Two men were arrested yesterday in the killing of Kenneth N. Harris Sr., the former city councilman who was fatally shot in a robbery outside a Northeast Baltimore jazz club in September. The arrests brought relief to his family and to community members, some of whom had grown increasingly impatient with the police investigation.
The two suspects, Charles Y. McGaney, 19, and Gary Collins, 20, had ties to the neighborhood where Harris was killed, and both have had repeated brushes with the law.
The pair were found during a raid at a home in the 1600 block of Pentwood Road - about a mile from the Northwood Plaza, where Harris was killed Sept. 20. They were charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and other offenses. Police said it was unclear who the shooter was, and a third person in the case remained unknown.
McGaney, whom police tied to the skull mask left at the murder scene in Northeast Baltimore, was convicted just a month before the shooting on a handgun charge in Baltimore County. He was sentenced to time served - 85 days - and released. Four days before the killing, he walked out of a city courtroom after theft charges were dropped because the victim and two police officers involved with the case did not appear.
The killing of Harris, 45, who gave up his council seat to run for City Council president in 2006, forced the city's political elite, community leaders and ordinary citizens alike to confront the continued toll of violence in Baltimore, even in a year when the Police Department is celebrating a historic reduction in homicides. The arrests come a week after top police officials were summoned to City Hall for an update in the case.
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said that forensic evidence was a key factor in the case but added that detectives sifted through a list of possible suspects as undercover officers worked in the community to produce leads. He praised the work of detectives Donald Kramer, Robert Patton and Donald Diehl, as well as crime lab technicians who pored over physical evidence.
"As we developed suspects, we had to ensure we dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't' to ensure justice was served," Bealefeld said yesterday. "We would not be hurried or rushed into taking premature actions that would jeopardize this case."
Mayor Sheila Dixon said the crime was "senseless" and said the perpetrators "will have to pay, and we have to send the kind of message, particularly to young people, that this is unacceptable."
After weeks of public criticism of a perceived lack of progress in the case, the Police Department made a public show of yesterday's arrests. City officials held a news conference yesterday morning, announcing that they had obtained warrants for one of the suspects. Less than two hours later, a motorcade of at least six unmarked cars screeched to the front of police headquarters and paraded McGaney through a phalanx of television cameras.
"No, no, no, no, no," McGaney said when asked whether he killed Harris. "I don't know nothing."
Suspects are usually brought in through the rear of police headquarters, but McGaney was taken through the more camera-friendly front entrance. At the end of the day, the two men were taken past a bank of cameras again on their way to the city jail. Collins spit at the cameras as he walked by.
McGaney had been previously interviewed by detectives after they made a list of early suspects, according to Sterling Clifford, a police spokesman.
At the morning news conference, police said they had not been able to obtain an arrest warrant for the second suspect but felt they were close. But after encountering Collins during the raid, they again consulted with prosecutors and secured a warrant, according to a high-ranking police source with knowledge of the investigation.
Police said they are looking into whether McGaney and Collins were involved in a July robbery at the New Haven Lounge, the jazz club where Harris was shot after stopping by to borrow a corkscrew.
According to charging documents, three masked men ambushed Harris and the club's owner, Keith Covington, as they walked outside. They held Covington at gunpoint, but Harris made a break for his car and was shot in the back.
One of the assailants,whom charging documents identify as McGaney, wore a skull Halloween mask that was left behind at the scene, and the group took money from a safe before fleeing out the back as the club owner fired shots at them.
The July incident followed a similar pattern. And the gun that was used to shoot Harris was also used during an apparent robbery attempt at a nearby gas station earlier this year, police said.
People interviewed at the Northwood Plaza yesterday said McGaney was well-known and often hung out there. "Somebody snitched," said one man. A woman within earshot responded, "You do the crime, you do the time."
McGaney and Collins both have criminal records. In May 2007, McGaney flashed a semiautomatic Glock pistol in Parkville. He was charged and convicted of possession of a handgun. Though sentencing guidelines recommend a penalty of up to two years in prison given his criminal record at the time, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Susan Souder sentenced McGaney in August to time served.
Both the prosecutor and defense attorney who handled the case said yesterday that the sentence of time served was appropriate, considering McGaney's age and the facts of the case.
He also beat a heroin possession charge in June because a chemical analysis was not completed, according to city prosecutors.
Collins, of Parkville, was convicted of a misdemeanor drug possession charge and received 90 days. Charges of first-degree burglary, attempted robbery and handgun violations in a second case were placed on the "stet" docket, meaning the case was postponed indefinitely, after the victim failed to appear, prosecutors said.
Harris, who rose from poverty to become one of the city's power brokers, had made crime-fighting a central point of his tenure. His widow, Annette Harris, called yesterday for more cooperation among law enforcement and funding for after-school programs.
"We can continue his legacy," she said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Gadi Dechter, Annie Linskey and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.
timeline Sept. 20: Kenneth N. Harris Sr. is killed outside a Northeast Baltimore jazz club
Sept. 25: Hundreds attend Harris' funeral
Oct. 6: Police release surveillance footage showing suspects
Oct. 30: Harris' mother and siblings hold a community meeting to question the pace of the investigation
Nov. 5: Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III updates the City Council on the case
Nov. 14: Police arrest two suspectsCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times