The man arrested Wednesday in connection with a traffic stop that ended with a Baltimore Police sergeant seriously injured had received a suspended sentence last fall in connection with two separate gun arrests.
Police say Joseph Black, 36, on Tuesday night drove off from a traffic stop in Park Heights and the sergeant was dragged two blocks. Police tracked Black to the Upton neighborhood on Wednesday, shutting down a wide area for hours and sending in a SWAT team before Black was taken into custody without incident.
Black has been arrested at least 19 times, Commissioner Michael Harrison said. Records show that Black pleaded guilty to two separate felon in possession of a firearm cases in the fall, receiving a sentence of 15 years with all of the time suspended except for time served.
Both cases had originally been charged as attempted murders. In one case, prosecutors said Black, who was prohibited from possessing firearms, shot back at someone who was shooting at him. In the other, Black was the driver of a minivan fleeing from police. He took off after it crashed, and police said they found two guns inside.
“When we talk about repeat violent offenders, this is what we are referring to,” Harrison said at a news conference with Mayor Brandon Scott.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said a plea deal for time served in the second case was the result of uncooperative victims or witnesses, a persistent problem in the city. In the first case, she said, Black was not the aggressor. “Mr. Black was defending himself from being shot.”
Attorney Bradley MacFee represented Black in both cases and said the evidence could have been contested at trial, but Black was eager to go home after 19 months in confinement during a pandemic. Prosecutors had initially sought 20 years, according to the court tracking site Baltimore Witness, before lowering their offer.
“I think it was probably a pretty easy decision for Joe,” MacFee said Wednesday.
Scott said the case highlighted the need for re-entry and rehabilitation. “Someone who was in and out of prison for years wasn’t properly being prepared to reenter into our society,” he said. “It is truly disheartening ... to arrest the same individuals over and over and over again.”
The officer injured Tuesday night has not been publicly identified by police, but is a 27-year veteran assigned to the plainclothes District Action Team. Initially listed as critically injured, Harrison said the officer was out of surgery and had been upgraded to fair condition.
Police said the officer pulled over a vehicle for a traffic violation in the 5100 block of Park Heights Avenue around 8 p.m. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the officers saw a weapon and ordered Black to get out of the car. He then attempted to pull Black out, when the car accelerated.
Harrison would not say what traffic violation spurred the stop. Harrison said the account of the incident was based in part on body camera footage, which officials did not share Wednesday.
WJZ-TV reported that witnesses also saw the officer dragged, and that they ran up to him as he lay in the street and saw him surrounded by blood.
Harrison and Scott addressed reporters outside of Maryland Shock Trauma with its physician-in-chief, Dr. Thomas Scalea.
“The officer was doing exactly what we want them to do — out there being proactive, making sure citizens are being protected, finding people who are doing harm, and making sure the Northwest District is a safe place,” Harrison said.
“I hear a lot about what our officers in Baltimore aren’t doing, what they won’t do,” Scott added. “But what we have tonight is a sergeant who is on life support here at Shock Trauma because he was exactly where he should have been, doing exactly what he should have been doing it. If you’ve ever been in the 5100 block of Park Heights, if you see the violence that happens there, then you know why he was there.”
After Black was taken into custody, a reporter watched police sit him in the back of a SWAT team vehicle as a medic tended to him. Police allowed a woman to give him water to drink.
Black pleaded guilty to armed robbery in 2006 and received a five-year sentence with four years suspended — essentially time served. When he violated his probation in 2008, a judge imposed the balance of the suspended time.
Convictions for drug distribution and assault followed, and in 2012 he pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and handgun charges, receiving a sentence of 10 years, with all but three years of that time suspended. Three years later he was found to have violated his probation, and a judge imposed a six-year prison sentence.
In December 2019, officers were around the 2700 block of E. Monument Street after a report of shots being fired and striking a vehicle. They said they saw a minivan go through a stop sign, and followed it as it blew through additional stop signs and went the wrong way down streets. The driver, later identified as Black, hit a parked car and fled on foot. When police caught up to him, they said Black had a drawstring bag with $3,400 in cash on him. A passenger, Martinez Lasco, was still in the vehicle and police found a Glock 17 and a Ruger Mark II.
Maryland Judiciary Case Search removes cases in which a defendant is not convicted, and Lasco’s case no longer displays.
Mosby said the person whose car was struck did not want to cooperate, and that that was why the case fell apart. “This is a problem that I have outlined for a number of years,” Mosby said. “We have to break down these barriers of distrust. Unfortunately, when you don’t have cooperative witnesses, or [have] inconsistent witnesses, it’s really difficult to prove that case.”
After the gun arrest, Black would also be charged with shooting a man in the 1500 block of N. Broadway on Oct. 19, 2019. He was at the home of a woman, and the man, Craig Johnson, showed up and was asked to leave. Prosecutors said both had a romantic history with the woman. Johnson returned with a gun and started shooting at Black, who also had a weapon and shot back. Johnson fled and the two men continued to shoot at each other, prosecutors said.
Johnson pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and was sentenced to 25 years, with all but 12 years of that time suspended, records show.
In the past two weeks, MacFee, who was Black’s attorney, had clients receive favorable plea deals. The State’s Attorney’s Office touted one of them, in which Wayne Smith received 17 years after pleading guilty to two killings. MacFee also said a client accused of shooting four people in broad daylight on Belair Road was given a 25 year sentence with all but time served - about 20 months - suspended.
Reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.