BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A suspect in the Fells Point bar shooting from December posted bond Wednesday and has been released from custody- and the murder victim’s family is outraged after learning about it.
Family members of Rodney Beamon Jr. are demanding answers after a Baltimore City judge released the man accused of killing him on a $100,000 bail.
“I’m devastated. I’m hurt. I’m broken,” an emotional Deborah Beamon told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren from her home in Ohio.
Beamon said she only heard about suspect Phillip West’s release through news articles. It comes as she is still reeling from his death four days before Christmas.
“To hear it over the media that he’s out the next day, how heartbreaking was that? It was ok to shoot my brother and go home and sleep with your wife and children. My brother cannot do that anymore,” she said.
Police said West opened fire inside the bar after getting angry with Beamon.
He was at large for almost a month before turning himself in for the killing this week.
“I believe this man’s bail should be revoked immediately,” said Beth Hawks, a Fells Point business owner.
She said the killing had rattled the community.
Judge Michael Studdard made the decision to release West on bail and electronic home monitoring.
Governor Larry Hogan appointed him to the bench in 2018. Studdard is a former prosecutor.
“It seems to me to be outrageous,“ Hogan said. “This is an issue that I’ve been out there talking about for more than a year—about the leniency of particularly Baltimore City judges. We are addressing that in legislation this year.“
Hogan said he is pushing for “judicial transparency legislation so people will know exactly the kinds of decisions that judges make—like this particular one.”
But West’s attorney, Ken Ravenell, defended Judge Studdard.
“I am disappointed to hear that people are upset and faulting Judge Studdard for doing his job as mandated by his oath and the constitution, being an independent arbiter of facts,” Ravenell said in a statement to WJZ.
He continued, noting that West is not the first person to have been charged with murder who was released on bail.
“People seem to forget—until it is one of their loved ones—that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Ravenell said.
He said the judge considered several factors including whether West was a present danger to anyone in the community if he was released. Ravenell pointed out West is a business and property owner.
He said West was fully aware of the allegations against him and still chose to self-surrender, which he claimed is proof that he was not a flight risk.
Ravenell said West has not had a conviction since 2003 and at age 48, does not have a history of violence in his background.
On Wednesday, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed a new motion to revoke West’s bail, calling him a flight risk who was prohibited from possessing a gun.
Mosby said in the motion that West was convicted in U.S. District Court for Maryland for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics. He received a nine-year sentence.
“The state believes these factors weigh heavily in considering the defendant’s risk to public safety,” the motion read.
The motion went on to state that witnesses observed West “publicly execute Rodney Beamon,” and that he was identified in photo arrays and surveillance video showing him at the pub along with Beamon.
The State requested no-bail status be set immediately.
Mosby and BPD interim commissioner Gary Tuggle expressed their disappointment with West’s release, highlighting how the bail process is in place to act as a deterrent for violent criminals.
“Unfortunately, there’s often a misconception that we as prosecutors are the ones who impose or implement when someone is let go on bail. We made a recommendation that this individual should be held without bail—and he wasn’t,” Mosby said.
Tuggle said the “heinous” murder “rocked” a part of the city.
He said when the city sees someone being let out, there is no deterrent to crime.
“If that means keeping someone in prison pending trial—pending their due process—then we need to do that,” Tuggle said. “But it all goes back to deterrence, and if we’re not deterring people, then people are going to continue to do what they do.”
Councilman Zeke Cohen was also critical of giving the suspect bail. “I think this was a reckless decision, and it puts the lives in our community in danger,“ Cohen said.
And the president of the police union released a statement calling it “misdemeanor murder…only in Baltimore.”