Western Pa. police lauded for taking guns off Baltimore streets

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Baltimore, with one of the highest homicide rates in the U.S., is awash in guns.

But the city would have had 28 more illegal weapons on its streets last January were it not for the fast work of a Pittsburgh team of federal and local law officers, who on Wednesday won an award for their work at the annual Law Enforcement Agency Directors ceremony.

On Jan. 28, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a Bedford-area drug addict drove a stolen car through the front door of Saxton Outdoor Supply and stole 31 guns from a glass case.

From video surveillance, police identified him as Garrett Sherlock. His girlfriend told agents he and Michael Faircloth were headed to Baltimore to sell the guns for drugs.

Baltimore police located their car and gave chase, which ended in a crash that injured both suspects.

Police recovered 28 of the stolen guns, along with six baggies of cocaine. Mr. Faircloth admitted that he and Mr. Sherlock had already sold several firearms, but the arrest kept the bulk of them out of the hands of Baltimore criminals.

Addicts selling stolen weapons for drugs is a common theme in urban America.

“That’s often how guns get on the streets in large cities,” said Steven Bartholomew, ATF spokesman in Philadelphia. “This was a pretty quick turnaround.”

Mr. Sherlock and Mr. Faircloth are under indictment in Pittsburgh federal court.

Earning a plaque for their efforts were: ATF agents Jeff Haggerty and Bruce Coleman, Deputy Sheriff Bart Hennessy, state troopers Brad Codd, Fred Chadwick and Cpl. Robert Reed, and assistant U.S. attorney John Valkovci Jr.

They were among several dozen officers honored at the event, held at the University of Pittsburgh.

The awards were established in 1996 to reward good work and promote cooperation among agencies, a timely point in light of Wednesday’s shooting outside Brashear High School. Keynote speaker Linda Lane, Pittsburgh schools superintendent, praised police from agencies for handling that incident efficiently.

These were the other winners:

• Trooper Brian King. Trooper King was shot in the face during a tense standoff in Latrobe in July. Blinded in his left eye, he has returned to duty.

• FBI Agent Larry O’Connor. Agent O’Connor led the investigation of extremist Timothy Johnson and Donald Solomon, former police chief in East Washington.

• Brendan Conway, assistant U.S. attorney. As head of the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, he handled six complex trials in 13 months, including the Florida trial of Alfredo Sararo, a former Monroeville tennis champ who ripped off wealthy Pittsburghers in South Florida real estate scams.

• Christina Knox, U.S. probation officer. She was honored for diligence in recognizing the behavior of a mentally ill man on probation in California who was issuing threats during a manic episode, leading to his arrest for violating probation and resumption of his medical treatment.

• Homeland Security agents Derek Bassler and James Kilpatrick and Jessica Smolar, assistant U.S. attorney. During the child pornography investigation of Jeffrey Herschell of Washington, Pa., the agents traveled to the Philippines to track down a 12-year-old girl who had been paid $7 to perform in sex shows recorded on a webcam and distributed worldwide.

• Sgt. Kevin Faulds, deputy sheriff. Sgt. Faulds single-handedly detained three men involved in a shooting on a crowded Downtown street.

• ATF Agent Jesse Fidler and state Trooper Tim Motte. The pair investigated a straw purchase in Washington County that led to six arrests and the seizure of two dozen guns, synthetic marijuana and $200,000 in cash.

• Jay Neely, federal air marshal. Agent Neely helped build a gun prosecution against Khalifa Al-Akili, described by the FBI as a Taliban sympathizer.

• Daniel Fisher, U.S. Secret Service. Agent Fisher helped investigate a group of conspirators accused of running real estate businesses that used false documents and appraisals to buy and sell properties.

• Detective Perann Tansmore, Allegheny County district attorney’s office. Detective Tansmore won for expertise in handling complex financial and public corruption investigations.

• Morgan Jenkins and Michele Auge, Pittsburgh police. Officer Jenkins, who uses a wheelchair, was critically injured in an April 11 shootout with James Hill in Homewood. Officer Auge was slightly injured in the incident.

• Joseph Wolf Jr., U.S. postal inspector. Inspector Wolf led the investigation of Joshua Shaffer, convicted of running a major drug ring in Jefferson, Clearfield, Elk and Armstrong counties.

• Louis To and Virginia Brown, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Agent To and Ms. Brown, an investigative assistant, helped dismantle a Garfield drug ring DEA said was run by Darryl Tyler and brothers Ronnie and Dion Steave.

• Attorney General Agent John Piasecki, DEA agents Barry Baldwin and Mark Koss, and Pittsburgh police officer Matthew Truesdell. The four investigated an Arizona-to-Pittsburgh drug ring headed by Alphonso Hyman.

• Chuck Ackerman, Pennsylvania parole agent. Agent Ackerman helped diffuse a standoff with a fugitive in Scott.

• Kathleen Haefner, IRS criminal investigation. Agent Haefner was a key investigator on the Alfredo Sararo case.

• Steve Dawkin, county police, and police dog Dakota. Officer Dawkin and Dakota, who died last month, seized $1.1 million in drug money at Pittsburgh International Airport and elsewhere.

• The Western Pennsylvania Fugitive Task Force won for catching 512 felony fugitives in the last year.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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