenile justice system, where cases are kept confidential. The two the members of the ring that robbed me are still at large.
BY THE NUMBERS: So far this year, street robberies are up 23% in the Southeastern District. Elsewhere:
• up 66% in Southwestern District
• up 35% in Northern District
• up 19% in Southern District
• down 29% in Central District
–From BPD Incident Report for week ending 9/30/17.
On June 7, I started needling the Citywide Robbery detectives for some progress. They told me they needed more information from my bank about the transactions on my bank card.
On June 9, Detective-Sergeant Brian Patterson told me he was working with 7-11’s loss prevention unit to try to get video surveillance.
On June 20, I contacted Sgt. Patterson to follow up on the city’s efforts to retrieve the 7-11 video. For the first time, he told me about the arrests on Moravia Park Drive.
I spoke to my neighbor who also had been robbed. No one had told her about the two arrests, either. Thus, the police waited 18 days to tell us that they had suspects in custody.
Connection to Slain Bartender?
My neighbors and I have wondered if the two robbers who remain at large could have been involved in the killing of Sebastian Dvorak.
On June 13, Dvorak was shot and killed six blocks away from the spot where I was robbed. He was found on the ground in the early hours of the morning, right around the time when I had been robbed two weeks before.
Dvorak, a bartender at Ryleigh’s Oyster, had been returning home from his 27th birthday party. The police circulated a video of two young men fleeing the scene. I immediately suspected that the two killers were part of the group that robbed me.
The killing remains unsolved.
Residents of my neighborhood are constantly reminded of the murder by worn posters plastered on light poles in the neighborhood showing young Sebastian’s face and offering a reward for the information leading to the murderers’ arrest.
Someone Else’s Case
For the rest of June and all of July, I heard nothing about my case from the police. In the meantime, I was interviewed by the Baltimore Sun and, on July 30, the paper ran a story about the sharp increase in armed robberies in Southeast Baltimore.
After the story appeared, BPD lurched into action. On August 2, my wife received a voice message on her phone from the citywide robbery unit. I saved the message and transcribed it as follows:
“Good afternoon, my name is Detective Jenkins, from Baltimore City Police Department Citywide Robbery. This message is for Mr. Mark Adams in reference to his case of armed robbery. Um, I believe that two detectives came out to see him yesterday. One of them was a detective Moody (inaudible). He had a stroke and, uh, I have his case now. I went out to 5100 Moravia Park Drive, the U.S. Fuel out there, um, be advised that the (inaudible) on the 21st of July at about 1:04 p.m. Unfortunately, that U.S. Fuel spot, ah, they only keep their video for 24 hours. So my next course of action would be to try to follow all of our cameras out there as far as video footage as (inaudible) and the CityWatch cameras to follow the route in which they went. I can be contacted 24 hours a day at my departmental cell.”
So while the newspaper article did prod the police to action, they responded in true Keystone Cops fashion – calling the wrong telephone number and leaving a message about someone else’s case.
I emailed Commissioner Kevin Davis and informed him of the situation. A couple of days later, Sgt. Patterson called me.
Patterson was unhappy that I had emailed the commissioner. He said that some of the things that I had said in my email to the commissioner and in the article were not accurate.
He also advised me that charges had been brought against Ms. Simmons, but they were in “warrant status.” This meant that they are not on the Maryland Judiciary’s online case search.
The Brew gave BPD and Commissioner Davis an opportunity to comment on this article before it was posted. So far, they have not responded. Neither has Simmons’ attorney, Tom Hood.
Papers Not Delivered
Shortly thereafter, I ran Simmons’ name through case search and found that she had been charged, on August 4, with the misdemeanor theft and misdemeanor misuse of my credit card, each punishable by a whopping 90 days of jail time.
But more importantly, I found that the case was not in “warrant status” because the Baltimore Police had not yet requested a warrant.
Simmons’ case was set for trial last month, but was postponed. It was re-set for last Friday, October 6.
On Thursday, my wife got another message on her cell phone. This time it was from Allison Fleming, an assistant city state’s attorney. She was calling to inform me of the next day’s trial. No one had bothered to send a summons to me.
I told her that I would gladly attend the trial, but I didn’t think there was going to be one because the defendant had not been served with papers. Fleming said she wasn’t aware of this fact.
I pointed out to the prosecutor that it should be easy to serve the summons and warrants on Simmons because she was still incarcerated in Baltimore County. All the police had to do was drive up to Towson and deliver the summons and warrants to the warden’s office, which would have them served them on Simmons.
Prosecutor Fleming told me that the police had not provided her with any evidence and that Sgt. Patterson had not returned her phone calls. (The city’s online salary database shows that Patterson was paid $115,247.19 in salary and overtime in 2016. For such pay, he should be expected to return phone calls from a prosecutor.)
Because District Court Judge Catherine O’Malley is not fond of giving postponements, Fleming said the state’s attorney’s office might be forced to withdraw the case, perhaps to re-file it at a later date.
That’s exactly what happened.
The misdemeanor charges against Simmons were closed Friday with a plea of nolle prosequi, which is judicial jargon for dismissal.
Released by Judge
Adding insult to injury, I later discovered that Simmons had been released – just weeks before I was robbed – by a Baltimore County judge.
In April, Simmons and an accomplice were accused of entering a hotel room in Woodlawn and snatching a TV off the wall. They got away, but were arrested when they came back for a second helping.
At the time of the alleged hotel burglary, Simmons had two outstanding bench warrants for failing to appear in serious traffic cases in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. The county officials took her for an initial appearance in front of a court commissioner.
Simmons was ordered held on $10,000 bail for the hotel burglary and $2,500 bail on the Anne Arundel County traffic warrant. The city warrant was noted on the record, but it was not served on the defendant.
By every objective measure for determining pretrial release, Simmons should have been held on bail or held indefinitely until trial. Two open warrants showed that she is not likely to show up for trial voluntarily. And the escalating severity of the charges suggested that she was a growing risk to public safety.
District 8 Administrative Judge Dorothy J. Wilson, however, ignored the Baltimore City warrant altogether and overrode the commissioner on both the primary case and the Anne Arundel warrant. She ordered Simmons to be released on personal recognizance on April 19.
Free to Roam
In other words, the judiciary allowed Simmons to roam across the metropolitan area with her alleged band of juvenile recruits for 6½ weeks (April 19 to June 3) in spite of open warrants and a serious charge of a hotel burglary in Baltimore County.
The trial for Simmons’ hotel burglary case is now set for October 19, while the Baltimore County robberies are scheduled on November 20.
Regarding the other outstanding warrants and summons for armed robberies in Baltimore City, none of them – including my own – has yet been served on Simmons.
I am tempted to conclude with my opinion about the performance of the Baltimore police and the judiciary.
But I think the facts set forth more than tell the story: Namely, that law-abiding citizens have become sitting ducks for street crime.
I am fortunate to live a neighborhood with lots of affluent households and citizens who are likely to call elected officials and even write Op-Ed pieces.
If street robberies can occur here with such impunity, I shudder to think what is happening in poor neighborhoods where residents have fewer resources to protect themselves from “bad guys with guns.”
Mark J. Adams is a former newspaper publisher and bail bondsman from Upper Fells Point.
From The Brew archives: A dismal snapshot of law enforcement in Baltimore (11/21/13).