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Todd sworn in as acting police chief

CAMBRIDGE — City Manager Thomas Carroll swore in the new acting chief of Cambridge Police J.R. (Justin) Todd on Aug. 30. He was surrounded by his team dressed in their blue uniforms. Todd’s family also came to the swearing in ceremony and sat up front in the council chambers on 305 Gay Street.

Before the swearing in, several fellow officers waited for Todd and his family. Once on site, one of the policemen straightened Todd’s gold insignias on his uniform and then he was ready to go in.

As they walked in, the solemnity of the moment took on more gravity.

There was a big emphasis on family always having your back. Todd’s family was there dressed formally. They all sat together right in the middle.

“It is an honor to swear you in as acting chief. The goal is to run the department as he sees fit. If he does that in six months, we will have a quick swearing in. Drive it like you stole it, which is my mantra. As a City Manager, it is a weird thing to say to a police officer, because obviously you might catch people who have stolen a car. We are all here for a short period of time to do the job we were hired to do — to do it with passion as if you are here and have to do the job quickly, to do the job like you are in an urgent rush to do something, to drive it like you stole it,” said Carroll.

The chamber was filled with laughter. Before Todd was sworn in he had a few words.

“It all begins with the family. I couldn’t do it without them. I wouldn’t be anywhere without family. My dad and those who passed away earlier. They are long gone, but I know they are watching over me. My wife Erica walked into the police world. The phone calls, the crazy hours and how we have to change up on a dime and switch things. Thank you to all my family. I am a blessed man. I won’t let you guys down. We are going to do some good things, and I am going to drive it like I stole it,” Todd said.

The oath began. Both the United States and Maryland Constitutions were mentioned. A handshake and applause followed the oath. And then it was picture time.

First the officers lined up for a group shot with Todd in the middle. One joked about doing a “Charlie’s Angels” pose. Although it was a happy moment, that idea was declined. One could hear a pin drop once the formal photograph was made.

Todd had the last word.

“Just the people surrounding me are the best. And it is an opportunity for the future. That is what I want to look for — the future, not past, not the present, but look to the future,” Todd said.

Todd, a native resident of Dorchester County, takes over the position from retiring Chief Mark Lewis.


Schools
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Enthusiasm-filled week kicks off school year

CAMBRIDGE — It’s been a full week for students and staff returning to Dorchester County Public Schools as Monday kicked off the start of the 2022-2023 school year. On Aug. 29 ,first through sixth grades and high school freshmen experienced their first day, and on Aug. 30, seventh through 12th grades returned. Kindergarten and pre-k students had their first day on Aug. 31.

Staggering the start of schools is done so those making a transition (sixth into middle school, ninth into high school) have the school to themselves for the first day as they learn the ropes and to give pre-k and kindergarten teachers time for parent conferences in advance of the little ones arriving, according to Valerie Goff, DCPS communications and community outreach specialist.

Goff was behind the scenes capturing welcoming smiles as administrators greeted the arriving students and helped them jump straight into the school spirit. For students in the career and technical programs ,the first day was hands-on as they picked up scissors to practice haircuts and masonry tools amidst a pile of bricks.

The Friday before school began for students, Goff said DCPS staff gathered to celebrate their own return. The Cambridge-South Dorchester Drumline, led by Ray Washington, was a stirring start to the festivities, followed by the electric energy brought to the auditorium by the C-SD and North Dorchester high school cheer teams, and Jessica Hindman’s Eastern Shore Dance Academy, which ensured that even the DCPS Executive Team was boogying away, quipped Goff.

Inspiring the educators, Dr. Malik Muhammad, an educator himself, and transformational leader, entrepreneur, and author, made the keynote presentation. Teacher of the Year Phil Albert delivered his address by video as the entire Albert family is away delivering their newly minted freshman to college.

“We were glad representatives from Hertrich Family of Automobile Dealerships joined us, even though the official presentation of the Teacher of the Year car has to wait for Mr. Albert’s return,” Goff noted.

DCPS recognized many faculty members who had achieved 15 plus years of service and several who have been with the district for 25, 35 and 40 years. Several new faculty members joined DCPS this year as well.


News
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Fight breaks out after murder sentencing

CAMBRIDGE — The sentencing of convicted murderer Jai’Choan D. Woolford, 26, of Easton on Monday afternoon, Aug. 29, in Dorchester County Circuit Court led to a reported “large” fight in the streets allegedly between between Woolford’s family and that of the victim.

Dorchester Sheriff James W. Phillips Jr. said the fight occurred off courthouse property; it started about a block down High Street from the courthouse toward Long Wharf Park and rolled down the street.

No one was apprehended. When those involved heard the police sirens, they fled the scene, Phillips said.

A Cambridge Police officer responding to the fight was involved in a crash at Cedar and Race streets when her cruiser collided with another vehicle. Those vehicles also struck another vehicle.

Capt. Justin Todd with Cambridge Police said the officer was taken to the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester to be checked out, that he had spoken with her and she told him she’s OK.

“It appears like the officer hit the left passenger side of the (other) vehicle,” Todd said, adding there would be an investigation to determine who was a fault.

The drivers of the other two vehicles also were taken to the emergency center with minor injuries, he said. He did not have conditions on them, and no names were released.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Judge Daniel Powell sentenced Woolford to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended for the Nov. 7, 2021, first-degree murder of Jihad Y. Brown of Cambridge.

Woolford was convicted May 20 of first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, carrying a loaded handgun on his person and using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime/felony.

Because the first-degree murder charge is a violent offense, Woolford will have to serve at least half of his sentence before he becomes eligible for parole, interim Dorchester County State’s Attorney Amanda Leonard said.

Most of the charges merged into the first-degree murder, but Woolford was sentenced separately on using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime/felony. Powell sentenced him to 20 years, with 13 years of active incarceration on that charge, Leonard said.

That sentence is to be served consecutively to the murder sentence, she said. While he will receive credit for time served since his arrest, Woolford is looking at a minimum of 34 years in prison before he is eligible to be considered for parole.

Deputy State’s Attorney Molly Fox prosecuted the case. During the trial, she described the daytime murder as brazen, brutal and bad timing.

Police officers heading home heard gunshots coming from the 600 block of Greenwood Avenue just before 1 p.m. and proceeded to the 500 block where they saw a man — later identified as Woolford — holding a gun, shooting, then running from the scene. Officers chased Woolford on foot and arrested him in the 400 block of Oakley Street.

Emergency medical services personnel found Brown, 18, lying on the ground with multiple gunshot wounds. He was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he later died from his injuries.

Fox emphasized that nine shots were fired, and eight of them struck Brown.

Another victim was shot in the arm during the incident. He was later treated and released from a local emergency room.

Multiple angles of city camera footage of the shooting and the suspect running away were presented as evidence at the trial. The footage showed a man dressed in dark clothing approaching two individuals from across the street and firing at them, stepping closer with each shot.

Fox addressed the city camera footage of the shooting, saying that it was clear premeditation as Woolford walked toward the victims with purpose.

“If that’s not premeditation, I don’t know what is,” she said.

The footage picked up audio of the gunshots and voices. A female witness to the shooting, who also testified at the trial, could be heard telling Woolford to stop. Woolford could be heard telling her to “get out of here,” Fox said.

Fox pointed out the shooting suspect’s appearance, noting Woolford’s beard and a jacket that Woolford said he was wearing. It was the same person, she said.

She also touched on the timing of the shooting and timestamps on the cameras, asserting that only seven seconds of the shooting and Woolford’s flight were unaccounted for. The gun used in the shooting was also recovered in the flight path he took, she said.

The jury returned its verdict after about 90 minutes of deliberation.

Reporter Natalie Jones also contributed to this article.


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