Justin Fenton and Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, July 20, 2015
Newly released surveillance camera footage from the Baltimore riots shows chaos erupting at North and Pennsylvania avenues, where a crowd breaches and loots stores, destroys police vehicles and sets fires while police stay on the fringe of the action.
With the exception of a brief incursion by a SWAT team, the video shows that officers don’t move in for nearly 90 minutes, after the crowd has largely moved on.
The city surveillance camera footage along with police radio transimssions and emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun under a Public Information Act request show how the looting developed April 27 at the intersection that would become a center of demonstrations in the ensuing days.
The materials also offer a fresh view of a moment that has become a flashpoint for police officers critical of their leaders.
The officers say the department held them back from confronting the rioters, allowing more first responders to be injured and more property to be damaged.
At about 4:25, a group of people moves south from Mondawmin and swarms the intersection of North and Pennsylvania. They head straight for an unattended police car, surveillance camera footage shows, and start attacking it.
A SWAT team moves in with bean-bag shotguns, and the crowd scrambles to get away. At least one person is pinned down.
But after the SWAT team pulls back, the crowd reassembles and swells.
The surveillance camera footage is one part of a large body of video, audio and documents from the unrest collected by the city. Much of the material–including recordings of the initial confrontation at Mondawmin–remains unreleased.
At 4:30 p.m. at Pennsylvania and North avenues, a report of a “patrol car that’s under assault” prompts the SWAT team to move in. It is not clear where the officer who parked in the 1600 block of W. North Ave. is or what he is doing when the crowd swarms the vehicle.
About 4:37, the CVS drugstore is breached. The camera operator pans around and zooms in on men rooting through a parked transit police vehicle.
An armored Baltimore police tactical vehicle called a BearCat can be seen pulling onto the sidewalk and behind the entrance to an underground subway station, where it is out of view of the CVS. A second tactical vehicle joins it, and officers climb inside.
According to radio transmissions, the vehicles arrived to extract a group of MTA officers stuck inside a station.
At 4:41, a line of police officers can be seen for the first time about a block north of North and Pennsylvania. They hold their position until about 6:05.
Before then, they watch as a check-cashing store and a grocery store are breached, and the CVS is ransacked. People can be seen emerging from the store with armfuls of Tasty-Kakes, detergent and other goods.
A group of men breaks into the trunk of the abandoned police car and is seen taking items. One man wanders away wearing a Baltimore police jacket; another uses yellow “caution” tape as a streamer.
A Maryland Transit Administration vehicle erupts in flames. The tactical vehicles pull out of the area.
Commuters continue to drive along North Avenue through the chaos. Some motorists stop to load up on goods taken from the stores.
Authorities say they have been scouring surveillance footage to identify suspects and make arrests.
At 6:05, two lines of officers begin to move in slowly. Smoke shows from the CVS. At 6:26 p.m., the now-larger line of officers moves into the intersection and eventually seals off the four corners. Firetrucks arrive to extinguish the flames at the CVS.
Protesters confront officers. An officer uses pepper spray to break up a skirmish. One officer appears overcome by the spray. He backs out of the line and falls to his knees.