By Jennifer McMenamin
BALTIMORE, Md. — A Baltimore police officer killed a soldier in a bustling downtown entertainment district early yesterday after the serviceman fired a large-caliber gun at the officer, who was trying to break up a fight in a parking garage, a Police Department spokeswoman said.
Cpl. Alexander E. Larkin, 25, who was assigned to the military intelligence unit at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, was pronounced dead about 2 a.m. at the Harbor Park Garage after being shot several times, police said.
The fatal shooting - and a related fight that preceded it in the garage - occurred as bars were closing in the nearby Power Plant Live! entertainment complex. The mix of nightclubs and restaurants draws people ranging from college students to middle-aged patrons. Spokesmen for Mayor Sheila Dixon and for the Downtown Partnership said a fatal shooting was highly unusual in that area.
About 160,000 people spend time downtown every day, said Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler. "It's the center of the region, and it's highly populated," he said. "Sometimes when you mix alcohol and bad tempers, these things happen."
Baltimore police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe said Larkin and a male friend had visited several clubs and bars in Power Plant Live! before the fight between Larkin's friend and another man broke out in the parking garage. Monroe didn't know what provoked the fight.
Monroe said Officer Jared Stern, 25, tried to break up the fight by spraying the men with Mace. She said Stern fired his gun only after Larkin shot at him with a .50-caliber Desert Eagle handgun - a weapon so fearsome that it has appeared in numerous action movies, video games and TV shows.
Late last night, Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Dixon's office, said the mayor had been briefed about the incident, which he described as "very unusual."
He reserved comment until police and Army officials had completed their investigations.
"The mayor's office's focus is getting this police-involved shooting investigated and brought to a conclusion," McCarthy said, calling the situation "a horrible tragedy."
Monroe said police "know for a fact that [Larkin] fired at a police officer with a very large-caliber handgun - a police officer who was in full uniform - and placed that police officer in a terrible position in which his life was threatened."
Larkin's mother, Robin Harris of Silver Spring, disputed that account last night, saying that people who were in the garage told her that her son never pointed his gun at the officer, let alone fired it. She said her son got out of the truck in which he was a passenger to help his friend, who was fighting with a man who had a baseball bat.
Larkin "had his gun at his side because he knows not to draw a gun on a police officer," Harris said. "The police officer said to him, 'Drop your gun,' and then fired five shots. They shot him five times."
Harris said her son joined the Army 4 1/2 years ago and served a year in Iraq about three years ago. He and his ex-wife, who is in the Air Force, shared custody of their 3-year-old son.
"Alex loved being in the military and wanted to go back to Iraq," Harris said. She said his death was particularly troubling given his military service, saying, "He went to Iraq, and my baby came home safe."
Monroe would not say how many bullets hit Larkin or how many shots Stern fired. She said the Desert Eagle handgun that Larkin fired was not a military-issued weapon that a soldier would use as a sidearm.
Monroe said that police were looking into whether alcohol was involved.
She also said that police are not releasing the names of Larkin's friend or the two other men involved in the fight, and that police have not ruled out the possibility of filing charges against them.
Stern was placed on routine paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, which the department's homicide unit will conduct, Monroe said.
Stern, who joined the Police Department in March 2006 and was assigned to the city's Western District, was working an overtime shift in the city's downtown Central District, Monroe said. She said she didn't know whether Stern happened upon the fight in the garage or responded to a call.
"We try to put uniformed officers in parking lots and certain locations downtown for public safety," Monroe said. "He was just doing his job."
Downtown Partnership's public safety guides work until 10:30 p.m., Fowler said, but "my understanding is that at 2 a.m. on a weekend, there are many officers - both on-duty and off-duty - particularly in the area where there's nightclubs and bars, so it's extremely safe, given the presence of officers."
A Harbor Park garage attendant - who did not want to be identified for fear of losing his job - said the shooting occurred on the second floor, near the exit gate and just outside the management office. A bullet hole remained in the office door, he said.
Yesterday's was the sixth fatal police-involved shooting this year. Last year, city police fatally shot five people. Monroe said the police-involved shooting of Larkin would not count among the city's homicides this year.
Fowler said that crime has gone down 46 percent over the past seven years. Violent crime had decreased significantly as well, he said. Until yesterday, one violent death had occurred within the area of the Downtown Partnership, between Pratt, Centre and President streets, Fowler said.
"Downtown is much safer now than it was in the last decade," he said.
McCarthy, the mayor's spokesman, said, "Downtown is enjoying one of its most successful summer seasons. ... Every day, it's a balancing act on public safety, economic development, tourism."
Copyright Baltimore Sun 2007
Soldier who fired on Balt. police fatally shot