After the July 2 Brooklyn Homes mass shooting in Baltimore was headlined around the world, city, state and federal officials took turns vowing an unprecedented push to find those responsible for the melee that left 28 people injured and two dead.
“There are two things that we are in search of, and we are not going to stop until we find them: justice and peace,” declared Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, surrounded by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and other elected officials shortly after the shooting.
On WBAL NewsRadio and elsewhere, Senator Cardin reassured residents that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and “all related agencies” were working with Baltimore Police to find the suspects and their gun suppliers.
“Primary emphasis here is to deal with the illegal possession of guns and deal with gang activities,” Cardin said of the role to be played by federal agencies.
Mayor Scott made a similar pledge of cooperation and accountability.
“We have ATF, FBI, the best in the world, working on this case,” he said at an August 2 press availability.
He said the message being sent by law enforcement to the shooters was simple: “We will not stop until we find you – and we will find you.”
But as the Brooklyn Homes investigation winds down – and an “after-action report” by Baltimore Police has yet to be released – two things stand out, informed sources tell The Brew:
• The oft-cited coordination between federal, state and city law enforcement never really materialized.
• Baltimore Police, working largely on their own, have made little progress in identifying who initiated the shootings and who fired the fatal bullets, not to speak of determining “what weapons they used, where they got those weapons and how we’re going to hold all of them accountable,” as Scott promised would happen.
Instead, the two arrests so far involve:
• A 17-year-old seen on social media apparently pulling a gun out of a backpack earlier on the night of the shootings.
• An 18-year-old accused of firing five bullets in the vicinity of seven people who were fleeing from the party after the initial volley of bullets rang out.
Police have not yet apprehended anyone for the murders of 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzalez and 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi, nor for the wounding of 28 others.
They have not released any information about the weapons used – reportedly 15 separate guns were fired during the initial round of gunfire. Apparently, no weapons have been recovered.
“There is a strong, puzzling culture at the Baltimore Police Department that circles the wagon and says, ‘Thank you, but we got it.’ Unfortunately, they didn’t have it” – U.S. Justice Department official.
One reason for the lack of progress is that Baltimore Police have refused to let federal law enforcement participate meaningfully in the investigation, according to a top-level official at the U.S. Department of Justice with direct knowledge of the situation.
The source, who asked for anonymity in return for candor, noted that the FBI’s Baltimore field office offered to help city police, but faced resistance from the start.
“There is a strong, puzzling culture at the Baltimore Police Department that circles the wagon and says, ‘This is our business. We can take care of it. Thank you, but we got it.’ Unfortunately, they didn’t have it.”
The first big problem with the investigation was BPD’s failure to secure the crime scene after the shooting, the official said.
The crime scene was spread across several blocks of Brooklyn Homes, where hundreds of young people had gathered on the evening of July 1 in the aftermath of “Brooklyn Day,” an annual daytime event for families and children at the southside housing project.
Police were nowhere to be found as the party turned confrontational after 9 p.m., despite citizen 911 calls about rowdiness, openly displayed knives, “discharging firearms” and fights.
A supervisor at the Southern Police District called on the Foxtrot helicopter to fly over the party and report if “anything looks suspicious.”
“Nah,” said the pilot. A lot of fireworks were going off, but otherwise “everything appears to be normal” with “approximately 700 people. . . just walking around, hanging out.”
Police only arrived at Brooklyn Homes after gunfire erupted at 12:30 a.m. on Gretna Court, a narrow alley on the north side of the housing project. There they found Gonzales fatally shot, and Fagbemi, who would later die in the hospital, among dozens of wounded and shell-shocked victims.
“We don’t have control of the scene,” one officer shouted over the police radio, while another pleaded, “Can we get Anne Arundel County for mutual aid, please.”
“I make that decision,” an unidentified supervisor barked back on the police scanner. “We’re not calling mutual aid right now.”
Compromised Crime Scene
According to the Justice Department official, the police contaminated and compromised the crime scene.
“They let civilians walk through it. And then, maintenance workers were brought out the next morning to clean up the area before evidence was properly collected.”
The official noted that “in defense of the police, this was very different from a typical mass shooting. A typical mass shooting is one person shooting at a number of other people. But here you had at least 15 separate people shooting at one another, with some people who were shot probably being shooters themselves.
“So it was a monster of a crime scene to preserve, but how the police handled it was alarming to those who know these things,” the official continued.
“There are all sorts of tools available to triangulate where the weapons were and who was shot at what angle. Things could have been done to better re-create what happened that would prove valuable to apprehend the suspects and use as evidence for prosecutors down the line.”
“It was a monster of a crime scene to preserve, but how the police handled it was alarming to those who know these things” – Justice Department official.
Even though Brooklyn Homes was quickly dubbed the largest mass shooting in the city’s history, BPD handled the matter like a typical shooting.
Court documents show that five detectives and a sergeant, who were called to the scene the night of the shooting, have handled the investigation since then.
The team is led by a 13-year BPD veteran and includes two detectives whose credibility issues placed them on a “do not call list” of officers compiled by former State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
The detectives used cellphone video placed on social media to identify the 17-year-old, who was arrested in July for possession of a firearm by a minor, possession of an assault weapon, reckless endangerment and, later, inciting a riot.
Significantly, he was not charged with shooting anybody at the party. The pistol he allegedly drew out of a backpack has not been found. According to his attorney, the boy was carrying a toy Orbeez gun that shoots soft colorful balls.
The 18-year-old arrested two weeks ago faces 55 counts, including seven counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted first-degree murder.
But here again, the young man, Tristan Brian Jackson, has not been linked to the murdered teenagers or the other 28 victims.
Instead, Jackson was identified from a surveillance camera discharging a handgun “in the direction of seven unknown individuals” who were running down 8th Street to escape the volley of gunshots.
Baltimore police have not tracked down the seven individuals. Nor have they determined if any of them suffered gunshot wounds, according to court records.
Instead, police theorize that five 9mm casings recovered on the sidewalk in the vicinity of the surveillance camera came from a handgun that Jackson was seen using – a gun that apparently has not been recovered.
Or according to the odd syntax and typos of the concluding paragraph of the police charging document:
“Mr. Jackson arrived at the large event with three other individuals. One of the individuals [w]as concealing a firearm. Mr. Jackson actions by shooting toward seven unknown individuals caused substantial fear as those individuals to flee for safety.”
According to the Justice Department official, “If I were a defense attorney, I’d have a field day. How are you going to connect my guy to the gun, to the cartridges, to any of the victims?”
Response by Police
The Brew sent to Baltimore Police questions about the role of the FBI and ATF in the Brooklyn Homes investigation. Police spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge responded with this statement:
You will have to reach out to FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office on their involvement. This is an ongoing investigation and involves our local, state and federal partners. Please see quote below from Acting Commissioner Worley following the arrests of suspect Tristan Brian Jackson:
“BPD has been working tirelessly on the investigation into the critical incident that occurred on July 2, 2023 in Brooklyn Homes. While this investigation is still ongoing, I applaud the work of all the BPD members, the homicide detectives, our law enforcement partners and our community collaborators who will not rest until they see justice served.”
Asked to comment on the FBI’s involvement in the investigation, PIO Shelley Orman said, “The FBI routinely offers assistance to our law enforcement partners. For details about the investigation, please contact the Baltimore Police Department, which is the lead agency.”
Amanda Hils, spokesperson for ATF, said the Baltimore Police Lab processed the firearm casings recovered at Brooklyn Homes. Additionally, the department used the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) to match ballistics evidence to other cases.
She pointed out that BPD is the lead investigator, and her agency “was not involved in the apprehension of the two defendants.”
Marcia Lubin, spokesperson for Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek Barron, said the office does not confirm or deny ongoing investigations and will not comment on Brooklyn Homes.
“I will say that the U.S. Attorney’s Office stands ready to assist BPD in any way we can,” she added.
Prior Brew Coverage
• Police after-action report on Brooklyn Homes shooting, due tomorrow, is delayed until September (8/14/23)
• To reach a reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org