Authors: David Simon
Minutes later, a Central District sergeant called for an ambulance and a homicide unit as he stood over a body in an alley off Monroe Street, about three blocks from where Pedrick had fired his one round. Was this a police-involved shooting? the dispatcher asked. No, said the sergeant. But then Pedrick himself walked up to the scene and admitted letting one go. The sergeant keyed his mike again. Correction, he said, this is police-involved.
Worden and his partner, Rick James, arrived at the scene minutes later, looked over the dead man, talked with the Central District sergeant and then inspected Pedrick’s service revolver. One round spent. The patrolman was relieved of the weapon and taken to the homicide unit, where he acknowledged that he had fired one shot but declined to make any other statement until he had talked with a police union lawyer. Worden knew what that meant.
A union lawyer has a standard response to a detective’s request to interview a police officer as part of a criminal investigation. If ordered to do so, the officer will submit a report explaining his actions during a shooting incident; otherwise, he will make no statement. Because when such a report is written in response to a direct order, it cannot constitute a voluntary statement and therefore cannot be used in court against the officer. In this case, the state’s attorney on duty that night refused to order the report and, as a consequence of the legal impasse, the investigation fixed itself on an obvious course: proving that Officer Brian Pedrick—a five-year veteran with no prior record of brutality or excessive force—had shot a fleeing man in the back with his service revolver.
For twelve hours, the Monroe Street investigation was certainty and cohesion, and it would have remained so except for one critical fact: Officer Pedrick did not shoot John Randolph Scott.
On the morning after the shooting, the medical examiner’s attendants undressed Scott’s body and found a spent .38 slug still lodged in the bloody clothing. That bullet was compared by the ballistics lab later that afternoon, but it could not be matched with Pedrick’s revolver. In fact, the bullet that killed Scott was a 158-grain roundnose, a common type of Smith & Wesson ammunition that hadn’t been used by the police department in more than a decade.
Worden and several other detectives then returned to the scene of the pursuit and in daylight carefully searched the alley where Pedrick was believed to have fired his weapon. Picking through trash in that alley off Raynor Avenue, they found a mark in the pavement that appeared to have lead residue from a bullet ricochet. The detectives followed the likely trajectory of the slug across the alley and came to an adjacent lot where, incredibly, a resident was cleaning debris on that very morning. Of all the trash-strewn lots in all the ghettos in all the world, Worden thought, this guy’s gotta be cleaning ours. Just as the detectives were about to begin emptying every one of the half-dozen trash bags filled by West Baltimore’s last Good Samaritan, they discovered the spent .38 slug, still partially buried in the dirt lot. Ballistics then matched that bullet to Brian Pedrick’s weapon.
But if Pedrick wasn’t the shooter, who was?
Worden had no taste for the obvious answer. He was a cop and he had spent his adult life in the brotherhood of cops—in station houses and radio cars, in courthouse corridors and district lockups. He didn’t want to believe that someone wearing the uniform could be so stupid as to shoot someone and then run away, leaving the body in a back alley like any other murdering bastard. And yet he couldn’t turn away from the fact that John Randolph Scott was killed with a .38 slug while running from men with .38 revolvers. In any other investigation, there would be no debate as to where and how a homicide detective should begin. In any other case, a detective would start with the men who had the guns.
Worden being Worden, he had done precisely that, compelling nearly two dozen police from three districts to submit their service revolvers to evidence control in exchange for replacement weapons. But for each .38 submitted, a corresponding ballistics report indicated that the fatal bullet had not come from this officer’s duty weapon. Another dead end.
Was a cop carrying a secondary weapon, another .38 that had since been thrown off some Canton pier? Or maybe the kid was running from police and tried to steal another car, only to get himself shot by some irate civilian who then disappeared into the night. That was a long shot, Worden had to admit, but in this neighborhood nothing was impossible. A more likely scenario had the kid getting aced with a gun of his own, a .38 taken off him in a struggle with an arresting officer. That could explain why the spent bullet wasn’t department issue, just as it could explain the torn buttons.
Worden and Rick James had recovered four of them at or near the victim’s body. One button appeared to have nothing to do with the victim; three were determined to be from the dead man’s shirt. Two of those buttons were found near the body and were bloodied; the third was found near the mouth of the alley. To Worden and James both, the torn buttons indicated that the victim had been grabbed in a struggle, and the presence of the button near the mouth of the alley suggested that the struggle had begun only a few feet from where the victim fell. More than a straight shooting by a civilian suspect, that scenario suggested an attempted street arrest, an effort to grab or halt the victim.
For Donald Worden, the death of John Randolph Scott had become a dirty piece of business, with each possible outcome more unsettling than the last.
If the murder remained unsolved, it would resemble a departmental cover-up. But if a cop was indicted, Worden and James would become, as the men responsible for the prosecution, pariahs to the people in patrol. Already, the police union lawyers were telling members not to talk to homicide, that the Crimes Against Persons section was synonymous with IID. How the hell would they work murders with patrol against them? But in some ways the third alternative, the slim possibility of civilian involvement—that John Randolph Scott was shot by a local while trying to break into a home or steal a second car to elude the pursuing officers—was the worst of all. Worden reasoned that if he ever came up with a civilian suspect, the brass would go out of their minds trying to sell it to the city’s political leadership, not to mention the powers-that-be in the black community. Well, Mr. Mayor, we thought the white officers chasing Mr. Scott may have done it, but now we’re pretty much convinced that a black guy from the 1000 block of Fulton Street is responsible.
Yeah. Sure. No problem.
Twenty-five years in the Baltimore Police Department and Donald
Worden was now being asked to put the crown on his career by solving a case that could put cops in prison. In the beginning, the notion had seemed abhorrent—Worden was as much or more of a street police than any man out there. He had gone downtown after more than a decade in the Northwest District’s operations unit and then only reluctantly. And now, because of this thieving kid with the bullethole in his back, patrolmen in three districts were idling their radio cars side by side, hood to trunk, in vacant parking lots, talking in hushed tones about a man who was on the street when they were hurling spitballs in grade school. Who the fuck is this guy Worden? Is he really gonna go after a police on this Monroe Street thing? He’s gonna try and fuck over another police because of some dead yo? What is he, a rat or something?
“Uh-oh, Worden be looking at that nasty file.”
Worden’s partner stands in the doorway of the coffee room, holding a piece of scratch paper. Rick James is ten years younger than Donald Worden and has neither his instincts nor his savvy, but then again, few people in this world do. Worden works with the younger detective because James can manage a homicide scene and write a good, coherent report, and for all his virtues, Donald Worden would rather eat his gun than sit at a typewriter for two hours. In his better moments, Worden regards James as a worthy project, an apprentice on whom to bestow the lessons of a quarter century of policing.
The Big Man looks up slowly and sees the scrap paper in the younger man’s hand.
“It’s a call, babe.”
“We’re not supposed to be taking calls. We’re detailed.”
“Terry says we should go on it.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t handle homicides anymore,” says Worden dryly. “Just give me a fucked-up police shooting any day.”
“C’mon, babe, let’s go make some money.”
Worden downs the last of his coffee, throws the remains of the cigar into a can, and for a second or two allows himself to believe that there may just be life after Monroe Street. He walks to the coat rack.
“Don’t forget your gun, Donald.”
The Big Man smiles for the first time.
“I sold my gun. Pawned it for some power tools down on Baltimore Street. Where’s this here shooting?”
“Greenmount. Thirty-eight hundred block.”
Detective Sergeant Terrence Patrick McLarney watches the two men prepare to leave and nods his head in satisfaction. It’s been more than a month since the Monroe Street shooting and McLarney wants his two men back in the rotation, handling calls. The trick is to do it gradually, so as not to suggest to the chain of command that the Monroe Street detail is in fact on its last legs. With any luck, McLarney figures, Worden will catch a murder with this call and the admin lieutenant will get off his ass about the Scott case.
“Detail leaving, sergeant,” says Worden.
Inside the elevator, Rick James fingers the car keys and stares at his blurred reflection in the metal doors. Worden watches the indicator lights.
“McLarney’s happy, ain’t he?”
Worden says nothing.
“You’re a bear and a half today, Donald.”
“You drive, bitch.”
Rick James rolls his eyes and looks at his partner. He sees a six-foot-four, 240-pound polar bear masquerading as a gap-toothed forty-eight-year-old man with deep blue eyes, a rapidly receding line of white hair and rising blood pressure. Yes, he is a bear, but the best part of working with Donald Worden is easily understood: The man is a natural policeman.
“I’m just a poor, dumb white boy from Hampden, trying to make his way through this world and into the next,” Worden would often say by way of introduction. And on paper, he appeared to be exactly that: Baltimore born and bred, he had a high school education, a few years of navy service, and a police service record of impressive length but with no greater rank than patrolman or detective. On the street, however, Worden was one of the most instinctive, inspired cops in the city. He had spent over a quarter of a century in the department and knew Baltimore like few others ever would. Twelve years in the Northwest District, three in escape and apprehension, another eight working in the robbery unit, and now three years in homicide.
He hadn’t come to the unit without second thoughts. Time and again, squad sergeants in homicide had urged him to make the switch, but Worden was a man of the old school and loyalty counted for a lot. The same lieutenant who brought him to the robbery unit wanted to keep him, and
Worden felt beholden. And his relationship with his partner, Ron Grady—an unlikely match between a would-be hillbilly from North Baltimore’s all-white enclave of Hampden and a beefy black cop from the city’s west side—was another reason to stay put. They were a salt-and-pepper team of legendary proportions and Worden never hesitated to remind Rick James and everyone else in homicide that Grady was the only man he could ever truly call his partner.
But by early 1985, working robberies had become a numbing, repetitive existence. Worden had run through hundreds of investigations—banks, armored cars, downtown holdups, commercial jobs. In the old days, he would tell younger detectives, a cop could go after a better class of thieves; now a Charles Street bank job was more likely to be the impulse of some nodding addict than the work of a professional. In the end, the job itself made the decision for him: Worden can still vividly remember the morning he arrived at the office to find a report of an Eastern District incident on his desk, a liquor store robbery from Greenmount Avenue. The report was filed as robbery with a deadly weapon, which meant the incident required a follow-up by a downtown detective. Worden read the narrative and learned that a group of kids had grabbed a six-pack and run from the store. The counterman tried to chase them and got hit with a piece of a brick for his trouble. It wasn’t felony robbery; hell, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t have been handled by a district uniform. For Worden, who had been a robbery detective for almost eight years, that incident report was the end of the line. He went to the captain the next day with the transfer request to homicide.
Worden’s reputation preceded him across the hall and during the next two years he proved not only that he was ready for murders but that he was the centerpiece of McLarney’s squad, no small thing in a five-man unit that included two other men with twenty-year histories. Rick James had transferred to homicide in July 1985, only three months before Worden, and James quickly sized up the situation and paired up with the Big Man, following him so closely that other detectives gave him grief about it. But Worden clearly enjoyed the role of an elder sage and James was willing to hold up his end by doing a good crime scene and writing the necessary reports. If Worden taught him half of what he knew before taking that pension, Rick James would be in homicide a long, long time.
The bad thing about working with Worden was the black moods, the sullen brooding because he was still working for a patrolman’s wage when
he should be taking a pension and living a life of leisure as some security consultant or home improvement contractor. Worden was strangely self-conscious that he was still out there running down ghetto murders when most of the men who came on with him were retired or working a second career; the few that remained on the force were ending their days in the districts as desk sergeants or turnkeys, or in the headquarters security booths listening to the Orioles drop a double-header on a transistor radio, waiting out another year or two for a higher pension. All around him, younger men were getting out and moving on to better things.