City firefighter charged with assault after altercation at May 14 bike lane meeting

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Photo via Bikemore

When Ryan Patterson and his son joined dozens of others at the Baltimore School for the Arts Recital Hall for a public meeting on May 14, Patterson knew to expect some tension in the room. This assembly concerned the Downtown Bike Network—its segments on Madison and Centre streets, specifically—and bike lanes are, as Patterson puts it, “a hot issue that a lot of people have opinions about.”

What Patterson didn’t expect was a physical altercation. Soon after the meeting began, a “commotion” erupted in the back of the room, Patterson says.

“The crowd jumped out of their seats, and this white, bald guy in the back of the room lifted this young, black guy up by the throat,” he says.

Nicole Runde, a cyclist who was also in the audience that night, says she “looked over and I just saw one of the gentlemen who was in the back of the room reach across a row of chairs and grab a guy by the neck,” and later “pull him kind of towards the wall.”

“It was just really startling,” Runde says. “There had been some back and forth kind of comments, people were being respectful but disagreeing. This was totally out of left field and a super overreaction. We were just talking about a bike lane.”

The scuffle soon ended, and the attacker left the room. Some said he was approached by a school resource officer nearby, but was not detained.

The man on the receiving end was Austin Davis, a demographics analyst with the Baltimore City Department of Planning. A Department of Planning spokeswoman said he was there as a private citizen, and not representing the agency.

His alleged attacker, Charles Mudra, whose address is listed as 1201 E. Cold Spring Lane, a Baltimore City Fire Department station, received a court summons the following day. He’s been charged with second-degree assault, and is due to appear in court June 25.

City salary records indicate Mudra is employed as an emergency vehicle support driver, and has been working for the fire department since 2008.

Davis did not respond to a message requesting comment for this story, and an employee at the fire station listed as Mudra’s address said he was not at work today.

Asked about the incident, Chief Roman Clark, a spokesman for the fire department, said the “department is aware that there was a situation, and currently, it’s under investigation.” He confirmed the investigation involves a fire department employee, but declined to identify Mudra as the subject.

Clark noted that the employee “was not right there representing the fire department at all,” indicating that Mudra was attending as a private citizen and not representing his employer.

The altercation erupted shortly after the issue of fire code came up, attendees said. Fire code has become a looming concern for bike lane projects since spring of 2017, when residents near Potomac Street in Canton asked the Department of Transportation to halt installation of a two-way, north-south protected bike lane by invoking the International Fire Code standards the city has adopted. The regulations call for 20 feet of road clearance for fire engines, and 26 feet of clearance for ladders and other equipment.

After a short court battle, the city agreed to install the Potomac Street bike lane, but officials also announced they were halting all other bike lane projects to ensure they comply with fire apparatus clearance regulations. (Amid those ongoing delays, Bikemore discovered through a records request that the city continued carrying out non-bike lane-related projects on streets that weren’t up to international fire code standards.)

DOT staffers have since been working on a redesign for the Downtown Bike Network to suit fire code standards, Bikemore leaders say. Last week’s public meetings—another was held at Dunbar High School on May 15—took place to collect public feedback on the plan.

A flyer for the May 14 and May 15 public meetings. Image via Facebook.

Bikemore executive director Liz Cornish condemned the violence that unfolded at the May 14 meeting, calling Mudra’s alleged actions “completely out of bounds.”

“The fact that a public meeting about street designs that improve safety resulted in an employee of the Fire Department physically assaulting a fellow city employee attending the meeting as a private citizen is shocking,” she said.

Cornish called for a “full dismissal” of Mudra by the fire department, and said fire officials “should take explicit steps to ensure that other employees recognize that a disagreement around a street design specification—one that other cities have opted to reject—in no way gives them permission to bully and incite fear in residents.”

Asked whether the fire department has rules for employees taking public stances on issues relevant to their job—such as fire code—Clark said, “We do have rules and regulations that govern our members either on or off the job, either on-duty or off-duty. You’re supposed to conduct yourself in a manner of not going outside of breaking the law or doing anything unlawful.”

Despite the contention of the May 14 meeting at the Baltimore School for the Arts, DOT officials are not yet planning any changes for how they conduct public meetings on bike lanes.

“The Department of Transportation conducts hundreds of meetings each year and has not encountered any incidents of physical altercations in the past,” DOT spokeswoman Kathy Dominick said in a statement. “We feel this is an isolated incident; however, DOT is reviewing current guidelines to maintain a peaceful environment during community meetings and is seeking advice from the [Baltimore Police Department].”

Patterson, who works for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts but was attending as a parent and citizen, said he wanted to be there for his son, who uses the Downtown Bike Network to get to school.

“That was pretty disturbing,” he said of the alleged attack by Mudra. “And to have it happen at my son’s school, with him there…to have somebody lash out and hurt somebody in the middle of it, is just completely disgraceful, I think.”

Runde has seen flare-ups at other bike lane meetings around town. At one in spring of 2017, concerning a proposal to install a two-way protected bike lane down the median of 33rd Street from Lake Montebello to Charles Village, she watched people shout and threaten each other. She said her brother-in-law attended another meeting in Roland Park, held April 12, which included similar verbal unrest among attendees; he had described the mood as “very hostile.”

“It seems to bring out a particular level of rage in certain people that I don’t understand,” she said.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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15 COMMENTS

    • It’s standard operating procedure for the courts to use fire stations and police stations as the addresses of firefighters and policemen who are charged with crimes. Something, something ensuring safety of public safety officials from threats.

  1. These bike lanes are just tearing apart the city. A friend of mine who lives along one of the bike lanes had his car smashed twice by a hit and run. The first time the mirror was destroyed, the second time the car was totalled. Everyone in his neighborhood hates the bike lanes.

    I would be more sympathetic to the bike riders, but there are rarely any bike riders. If I walk along side the bike lane, I see a rider 50% of the time. Most of the time they’re just empty.

    Baltimore should get rid of them. They’re a gift to the athletic 1%ers, the folks who are fit enough to ride to work and lucky enough to have enough time to do it. We need to think of the average folks who aren’t swole supermodels, folks who need cars.

    • People driving cars too fast smash cars, firefighters smash people, and somehow yet you blame all of that on a bike that has nothing to do with it.

    • I’m on Maryland Ave., I don’t bike, and yet I love the bike lane. Before the bike lane was installed Maryland ave was a high-speed thoroughfare for county commuters, speeding, littering and risking the lives of the children who walk to Margaret Brent. Now it feels like a residential street again. Your friend doesn’t speak for me.

    • Hi bob, your takes are incorrect. 1) Bikes don’t cause speeding cars to hit other cars, 2) It doesn’t matter wether you happen to see any cyclists or not, you’re not a data collector, ridership in the city is up, 3) Plenty of “average folks” use bikes for all of their transportation needs, it’s not an elite thing, and the more protected lanes there are, the more ridership will grow. Thanks bob.

  2. The issue with Potomac Street and the fire code was really more about the location of the car parking interfering with the 20′ minimum fire code clearance. Bike lanes themselves are typically maneuverable space for a fire engine. Its only when you have a solid bike lane buffer against a one-way street that it can become an issue, so it just needs to be designed properly. Lets not get in a panic that bike lanes are going to limit emergency response. There are also plenty of one-way streets limited to 12-16′ in width by parked cars, but no one brings that up as an issue.

    • It’s not being brought up because if it was applied correctly would anger these parking nimbys to their core. This mayoral administration seems to be more supportive toward the car ownership flat-tax and county commuters than the residents of Baltimore, and that really is a shame.

  3. I think that the Mayor and other officials adopted these bike lane changes because they want to emulate all the trendy cities (like Seattle, SF, Boston, etc) that are adopting them and they have a simplistic notion that if they do some cosmetic minor changes like this and inviting bike rental companies to Baltimore (see how successful that’s been), Baltimore will become a first class city. All this without the difficulty of grappling with the serious underlying issues (murder/crime/police corruption, dysfunctional education, birth rates in poverty, etc)!

  4. One has to ask why one gentleman, a public servant and first-responder in the fire department would take such an action against another person. Why would someone do such a thing? Why is the reporter not asking that question? First, why was there conversation going on in the back of the room during an open meeting that was being led by the Dept. of Transportation? The person conducting the meeting should have addressed the people in the back of the room and insisted that only one person speak at a time. When Mr. Davis pulled out his cell phone and started video recording the conversation, without anyone’s consent (which is against the law), was the thing that triggered the fireman from reaching for Mr. Davis to turn off his cell phone video recording. Don’t we all have the right to be in this world without being recorded and posted on social media?

    • “When Mr. Davis pulled out his cell phone and started video recording the conversation, without anyone’s consent (which is against the law)”

      Wrong

  5. Why was race brought up. It’s irrelevant to the story. Again, a subtle attempt to drive a wedge between whites and PoC…

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