Family of teen shot to death at Edmondson Village Shopping Center calls for arrest, cites threatened city suit vs. owner

Family of teen shot to death at Edmondson Village Shopping Center calls for arrest, cites threatened city suit vs. owner

A little more than a year after 16-year-old Deanta Dorsey died in a hail of gunfire that wounded four others outside a Popeyes in the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, his family — through their attorney — is calling for police to arrest the second shooter.

Baltimore Police arrested a teen last February, accusing him of being one of two shooters the morning of Jan. 4, 2023. The other shooter remains at large, and police did not respond to questions about the status of their investigation.

Now Dorsey’s family wants to see more progress in the case, according to their attorney, Thiru Vignarajah. At a news conference last week, Vignarajah, a former prosecutor and twice candidate for city state’s attorney who is exploring a second run for mayor, also called attention to a draft lawsuit the city had prepared against the owner of the historic but dilapidated shopping center.

Frustrated with crime at the center on Edmondson Avenue/Route 40, Baltimore officials warned its owners of “imminent legal action” in April 2021.

“Once a regional attraction, today the Shopping Center is more recognizable as a decaying backdrop for fires, murders, and other criminal activity,” city attorneys wrote in a draft lawsuit attached to a letter to its owners. “The Shopping Center has also become a drain on the City, as departments and agencies have been forced to surge staff and resources to respond to the nuisance caused by Defendants’ absenteeism.”

The city never filed the lawsuit, the officials say, because the owners agreed to sell the shopping center. But, because of an antiquated neighborhood covenant, the sale was not finalized until August 2023.

That was too late for Dorsey and four other Edmondson-Westside High School students who were at the shopping center during their lunch break when a pair of shooters opened fire on them.

Vignarajah said residents have been concerned about problems at Edmondson Village Shopping Center for many years, but the draft lawsuit was evidence of the city’s inaction toward a problem it identified long ago.

“In this particular complaint, it looked as though the city was taking seriously the violent crime that was unfolding at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center every day, every weekend. They sent this letter, this complaint — it’s dated April 27, 2021, about a year and a half before the murder of Deanta,” said Vignarajah, referring to the letter warning owners of imminent legal action. “And then they did nothing.”

In response to questions from The Baltimore Sun, city officials disputed that there was inaction.

“The City had long identified concerns with the management and operation of Edmondson Village Shopping Center under its prior ownership. The tragic killing of Deanta Dorsey was indicative [of] those concerns,”  Bryan Doherty, spokesman for Brandon Scott, Baltimore’s Democratic mayor, said in a statement. “Ultimately, these concerns were addressed when prior ownership determined it would explore — and ultimately entered into an agreement — to sell the Shopping Center.”

In a statement, the City Solicitor’s Office provided insight into the decision to threaten legal action and context for what it described as a “complex transaction involving multiple parties that required time to finalize.”

The city’s threat of legal action was in response to “extensive complaints about the management and operation” of the shopping center and demanded “dramatic changes or a sale to new ownership” willing to invest in the facility, the solicitor’s office said. After negotiations, the previous owners agreed to explore a sale with the city’s support.

The previous owner — the Edmondson Village Business Trust — reached a sale agreement in May 2022 with developer Lynier Richardson’s Chicago TREND firm, the solicitor’s office said.

But a decades-old neighborhood covenant held up the deal, Doherty and the solicitor’s office said. Originally intended to keep Black families from buying into the area, the covenant limited what TREND could do with the property. Richardson needed to persuade nearby property owners to sign paperwork and amend the covenant.

“The agreement could not be finalized until the City was able to obtain signatures from a majority of the neighboring residents to release a number of restrictive covenants attached to the property,” the solicitor’s office said.

Scott and his team, along with City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, the office said, “worked tirelessly over the ensuing months with the Shopping Center’s new owners, participating in town halls and knocking on doors, all in an attempt to persuade residents to sign on to finalize the agreement.”

The sale came in August 2023, with Richardson outlining a $20 million plan to redevelop and revitalize the shopping center, which had become pockmarked with vacant storefronts.

Richardson’s vision, paired with local investment, promises to bring new life to the storied shopping center.

When it opened in 1947, the shopping center — known locally as “The Village” — offered a novel style of suburban shopping in what was a predominantly white area. The development featured acres of parking along with a blend of small businesses and a large department store and a movie theater, drawing shoppers from across the city.

The surrounding neighborhoods changed rapidly about a decade later, with speculators inducing homeowners to sell their houses at rock-bottom prices, then selling the houses at a premium to incoming Black residents, according to W. Edward Orser’s book called “Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story.” Newer shopping centers siphoned business from the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, which gradually deteriorated.

Doherty said the city “is extremely optimistic about the shopping center’s future.”

“The redevelopment,” he said, “actually invites in the surrounding community with real engagement and even a community-funded component that provides neighbors a stake in the future of the project.”

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