Lt. Owen E. Sweeney, Jr.

EVER EVER EVER Motto DivderLt. Owen E. Sweeney, Jr. 

SweeneyLt. Owen E. Sweeney, Jr.


Yesterday afternoon, a shotgun blast fired through a wooden door at a Northeast Baltimore home struck a veteran city police lieutenant who was assisting his fellow officers on a routine call and killed him. Lt. Owen E. Sweeney, Jr., 47, who was one month shy of his 29th anniversary with the department, was pronounced dead at 4:04 p.m. after more than three hours of surgery at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. His wife and two sons have survived him. Friends say Lt. Sweeney was counting the days to retirement, and had just bought a 28 foot cabin cruiser that was to be delivered next week. Last night, police charged Baron Michael Cherry, 41, of the 5900 Block of Bertram Avenue with first degree murder and using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony… Officers who knew the lieutenant – the first city officer killed in the line of duty in four years—praised their supervisor for favoring street work over paperwork. On Tuesday, he was the first officer to confront a man holding an Uzi semiautomatic weapon during a robbery attempt at the Northwood Shopping Center. It wasn’t beneath him, “because he wore a gold badge, to do police work with the rest of us,” said Officer John D. Platt, a friend and 14-year veteran. Yesterday, Lt. Sweeney was doing paperwork in his office when he heard a call on the radio summoning officers to a house on Bertram Avenue in Hamilton. He quickly joined his officers at the house.  Lt. Sweeney tried to talk to the man behind a closed wooden door to an apartment at the top of a second-floor stairwell. “We’re here to help you, we’re not here to hurt you,” Lt. Sweeney said, according to Platt, who was standing next to him. The officers and Lt. Sweeney turned and started to walk downstairs when the shotgun blast blew away part of the door. Lt. Sweeney, struck in the lower left back, collapsed into Officer Platt’s arms. The officers pulled him down the stairs and outside. Moments later, Platt said, Cherry walked out of the room, unarmed and with his hands in the air, and apologized. He struggled with the police as they placed him in custody.


'It's my fault, I'm sorry,' suspect's weeping wife says of officer's death No guns in apartment, she told police before lieutenant was killed

She forgot about shotgun
Mentally disturbed man held without bail in lieutenant's death

May 09, 1997 |By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Marilyn McCraven and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article. One of the first questions police officers asked Denise Cherry when they came to help her distraught husband was if there were any guns inside the couple's Hamilton apartment. No, she said emphatically. But she forgot about the 16-gauge shotgun tucked in the back of the bedroom closet -- a gift of more than a decade ago.

Police said Baron Michael Cherry, a 41-year-old mentally disturbed man who frustrated his wife by refusing to take his medication, used the bolt-action shotgun to fatally shoot a veteran police lieutenant in the back on Wednesday afternoon. "It's my fault, I'm sorry," the suspect's wife cried out during an emotional interview yesterday in which she sobbed and offered prayers for the family of slain Lt. Owen E. Sweeney Jr. "I would never have imagined that that weapon was accessible," Mrs. Cherry said, struggling to talk about her husband's good side without offending the victim's family. "When the officers asked if there were any weapons or guns inside, I said no." Police commanders said they would have handled the situation much differently had they known about the gun, calling for tactical officers to negotiate instead of standing outside the apartment door.

Mrs. Cherry, unable to get her husband committed to psychiatric care, had called the police, hoping they could do what doctors could not. Officers were trying to coax Cherry out when he allegedly answered with profanity and a shotgun blast that splintered a closed wooden door and hit Sweeney in the lower back. Relatives of the slain officer were too distraught to talk yesterday, and even asked that police officers refrain from visiting their home in Harford County. Flags in Baltimore were ordered flown at half-staff, and a moment of silence was observed in the State House.

More than a thousand officers are expected to attend the funeral Monday at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air to pay tribute to Sweeney, a 28-year veteran officer who leapt at every chance to escape his desk and hit the streets. A motorcade route from the church to the interment site at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens has not yet been set. The procession for slain State Trooper Ted Wolf in 1990 stretched 16 miles along the Baltimore Beltway and Interstate 83. Police chaplains went to station houses yesterday and talked to shaken officers, who were allowed to take the day off if they needed time to recover. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called Sweeney "an outstanding officer" and said "he certainly will be missed by all of us in this community."

Sweeney is survived by his wife, Elaine D. Sweeney, 47; and two sons, Owen E. Sweeney III, 25, and Frank P. Sweeney, 22. While the lieutenant's family was making funeral arrangements yesterday, District Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr. ordered Cherry held without bail, scheduled a psychiatric evaluation, and placed the suspect under a suicide watch. The suspect said, "No, sir," when the judged asked if had any comment. Cherry, charged with first-degree murder, could face the death penalty if convicted. But Schmoke said yesterday it will be "a tough call for the prosecutor" because of the suspect's questionable mental state.

Mrs. Cherry, 36, said yesterday that her husband of 13 years suffered a breakdown seven years ago. "He was hearing voices, and [said] there were white worms crawling on his head." Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital had diagnosed him as a paranoid-schizophrenic. Sitting at the kitchen table inside her second-floor apartment in the 5900 block of Bertram Ave. in Northeast Baltimore, Mrs. Cherry tried to talk about the good times with her husband, about how they met at a local bar. She was a customer, and he played the drums in a band called After Dark. Her table was strewn with snapshots of him taken before his breakdown: dressed casually in an open-collar shirt and vest at their wedding; standing at a vacation Bible school with two young nieces; and with his pet Shih Tzu dog, named Ollie.

But the last seven years, in which her husband became a virtual recluse, were constantly on her mind. She said he ventured outside only to walk his dog and went into profanity-laced tirades at television game-show hosts. Mrs. Cherry tried to recall the good times but repeatedly returned to the troubled present. "The first six years were wonderful," she said calmly one moment, only to break out into tears and run from the room the next. Properly medicated, Cherry -- a 1974 graduate of Eastern Vocational-Technical High School in Essex, scrubbed kitchen floors and cooked dinner; without his pills, he became afraid. He ran around the house, locking doors, and calling people whores. "His paranoia is people, and people are everywhere," Mrs. Cherry said. "He thought people were aliens."

Mrs. Cherry said her husband started refusing his medication three weeks ago because one of the two drugs prescribed made him tired. She said she repeatedly took him to the Harford-Belair Community Mental Health Center, where doctors wanted him to take injections. Cherry refused, and his wife said doctors at the center would not admit him to a hospital. Finally, minutes after noon on Wednesday, with her husband growing increasingly agitated, she picked up the phone and dialed 311—the city's non-emergency phone number. Five officers came to the house and "repeatedly asked Mrs. Cherry if her husband had access to a weapon inside the apartment, and she repeatedly told them no," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman.

Back at the Northeastern District station, Sweeney was at his desk, engulfed in paperwork, listening to the action unfold on his police radio. It wasn't going well, and "he wanted to make sure it was properly supervised," said his colleague, Lt. Carl Gutberlet. Police said Sweeney also asked Mrs. Cherry if there were any guns inside the apartment, and confident of her negative response, she stood in front of the door and tried to coax the man outside. "They were trying to end this peacefully," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the police union president.

Mrs. Cherry, who was standing on the lawn on the left side of her house, said her husband walked over to a window and made an obscene gesture to an officer, who she said laughed. About two minutes later, she heard her husband scream a profanity, which was followed by a shotgun blast and the frantic cries, "Officer down." She said the shotgun had been a gift, and she never saw her husband take it out. She kept the shells in another room, mixed in with knicknacks. There was little evidence yesterday of the violence that erupted at the house a day before. The police took the splintered door away as evidence, and the blood on the side of the house was scrubbed away. A plaque still hung yesterday above the front door, through which the wounded Sweeney was carried out. It says: "Lord, help me hang in there."

Funeral plans

The funeral service for Lt. Owen E. Sweeney Jr. is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church at 141 Hickory Ave. in Bel Air. The viewing is at Schimunek Funeral Home at 610 W. McPhail Road in Bel Air Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The interment will be at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

Pub Date: 5/09/97

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More Details

End of Watch 7 May, 1997
City, St. 5900 Block of Bertram Avenue
Panel Number 34-E: 20
Cause of Death Gunfire
District Worked Northeastern


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