baltimoresun.com

November 23, 2011

City police officer shoots man with knife; police debate incident with onlookers

ALERT: Baltimore police said the victim has died .... A city police officer shot and wounded a man this morning who officials said was brandishing two knives on Edmondson Avenue. As is typical at such scenes, police had a wide area blocked off with crime scene tape, and about the only view was of officers milling about and the flashing lights atop cruisers.

Read full story here.

But just as police spokesman Det. Kevin Brown was about to address the television cameras, several young men and women standing at a nearby corner tried to shout him down. "They was wrong," one young man said of the officer who fired.

One woman wanted to know why the officer didn't user her Taser. Another shouted cover-up, pointing to how far back the public was kept from the scene. Brown took the bait. "How many people did we shoot this year?" he asked.

"Twenty-five, thirty," one answered.

"How many times have your own people shot your own people?" Brown asked, "You're worried about this? Really?" He pointed out that we were near a shooting earlier this year in which six people were wounded, and few if any witnesses stepped forward, or voiced outrage at the violence.

One man said the officer "just pulled up and didn't know what was going on" before she fired her weapon.

Another police spokesman, Det. Donny Moses, pleaded with the onlookers to step forward if they actually witnessed the shooting. "Please, we have detectives who want to talk to you," he said, walking over to the group. "If you saw it, help us out."

But pressed by a reporter and police, the man and others said they had not seen the actual shooting. As for the actual numbers of police-involved shootings, our numbers differ from city police, who count incidents.

According to city police, there have been three police involved shootings that resulted in fatalities and six in which people were wounded. Our numbers, which include how many individual victims were were at each scene, show five fatalities and eight wounded. That includes January's shooting outside Select Lounge in which officers accidentally shot and killed an undercover officer, who had just fatally shot a man, and wounded three bystanders.

There have been 182 homicides so far this year in Baltimore.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Police shootings, Southwest Baltimore
        

November 14, 2011

Baltimore's police commissioner tells 60 Minutes he's wary about Taser use

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III tells "60 Minutes" that he's wary of police using Tasers to control suspects. The CBS news show broadcast a segment Sunday night about how officers overuse the device.

Police agencies have long tried to find ways to control combative suspects without resorting to deadly force. The Taser, which sends electricity into a person's body, is billed as a non-lethal way of controlling people.

People have died from being hit by Tasers, and officials debate the merits of the device constantly (here's one study from Stanford University). And here's a report on Tasers from the Maryland Attorney General's Office. Also, the National Institute of Justice conducted a study on Taser deaths in 2008, and followed it up with another study in 2011.

The Sun's crime report, Justin Fenton, and health reporter Meredith Cohn, explored the use of Tasers in Maryland in an article last year, after the death of a Baltimore County man.

We can't recall Bealefeld speaking out about Tasers before, but he did testify in 2009 against civilians being able to use them, calling the Taser an "extraordinary weapon."

The CBS show concentrated on police using Tasers too much, as a substitute for other ways of controlling suspects.

Two Baltimore police officers interviewed by the show said the loved Tasers and Bealefeld himself said his own troops are clamoring for them. Here's the exchange with Bealefeld from the show, from the "60 Minutes" website:

Continue reading "Baltimore's police commissioner tells 60 Minutes he's wary about Taser use" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:52 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Police shootings, Top brass
        

November 9, 2011

Teen shot by Howard County officers wanted to be shot before

A Howard County teenager shot and critically wounded by Howard County police officers had told authorities before that he wanted to be shot. On a standoff with police in early October, authorities said he told an officer to shoot him -- "just do it" and "make it quick."

Here's an account of the shooting by The Sun's Andrea F. Siegel:

The shooting of a teenager by six Howard County police officers comes several weeks after he told officers to shoot him and "make it quick," and was his third incident with local police in two months, department officials said Tuesday.

"He's had some psychological problems, but he's never hurt anyone but himself," said Kenneth Nichols, whose son, Jeffrey Dustin Nichols, 19, suffered eight gunshot wounds Monday. He was in critical condition Tuesday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
 
Kenneth Nichols said his son was a whiz in math and science, and had been a student at the Community College of Baltimore County. He said his son took this semester off to focus on personal issues, and had recently been hospitalized. Now, he said, "I just pray he makes it."

Read here for the complete story, including names of the six police officers involved in the shooting.

Howard County police released a new statement on the shooting Wednesday morning, saying that the teen had on prior occasions threatened officers with a knife and was cutting himself. Police also said that in the latest shooting he was armed with a pellet gun that looked like a real gun.

Here is the statement:

Continue reading "Teen shot by Howard County officers wanted to be shot before" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Howard County, Police shootings
        

November 4, 2011

Man shot by deputy sheriff now in critical condition

A man who was shot in the left arm by a Baltimore sheriff's deputy, and described as alert and talking as he was rushed to a hospital, is now in critical condition at Johns Hopkins. The man's mother told me he's on life support.

The mother of Jontae L. Daughtry said she was told her son became combative when corrections officers were doing what's called a "bedside commitment," essentially a hospital-room arraignment. The mother said doctors told her they gave him a sedative and that he suffered an allergic reaction. She also said he hit his head.

Daughtry has a history of psychological problems and police said that last Friday he climbed into the front seat of a marked sheriff's cruiser that was stopped at a light in Northeast Baltimore and lunged at the deputy with a knife. The deputy shot him once.

More details here.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Northeast Baltimore, Police shootings
        

November 3, 2011

Police poorly supervised when Torbit shot by fellow officers, report says

A report released today blames Baltimore police commanders for poorly supervising a chaotic response to the shooting outside Select Lounge in which four officers fatally shot a plainclothes officer they mistook for a gunman.

The long awaited report by an independent commission into the shooting of Officer William H. Torbit Jr., and of a man who was fighting him, recommends police better train officers and supervisors in how to handle crowds. The report says Torbit inflamed tensions that led up to the shooting.

The Baltimore State's Attorney's Office cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing. At left, The Sun's Kim Hairston captures Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III holding the report.

Read a summary of the report.

Read the full report.

Watch video of the shooting.

Look at crime scene pictures.

Read account of the shooting by officers involved.    

Posted by Peter Hermann at 3:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, Downtown, Police shootings, Top brass
        

October 15, 2011

Police haven't been conducting training reviews of officer shootings

The Baltimore Police Department has for years failed to conduct "after-action" reviews of police-involved shootings that are used for training officers who may find themselves in similar, potentially violent situations.

The revelation — a violation of the department's internal guidelines — is among several observations that officials said would be included in a report that could be completed as early as next week. The report is being compiled by an expert panel that has been assessing police policies and procedures in the wake of the officer-involved shooting in January outside the Select Lounge club.

"It's certainly something that's been identified as an area where the department needs to improve and do a better job," Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said in an interview.

Bealefeld, who has made training a hallmark of his administration, said he didn't have specific information about the department's record with after-action reviews. He also said he did not want to upstage the work of the panel, which is compiling its final report.

All police shootings are investigated by homicide detectives and internal affairs for criminal violations or failure to follow internal policies, but officials said they weren't sure when the department stopped conducting regular training reviews. The department's guidelines, known as general orders, call for such reviews.

Law enforcement experts say those after-action reviews are a crucial follow-up to the criminal and internal investigations — which focus on violations of law and police policy — because they offer guidance for officers. While a shooting may be legally justified, experts say officers may have put themselves in situations that could be avoided in the future.

"The importance cannot be overstated," said Charles "Joe" Key, a retired police lieutenant who wrote the department's general orders on use of force. "The purpose of a training review is in part to point out things to the officer that might keep them alive.

"In an adrenaline-fueled moment, when lethal force is used, the officer, regardless of their training, will make simple mistakes that might get him or her killed," Key added. "The other part is to look at ways of doing things that are helpful so that you don't necessarily have to use force."
Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

October 8, 2011

Man fatally shot by police in East Baltimore

Baltimore police say a man has died after exchanging gunfire with a police officer responding to a domestic violence call.

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says police responded to a call Saturday morning around 1:40 a.m. reporting that a man had shot his wife in East Baltimore. When officers arrived in the 1800 block of Hope St. they found the man armed with a gun.

Guglielmi says the man was combative with police and confronted officers. He says it appears several shots were fired from both sides. It was not clear if the man died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound or a shot fired by a police officer.

The condition of the man's wife was not clear. Police expected to have more information Saturday afternoon.

The shooting appears to be the second fatal police-involved incident this week. On Sunday, a 52-year-old musician was fatally shot in Brooklyn after police say he did not comply with officers' orders to put down a weapon. This year, city police have been involved in seven shooting incidents, killing four.

-With AP

Posted by Justin Fenton at 1:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: East Baltimore, Police shootings
        

October 5, 2011

Update on fatal police shooting in Brooklyn

Police today said that a 52-year-old musician was sitting on his bed in his room when he was fatally shot Sunday night by a city patrol officer after refusing to drop a weapon that turned out to be a pellet gun.

The agency identified the officer as Joseph Schanamann, a four year veteran who has been involved in one prior shooting - in 2009, when he shot a police dog that attacked him, according to reports at the time. Schanamann is on routine administrative suspension as detectives investigate the shooting.

There's been an outpouring of grief among friends of victim Steve Mach, stretching from Baltimore to New York City, where he worked for years as a lighting tech at the famed CBGB's rock club. Before that, he played in a few glam rock bands, including a local group called The Vamps.

"It's a shock to us all," said Jackie Luther, who worked with Mach at CBGB. "He was a very gentle person. I can't see this happening - it's very out of character." 

Luther said Mach had moved back to Baltimore a few years ago after the death of his mother. He was an animal activist who worked with BARCS, the South Baltimore animal rescue shelter, and owned several cats, she said. He did not have a criminal record here. 

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said officers were called to Mach's home in the 3600 block of St. Victor St. after his roommate called police to report that Mach was armed and said he was fearful for his own safety. Officers entered the home and went upstairs, where they found Mach sitting on his bed. The officers demanded that he drop a weapon he was holding - police describe it as a pellet gun that resembled a .45 caliber handgun - and fired at least one shot when he refused to comply.

"You have to follow police commands, especially when you're holding a weapon in your hands," Guglielmi said. 

Friends have scheduled a candlelight vigil for Mach tonight (Wednesday) in front of his home. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 1:09 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Police shootings, South Baltimore
        

October 4, 2011

Friends: Man shot by police was punk rocker, death noted by CBGB

UPDATE: Police have released more details on Sunday's shooting.

Word of the identity of a 52-year-old man shot by city police Sunday night came in an unlikely place - the Facebook page for legendary New York City punk rock venue CBGB's.

On Monday afternoon, the CBGB page displayed a picture (seen at right) accompanied by the caption, "Rest in Peace to Steve Mach. We are so stunned at this tragic loss. You will be missed." Friends said Mach was the man shot by police Sunday night in the Brooklyn neighborhood of South Baltimore.

Police said they had been called to a home in the 3600 block of St. Victor St. for a report of an armed man and saw Mach holding what appeared to be a handgun. When he turned toward the officer, he was shot and wounded. Police later learned he had been holding a pellet gun, and he died at a local hospital.

According to various web sites, Mach was a member of a Baltimore-based glam rock cover band called The Vamps that became popular in the region and did some touring. In the late 80s, he moved to New York City and teamed up with Billy Idol's former drummer, forming a band called Skin N Bones. He also worked at CBGB's, with one site referring to him as "CB's Lighting Magician": "I remember seeing him almost every time I was there," one friend posted on the venue's Facebook page. "He worked at CB's forever. He was a musician, an animal advocate, and a friend," another wrote. The club closed in 2006.

The Vamps had in recent years played reunion shows in the area, including Dec. 10 at the Recher Theater. Mach did not have a criminal record, records show, and police haven't provided additional details on the dispute that led to the shooting.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:00 AM | | Comments (51)
Categories: Police shootings, South Baltimore
        

October 3, 2011

City police shoot, critically wound armed man

UPDATE, 12:45 P.M. - Police say the victim, a 52-year-old who has not yet been identified, died from his injuries. Police also say the weapon he was holding was a pellet gun that looked like a .45 caliber handgun.

Baltimore police officers, responding to a call for a man armed with a gun inside a house in Brooklyn, shot and critically wounded the suspect Sunday night. Here is an account from The Sun:

Police received a call shortly before 9 p.m. from a person inside a house in the 3600 block of St. Victor Street in the Southern District, saying that another person in the house was armed, sand police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. He said patrol officers entered the house and found an armed man between 40 and 50 years old and asked him multiple times to put down his weapon.

"He turned and faced police with a weapon in his hand and was fired upon," said Guglielmi, who said at least one officer fired. He did not know how many officers had responded to the call.
The man was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in critical condition, Guglielmi said. Homicide detectives are investigating, a practice that is standard in police-involved shootings, Guglielmi said.
Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Police shootings, South Baltimore
        

September 26, 2011

Man shot by officers through door threatened to stab, police say

Some new details from police on the fatal shooting in Dundalk Sunday night.

Officers had been called to a man threatening suicide and shot a man they said charged at them with a knife from behind a closed glass storm door. The officer who opened fire was outside on the porch.

This has raised some questions about whether the officers were in danger. Late this afternoon, Baltimore County police said this:

The man's girlfriend had told a 911 operator that the man was armed with knives and was “fixing to get someone hurt,” according to a department spokeswoman quoting from a transcript of the call.

Police dispatchers told the officers responding to the rowhouse that the man’s girlfriend had indicated in her 911 call that the man was threatening suicide and that the “first person who comes near him will get stabbed.”

“He was a very dangerous individual,” said police spokeswoman Elise Armacost.

Armacost said the first officer to respond went up to the porch, saw the man inside holding a large knife with his back to her. She turned the door handle and then the man turned and charged at her. A backup officer fired several times through the door, hitting the man.

Reaction from the family:

Continue reading "Man shot by officers through door threatened to stab, police say" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County, Police shootings
        

County police shoot man through glass door

A man armed with a knife who was shot during a confrontation with Baltimore County police Sunday night has died, and a department spokeswoman confirmed a witness account that an officer fired at the man through a glass storm door.

"They killed an innocent man who needed help,” said Sandra Jacobs, whose daughter dated the man.

Det. Cathy Batton, a county police spokeswoman, said Monday that the 40-year-old man “was behind a glass door” and  “was charging at the officer” with a knife in his hand. She said the officer and the man were in “close proximity.”

A statement released by police this morning said officer responded about 9:20 p.m. to the home in the 7000 block of Berkshire Road for a man threatening suicide. Officers saw Nathaniel D. McCormick “standing near the door inside the home” and ordered him to drop the knife.

Police said in the statement that he refused. “He then charged toward the front door and the officers standing on the front porch on the other side of the door. Fearing for their safety, one officer fired several rounds from his duty weapon.”

Another spokesman, Lt. Robert McCullough, said the man “was coming through the door at the officer” and at one point had been armed two knives, one with a nine-inch blade. Batton said this morning she did not know which knife he was holding when he was shot.

Police said the shooting is under internal investigation and that the officer who fired his weapon has been placed on routine administrative leave. Batton declined to release the name of the officer.

Read here for more details.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:19 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County, Police shootings
        

September 13, 2011

City officers refuse to testify before panel in Torbit shooting

The police officers who fired on fellow Officer William H. Torbit Jr. outside the Select Lounge back in January are refusing to testify before a panel examining the incident. The Sun's Justin Fenton reports that they are afraid their testimony will be used for administrative sanctions.

James K. "Chips" Stewart, the chair of the commission, told Justin:

"They were the officers that had a unique perspective, since they were there and saw the incident unfolding," said Stewart, a policy analyst and former police commander. "While we have all the evidence about what they did, we did not have some of the reasons for it. We wanted to be sure they had an opportunity to express those reasons, and they didn't."

Baltimore's state's attorney cleared the officers of criminal wronging in the fatal shooting, which also left another man dead and three bystanders wounded. But the officers still face internal reviews that will determine whether they broke administrative rules.

The commission was set up by the mayor to review policies and procedures to prevent another plainclothes officers for being mistaken by colleagues for a gunman. Read Justin's full story here, and see links to police reports, photos and a video of the shooting.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Police shootings
        

August 16, 2011

Bealefeld defends department on Steiner

Baltimore Police Commissioner went on the Marc Steiner show on Morgan State University's WEAA-Radio and confronted his critics. Listen to show here.

On police protecting their own: "One of things I've tried to do is avoid all these blanket indictments and over-generalizations. We should be constantly testing and challenging ourselves in the community. What kind of service do we provide or don't we provide? What kind of professionalism do we have?"

He noted the arrests of officers in a towing scandal and reminded people that the department lured them to the training academy under a ruse that their guns needed to be checked and then busted them. He said that despite rumors the arrest plan had been compromised, all but two officers showed, proving to him that the rumors were false. The other two had been out of town.

But he said he felt there were legitimate concerns about what sergeants and lieutenants were doing while officers were directing unsuspecting motorists to a towing company not approved by the city, but one that was paying off cops for the extra business. "If they were really paying attention to their people, why wouldn't they know?" he asked.

Continue reading "Bealefeld defends department on Steiner" »

Tshamba sentenced in killing of unarmed Marine

The police officer who fatally shot the unarmed Marine outside a nightclub last year was sentenced today to 17 years in prison, with two years suspended. Officer Gahiji Tshamba was convicted last month of manslaughter.

There's still a potential lawsuit and unanswered questions about how Tshamba, who had a history of getting into trouble while drinking, had been allowed to continue on the force. The shooting outside the club was the culmination of an argument that started when the victim grabbed or patted the buttocks of a woman outside the Mount Vernon club.

A federal judge recently ruled that the victim's family can proceed with a lawsuit against the police department. The family is accusing the city of failing to control the officer, seen here being led out of the downtown courthouse during his trial. The photo was taken by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor.

More stories on Tshamba:

Judge will review Tshamba's troubled past in deciding sentencing.

A look at the victim, Tyrone Brown, and his own past as an Iraqi war veteran.

Witness accounts of the shooting.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:29 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Downtown, Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

August 14, 2011

Police release report in friendly fire shooting

Today's papers gives you a story on the final police report into the January shooting in which four Baltimore police officers mistook their colleague for a civilian and fatally shot him outside the Select Lounge.

The shooting, which killed Officer William H. Torbit Jr. and one his attackers, stunned a city and left the police department reeling. The report -- more than 1,100 pages -- describes the chaotic moments that night in which 42 bullets were fired.

One officer standing off to the side recognized Torbit and screamed, "Stop shooting, he's one of us," as did a deputy police major. An officer who fired, realizing after what she had done, cradled the dying Torbit in her arms, and could then be seen crying over him on the street.

Many questions remain -- among them, did Torbit, while lying on his back, fire up into a crowd of attackers after or while they were dispersing due to another officer's pepper spray? A commission is still looking into the event and could recommend changes in the department's rules and regulations.

Here is the story.

Watch video of the shooting.

Read the summary of the police report.

Look at photos from the crime scene.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

August 11, 2011

In case you missed it -- daily police news

In case you missed out on today's paper, here are some police stories to ponder:

Video of Select Lounge shooting released. This is the January shooting where police officers mistook a colleague for a suspect and fatally shot him outside a nightclub. Watch the shooting.

Roommate testifies that the suspect in the killing of Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn confessed to robbing him in Charles Village.

Annapolis teenager pleads guilty to killing toddler.

Nathan Krasnopoler, the Johns Hopkins University student who was struck and critically injured by a car while riding his bicycle along University Parkway in February, died Wednesday morning. A lawyer for the family said the 83-year-old driver who struck Krasnopoler has agreed to forfeit her license. Read Michael Dresser's Getting There blog.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating this morning in the case of a man charged with killing an informant in a federal drug case. The victim's statement to the FBI was leaked and posted around his Westport neighborhood.

A series of mall robberies in the city, Anne Arundel and Howard Counties are linked, and also connected to a murder in Baltimore.

A Baltimore drug dealer is sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in a fatal hit and run crash.

A Glen Burnie man was fatally stabbed and his female companion is being held in her death.

Select Lounge video -- police shooting caught on tape

Baltimore police Wednesday night released video of January's shooting at Select Lounge, in which four police officers accidentally shot and killed a plainclothes officer who was shooting at another person during a fight. The officers mistook the plainclothes officer, William H. Torbit Jr., for a suspect.

You have to watch the video several times to make out what's happening. The attorney for the man Torbit was shooting at, and killed in the gunfire, says it shows his client being shot while trying to run away from the melee.

State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein declined to prosecute anyone in the case, including the four officers who fired on Torbit, or any of the people involved in the fight. Read a complete version of Justin Fenton's story on the issue.

A separate commission is still reviewing the case to determine if city police need to change their practices.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

August 4, 2011

No charges in Select Lounge shooting

Breaking news from Justin Fenton:

The four officers involved in the fatal shooting of a police officer and an unarmed 22-year-old man outside a downtown Baltimore club in January will not face criminal charges, the city state's attorney's office announced this afternoon.

Also cleared of wrongdoing is at least one civilian who got into an altercation with Officer William H. Torbit Jr., which is believed to have prompted the series of shootings that killed Torbit and bar patron Sean Gamble.

Investigators believed that Torbit shot and killed bar patron Sean Gamble in a struggle, and that the four uniformed officers returned fire unaware that Torbit was a fellow officer. Forty-one rounds were fired by the five officers, including Torbit.

Read full story here.

Mayor's statement:

Continue reading "No charges in Select Lounge shooting" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 3:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

Decision in Select Lounge shooting to be announced today

Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein is to announce this afternoon a decision on whether to prosecute anyone in January's Select Lounge shooting, in which city police officers mistakenly shot and killed a colleague during a fight outside a bar.

A separate review by a panel of law enforcement experts are still conducting a separate review into the case to determine whether proper police procedure was followed and whether any changes need to be made. The department has already curtailed the deployment of plainclothes officers.

Officer William H. Torbit Jr., along with 22-year-old Sean Gamble, were killed in the shooting.

Torbit, 33, was on duty and in plainclothes when he was overcome by a crowd leaving Select Lounge on North Paca Street. Police said he fired during the altercation, killing Gamble. Other officers then opened fire on Torbit, unaware that he was a fellow officer.

Bernstein could announce indictments against the officers, or say that the investigation proved the incident to be a tragic mistake. His news conference is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Courts and the justice system, Police shootings
        

August 2, 2011

Police spokesman talks about police shooting

 

Baltimore police say an officer shot an armed man in Northwest Baltimore early Tuesday. Here, Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi explains the shooting. The man was criticially wounded, and police said they recovered his gun.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 2:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Northwest Baltimore, Police shootings
        

City police officer shoots armed man, authorities say

A city police officer shot and wounded a man who authorities say was armed with a handgun early today in the 3900 block of Carlisle AVe., in Northwest Baltimore's Windsor Hills neighborhood. It's located west of Lake Ashburton.

Details are still coming in, but police said in a statement that the officer approached "an individual armed with a handgun. The officer fired at least one round and the suspect is struck at least once."

Police described the wounded man an adult who was taken to an area hospital where he was in critical and stable condition. Police said the officer was not hurt and the handgun was found at the scene. A news conference has tentatively been scheduled for later this morning. 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Northwest Baltimore, Police shootings, West Baltimore
        

July 15, 2011

Police identify officers involved in shooting

The Baltimore Police Department has identified the officers involved in Wednesday's shooting in Northeast Baltimore.

Detective Joseph Crystal, a two-and-a-half year veteran, and Detective James McShane, a six-year veteran, were conducting a drug investigation when they approached a vehicle in the 1400 block of Fillmore Street and the driver reached for a weapon, police say. He apparently did not fire any shots.

The officers opened fire, and the driver sped off. His bullet-riddled vehicle was later located in East Baltimore, and police were notified that the man had walked in to University of Maryland Medical Center for treatment for gunshot wounds to his arm.

Police said no weapon was recovered, and it is not clear if the man has been charged with a crime.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 2:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Northeast Baltimore, Police shootings
        

July 13, 2011

Police: Officers shoot man who pulled gun during traffic stop


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A 34-year-old man was shot by Baltimore police officers after officials say he pulled a gun on them during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore.

Police say plainclothes officers were conducting a drug investigation at about 11 a.m. in the 1400 block of Fillmore Street, in the Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood, and pulled over a Jeep and approached the driver. Detective Donny Moses, a spokesman, said the driver pulled a handgun from between the seats and detectives opened fire on him.

The man was able to speed off and elude officers, and the bullet-riddled vehicle was later located in the 1000 block of Central Avenue near Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore, Moses said. There was blood on the inside, but there was no victim and no weapon.

At about 1:45 p.m., a gunshot victim walked in to University of Maryland Medical Center with a wound to his forearm, he said.

Continue reading "Police: Officers shoot man who pulled gun during traffic stop" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:13 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Northeast Baltimore, Police shootings
        

June 23, 2011

Documents: Report on shooting that killed unarmed informant

When Dennis Gregory was shot and killed by Baltimore police officers in February 2010, the department reported that Gregory had aimed a gun at the officers, who fired back.

As it would turn out, The Sun reported in March for the first time, Gregory had been an informant who had summoned officers to the scene to report a friend armed with a handgun. It was the friend, Glenn Brooks, who exchanged gunfire with the officers Chris Funk and Matthew Ryckman, who shot and killed Gregory, who was unarmed. Gregory's family said they had been stymied in their attempts to learn more about the case, with calls and visits to police going unacknowledged.

Now, in compliance with a Public Information Act request, the police department has released to The Sun hundreds of documents related to the investigation that shed some additional light on what led to the shooting. [The department initially withheld eight pages of the 17 page summary report without disclosing that the pages were not being released, as required by the public information law. The documents were only produced after a reporter challenged why the report did not include any statements from the officers involved in the shooting, which had been the crux of the initial request.]

The new documents reaffirm that the shooting appears to be a tragic mistake in pursuit of an armed offender, though one which the family says the department has not been up front about and which some say is indicative of poor training.

Continue reading "Documents: Report on shooting that killed unarmed informant" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Northwest Baltimore, Police shootings
        

June 9, 2011

Tshamba convicted of manslaughter

Breaking news from Tricia Bishop:

After a six-day trial, a judge on Thursday found Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji Tshamba guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death last year of Tyrone Brown, a Marine veteran haunted by war.

[Read Tshamba's first public account of the shooting]

The attorneys wrapped up their arguments shortly before noon, and Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon recessed for two hours to make his decision.

“The defendant overreacted and in fact exacerbated this whole tragic” set of event, said Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon. Picture of Tshamba leaving the courthouse on Wednesday is by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor.

More than 21 witnesses appeared over six days, offering varied accounts of what happened — or was likely to have happened — the morning of June 5, 2010, when Tshamba, who was off duty, shot Tyrone Brown a dozen times in a Mount Vernon alley way, as bars were letting out.

“What happened in that alley dealt with male ego, alcohol, women and a gun,” Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Wiggins said during his final arguments Thursday morning. “Anywhere you put that, that’s a bad combination.”

Brown, 32, had been drinking, and he groped one of Tshamba’s female companions that morning, sometime after 1 a.m. — that was one of the few uncontested facts in the case. But what happened afterward was harder to gauge, as testimony of one witness frequently contradicted the testimony of another.

Prosecutors said Tshamba was power mad and angry, using his weapon to intimidate — and eventually kill — Brown, a much bigger man. While the defense claimed Brown charged the officer, who had to react with lethal force to save his life and that of others’.

Defense attorneys entered a nine-page selection from the victim’s military records into evidence Thursday morning that showed Brown had a history of violence.

The judge’s decision came down to credibility and which witnesses he believed. “The court rejects the defendant’s version of events,” Hargadon said.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 3:17 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Breaking news, Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

"I was scared, I was in fear"

Those are the words of Gahiji Tshamba, the Baltimore police officer who shot an unarmed Marine a dozen times during a confrontation outside a Mount Vernon nightclub. The officer spoke for the first time during his murder trial.

He said he was being chased, backed into a corner and shot the man as he advaanced on him. An expert witness, a retired city cop who wrote the department's rules of force, testified on behalf of Tshamba, while the judge who is hearing the case without a jury questioned the officer's account.

Read the full story here. The incident started after the Marine, Tyrone Brown, grabbed the buttocks of a woman who was with Tshamba, who'se pictured at left coming out of the courthouse on Wednesday, in a photo by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor.

The officer testified:

Continue reading ""I was scared, I was in fear" " »

June 8, 2011

Tshamba takes stand in own defense at shooting trial

The Sun's Tricia Bishop reports:

Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji Tshamba, who’s on trial for murder, took the witness stand Wednesday before a packed courtroom and said he was in fear for his life the morning he shot a former marine a dozen times outside a Mt. Vernon night club.

“I was scared, I was in fear” Tshamba said. “This man was chasing me.”

His testimony, which took less than an hour, opened what’s expected to be the final day of trial in the shooting death of Tyrone Brown, a 32-year-old father of two, the early morning of June 5, 2010.

Once the defense finishes its case, only closing arguments are left. Then it will be up to the judge to decide who’s side is more credible; Tshamba elected a bench — rather than jury — trial.

More on Tshamba case.

More on this morning's testimony:

Continue reading "Tshamba takes stand in own defense at shooting trial" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 1:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

June 3, 2011

Tshamba fired 12 shot at man outside bar -- target didn't drop until last bullet

From The Sun's court reporter Tricia Bishop:

Twelve bullets from an off-duty officer's gun struck Tyrone Brown, but it wasn't until the last one hit that the former Marine dropped.

Seven of them lodged in his 32-year-old body — they were later recovered from his buttocks, back, thighs and pelvis — and three passed clean through, an autopsy shows. Two others grazed him, leaving behind superficial wounds. And one hit him twice, entering and exiting a pinch of skin near his right hip, then driving back into his soft tissue and coming to a rest in his right buttock.

That one, which left a trail of wounds, likely hit Brown while he was bent over, Assistant Medical Examiner Melissa Brassell testified Thursday — the second day of the murder trial of Brown's killer, Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji Tshamba.

Tshamba, 37, got into a row with Brown outside a Baltimore bar on the morning of June 5, 2010, and shot him a dozen times as patrons emptied from the Mount Vernon bars. The officer says it was in self-defense, but prosecutors say Tshamba was the aggressor, drunk with power and alcohol.

Read full details from Tricia's story. The photos by Tricia are of Tshamba right after he shot Brown, and of his gun and the bullets, all of which are now part of his court trial.

In case you missed it, here's a compelling story, also by Tricia, of the opening day in Tshamba's trial, with a riviting account by a witness who acted out the shooting.

May 31, 2011

Murder trial of Baltimore police officer begins

The murder trial of Baltimore police officer Gahiji Tshamba, who unloaded his service weapon into a former Marine outside a Baltimore bar last year, began Tuesday morning with hearings to determine what evidence can be presented in court, The Sun's Tricia Bishop reports.

Lawyers for Tshamba, 37, claim their client shot Tyrone Brown a dozen times in self-defense and was following proper police procedure during the incident, which happened in the early morning hours of June 5, 2010, after a night of club hopping. But prosecutors say Tshamba was intoxicated, irrational and that he murdered an innocent man who served the country.

The two sides spent the morning arguing about what can be said to a jury or judge, dependent upon what kind of trial Tshamba elects, though they agreed on one thing: Each wants the fact-finders to take a field trip to the crime scene, outside a back entrance to Club Hippo in Mount Vernon, during the proceeding.

"You don't get the largess of the situation until you get to the crime scene," said Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Wiggins.

Wiggins said at least two officers are prepared to testify that Tshamba appeared to be under the influence of alcohol after the shooting, talking about "how hot the chicks were that were with him that night" while he was being transported to Mercy Medical Center.

April 29, 2011

Police officer shoots tire on car of fleeing fugitive

A member of a police fugitive aprehension task force on the Eastern Shore shot a tire out on car with a fleeing fugitive, enabling officers to arrest two suspects Thursday afternoon. The officer fired when the driver took off with another officer hanging from the car window.

The incident occurred in Salisbury after officers stopped car occupied by a man wanted on a warrant charging him with armed robbery stemming from a home invasion in March on Kent Island, according to Maryland State Police.

Here is a full account of the shooting from authorities:

Continue reading "Police officer shoots tire on car of fleeing fugitive" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime elsewhere, Police shootings
        

April 27, 2011

Arundel police, barricaded man exchange gunfire

A man fired shots at a police officer around 5 a.m. Wednesday from a home in Glen Burnie as officers responded to the residence for earlier reports of a gunshot, Anne Arundel police said.

The officer, a 17-year-veteran of the force, returned fire and took cover as officers from the Special Operations Section and Crisis Negotiations Unit surrounded the home, in the 100 block of Oak Spring Drive, just off Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard. Negotiators convinced a man inside the home to surrender at around 7:45 a.m.

The man was wearing body armor when he was taken into custody, police said, and no one was injured during the incident.

Police believe the man may have fired multiple shots at a home located behind the one on Oak Spring Drive, which prompted the initial call to police.

-Yeganeh June Torbati

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Anne Arundel County, Police shootings
        

April 12, 2011

State police fatally shoot woman in Carroll Co.

A Carroll County woman was fatally shot by a Maryland state trooper after she pointed a gun at him during a confrontation at a Hampstead home, state police said late Monday.

State police were called about 5:40 p.m. to a home in the 4600 block of Upper Beckleysville Road for a domestic dispute. A second emergency call reported that the 40-year-old woman had a gun and was threatening to kill herself, state police said in a news release. The woman's sister said she and a teenage daughter had locked themselves in a bedroom for protection, police said.

The woman, who lived with her sister, pointed the gun at a state trooper from a window and refused commands to put it down, police said. The trooper then shot the woman.
Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Carroll County, Police shootings
        

April 11, 2011

Police shoot man in South Baltimore


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Police say a man who stole a handgun from a bank security guard at Cross Street in Federal Hill was shot by police several blocks south after pulling the weapon on officers, a city police spokesman said.

Anthony Guglielmi, the police department's chief spokesman, said preliminarily that it did not appear that the man attempted to rob the bank. He took the guard's gun and tried to carjack a woman, but was unsuccessful. Guglielmi said the man fled south, discarding clothing, but was chased by citizens who were calling police and relaying his location. He was eventually located in the 1800 block of Light St., west of Riverside Park in South Baltimore. 

"We received tremendous help from the community," Guglielmi told reporters at the scene. "We have them to thank for his capture. He was shedding clothing, trying to change his appearance, and people kept telling us, ‘He went this way, he’s wearing that.’”"

There, Guglielmi said the man pulled the handgun and was shot by officers multiple times. He was taken to an area hospital, where he was reported to be conscious and breathing.

Taking a jog through Federal Hill, Lisa Morabito was in front of the bank when she saw the suspect bolt out the front door. The silver handgun glimmered in the sun. She said a male security officer exited next, saying, “He took her gun!” Morabito said she saw the suspect dart into the Cross Street Market.

“It took me a couple seconds to process it,” said Morabito, a Sykesville resident who was on a break from her job at a nearby animal shelter.

Justin Winn, 27, a subcontractor with BGE, was working in an alley between off Barney St. and was taking a break when he saw a man come out of a convenience store on the southeast corner of Barney and Light.

“I saw the guy come out of the market. He turned around and pulled out what looked like a gun. Two police officers came up and unloaded on him," Winn said.

Continue reading "Police shoot man in South Baltimore" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 1:56 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Police shootings, South Baltimore
        

April 6, 2011

City officers cleared in shooting of informant

City prosecutors have cleared two police officers of criminal wrongdoing in a March 2010 shooting in Northwest Baltimore that killed an unarmed police informant, according to a memo released by the office.

Donald J. Giblin, chief of the Baltimore state's attorney's homicide division, said in a letter dated March 16 that a review of evidence "supports the finding that the officers fired their weapons because they reasonably believed that they and/or others were in imminent danger of suffering great bodily harm or loss of life."

The Sun reported last month that court documents show that officers made a phone call to Dennis Gregory asking where they could find his friend, Glenn Brooks. Gregory, referred to in other court papers as a "confidential informant," called back a few minutes later and told them Brooks was on a front porch in the 3700 block of Oakmont Ave.

When officers Chris Funk and Matthew Ryckman approached the house in plainclothes from an alley, Brooks fired a gun at them and they fired back. Gregory, who was unarmed, was shot multiple times and died from his injuries; his family claims he was shot in the back. Funk was also injured in the shooting.

Informed of the prosecutors' finding, Gregory's relatives said they were disappointed. They say police have refused to acknowledge their inquiries about the case, though prosecutors contacted them to set up a meeting after The Sun requested Giblin's letter.

"I'm not happy with that at all," sister Priscilla Johnson said of the prosecutors' decision. "A lot of people don't even believe he was an informant — that it's a lie the police put out."
Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

City approves spending for officer funeral, shooting investigation

The Baltimore Board of Estimates on Wednesday morning approved $45,000 that the Police Department spent on the funeral of Officer William Torbit, as well as $75,000 requested for the commission appointed to investigate his death.

Torbit was fatally shot by fellow officers in January after responding in plainclothes to a disturbance outside the Select Lounge. Torbit was said to have been overcome by an unruly crowd, and fired his service weapon, killing civilian Sean Gamble. Other officers in the area instinctively returned fire, killing Torbit, according to reports.

[Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron]

Police officials initially said the investigation into the shooting would take three weeks, but it dragged on for about two months. A police spokesman said a final report was handed to Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III last week, and a task force of experts appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has begun reviewing the findings and will make recommendations.

The Sun's City Hall reporter, Julie Scharper, asked Rawlings-Blake about the expenditures:

Continue reading "City approves spending for officer funeral, shooting investigation" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 2:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall, Downtown, Police shootings, Top brass
        

Dulaney Valley honors fallen police, firefighters

Three Baltimore police officers and a Baltimore County firefighter will be honored next month at the annual Fallen Heroes Day ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens. The event is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, May 6.

A procession of 25 honor guards will open the ceremony at the Timonium cemetery, which is to include an address by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

At left is a photo from Fallen Heroes day in 2009, taken by The Sun's Lloyd Fox.

Here is a list of police and firefighters being honored, from a statement issued by organizers:

Continue reading "Dulaney Valley honors fallen police, firefighters" »

March 23, 2011

Man killed by off-duty cop "haunted by violence"

The shooting of Marine veteran Tyrone Brown (far left) by off-duty Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba  quickly became a sensation -- an out-of-control cop with a questionable past linked to drinking had unloaded his gun into an unarmed man who had groped a woman outside a Mount Vernon night club.

The 15-year-veteran officer had led a turbulent career -- shot a man while drunk, crashed his car into a gas station, and was being pursued by creditors and ex-girlfriends. After the shooting, which he says is self-defense, he briefly disappeared, leading to an unprecedented police manhunt for one of their own [read all stories related to the shooting].

But now, as his murder trial nears, new information is emerging about the victim -- a man himself haunted by a violent past in combat, having shot a child, and struggling with vodka and marijuana. He was being treated for depression and suffered post traumatic stress disorder.

None of this may have anything to do with why he got shot that June night, but the officer's defense lawyer wants to  use these newly disclosed psychiatric records to try and convince a jury that the victim had aggressive tendencies. The lawyer hopes that will make the officer's self-defense story more credible.

Read a full account of Brown's past in this chilling story by The Sun's court reporter, Tricia Bishop. And read for the first time some of the witness statements:

Continue reading "Man killed by off-duty cop "haunted by violence"" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:32 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Downtown, Police shootings
        

March 7, 2011

Sun exclusive: Man killed by police was informant


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Every month since her brother was shot and killed by police last year, Priscilla Johnson has gone back to the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood where he died to hand out fliers, begging for anyone who saw something to come forward.

What his family knows, gleaned largely from media reports, is that Dennis Gregory was a bystander who was shot by detectives who were aiming for his friend Glenn Brooks. And they know from the autopsy that Gregory was hit four times in the back.

What they didn’t know is that Gregory was acting as a confidential informant that night and that it was his call to police to report that Brooks had a handgun that summoned them to the scene in the first place . The revelation is contained for the first time in court documents filed in federal court late last month and obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Continue reading "Sun exclusive: Man killed by police was informant" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 5:53 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Northwest Baltimore, Police shootings
        

February 26, 2011

Review panel in police shooting set

Ending weeks of speculation, the Baltimore mayor's office announced a review panel to examine last month's shooting of a plainclothes police officer by his colleagues, and the fatal shooting of another man in the same incident.

The Sun's Justin Fenton provides more details in today's story, which raises some questions. The panel is made up of two former police chiefs and a former U.S. Attorney, but contains no community members.

It's also unclear whether the group will hold public hearings, as has been done in other cities.

Officials say the independent review board will issue a comprehensive report on the circumstances that led to the agency's first fatal police-on-police shooting in more than 80 years, killing Officer William H. Torbit Jr. and civilian Sean Gamble, and make recommendations to improve policies.

"I am grateful for the individuals who have agreed to join this review board to conduct a thorough and independent study of this tragic incident," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "Their findings will help us better understand what happened that night and improve training for our officers."

The city homicide unit's investigation into the shooting is still pending, with detectives awaiting final autopsy results from the state medical examiner's office and transcripts of witness interviews, officials say. Part of their report might include a computer re-creation of the incident.

Read the mayor's statement:

Continue reading "Review panel in police shooting set" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall, Downtown, Police shootings, Top brass
        

February 12, 2011

Police officer shoots at man, and other crime updates

Latest updates on crime over the weekend in Baltimore, from city police spokesman Kevin Brown:

POLICE DISCHARGING (see story in The Sun)
500 Blk of Harwood Avenue
2/11/11 - 19:50 Hrs
 
Officers were dispatched to the 500 Blk of Harwood Avenue for an officer needs assistance call for service.  Upon arrival preliminary investigation revealed that an off-duty Baltimore police officer was sitting in a vehicle with a female companion when an individual approached and attempted entry into the vehicle. A scuffle ensued during the course of which the officer's weapon discharged at least once.  No one was struck and all parties involved are being interviewed by detectives to determine the course of events.  No charges have been filed as of yet. 
 

HOMICIDE
4000 Blk of Park Heights Avenue
2/11/11 - 10:33 Hrs
 
Officers responded to the location at the above date and time for a shooting call for service.  Upon arrival they located the victim, Mr. Jose Estrella (B/M 5/25/91) laying on the ground between two vehicle suffering from apparent gunshot wounds.  He was transported to Sinai Hospital and pronounced at 11:47 am.  No word as of yet on suspect or motive. 
 
NON-FATAL SHOOTING
1000 Blk of Ashland Court
2/11/11 - 22:49 Hrs
 
Officers responded to an east-side area hospital for a "walk-in" shooting victim.  Upon arrival they located the victim, a 25 year-old black male, suffering from a gunshot wound to the leg.  Investigation revealed that as the victim was walking within the 900 Blk of McAleer Court an unknown male began shooting at him.  The victim was stable and expected to recover at last condition check.  No word as of yet on suspect or motive. 
 
NON-FATAL SHOOTING
1800 Blk of Chester Street
2/12/11 - 00:36 Hrs
 
Officers responded to the above location for report of a shooting.  Upon arrival they discovered the victim, a 32 year-old black male, suffering from gunshot wounds to the leg.  He was transported to an area hospital and at last check was stable and expected to recover.  No word as of yet on suspect or motive.  

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:24 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Northeast Baltimore, Police shootings
        

February 10, 2011

City, county leaders press for tougher gun laws

"He smirked at me."

That's how Baltimore Police Officer Todd Strohman described the gunman just before he
pulled the trigger, putting a bullet into his shoulder, a bullet that will remain inches above his heart for the rest of his life.

The cop had another message for state lawmakers who make up the Senate's Judiciary
Committee contemplating tougher guns laws proposed by the city (see city's website describing proposed legislation): If the proposed laws had been on the books, the person charged with shooting him wouldn't have been on the street.

The audience applauded Strohman and the lawmakers wished him well. There was no sense
in grilling him on the necessity of enhanced gun legislation. The man charged in the crime had served two years of a 12-year sentence for armed robbery (the judge had suspended six of the years) and had been charged with five previous gun crimes. He had gotten out a little more than two weeks before the shooting on North Calvert Street.

"Seventeen days after he gets out, he shoots one of our cops," said Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale.

See more on the gun hearing:

Continue reading "City, county leaders press for tougher gun laws" »

January 31, 2011

No timetable on Select Lounge shooting investigation

Baltimore police are still working on their investigation into the Jan. 9 shooting at Select Lounge that left a city officer and 22-year-old civilian dead, officials say.

At a press conference three weeks ago, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the investigation would take about three weeks, but officials say they are still awaiting an autopsy report. Cindy Feldstein, of the state medical examiner's office, confirmed that a cause and manner of death was promptly identified but that the full report has not been turned over. "We don't provide preliminary reports," Feldstein said, noting that a complete report often takes about a month.

In the meantime, Bealefeld is pushing forward with assembling a panel that will review the department's findings. Aides say that instead of referring the investigation to another agency, city officials want to form a commission of representatives from various organizations to review the case. 

Officer William H. Torbit and Sean Gamble were fatally shot in a melee outside the downtown club. It is believed that Torbit shot Gamble after being overwhelmed in a large crowd, then Torbit was shot by fellow officers who did not realize who he was. The five officers fired a total of 41 rounds. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 1:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall, Downtown, Police shootings, Top brass
        

January 24, 2011

Critics protest Baltimore state's attorney

If the city's most outspoken activists gave Gregg Bernstein a honeymoon period after being sworn in earlier this month as Baltimore's new top prosecutor, it appears to be over.

Two groups of loosely-affiliated community organizations and special interests protested on opposite sides of the Mitchell Courthouse downtown on Monday, accusing Bernstein of being tight-lipped on a racially-charged assault case and criticizing his "unholy" alliance with the Police Department.

On the west side, protesters formed a picket line, invoking the shooting of Officer William H. Torbit Jr. and carrying signs with such incendiary slogans as "Arrogant Racist State's Attorney."

On the east side, people who said they represent black media and civil rights groups called on Bernstein to say more about his office's decision to drop felony assault charges against a member of a Jewish community patrol group.

"'No comment' will not suffice in the African American community," said Hassan Giordano, a blogger, talk show host and campaign consultant.

Bernstein, who defeated 15-year incumbent Patricia C. Jessamy in last year's Democratic primary election, had been supported by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who said a better relationship with prosecutors would help keep violent repeat offenders off the street.

Two high-profile and controversial cases are testing his public mettle early.  Read more here.

January 22, 2011

Doubts raised in shooting of detective

The shooting of Baltimore police Detective Anthony N. Fata came just nine days after another officer, William H. Torbit Jr., was killed by fellow officers in a case of mistaken identity, and the night before the funeral.

It occurred in a city owned downtown parking garage a block of police headquarters, another crime near the harbor and another reason to stay away from Baltimore. Even the police are getting shot while parking.

But homicide detectives are now questioning how Fata, a 13-year veteran, was grazed in the thigh a bullet. There is some concern that the bullet came from the officer's own gun, and he made up an elaborate ruse to avoid either discipline or embarrassment.

Read more details of the case here. 

Continue reading "Doubts raised in shooting of detective" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Downtown, Police shootings
        

January 21, 2011

Check out Midday with Dan Rodricks

If you haven't got enough of crime this week, check out the Midday with Dan Rodricks show on WYPR (88.1 FM) today at 1 p.m. I'll be on with Dan (also a colleague at The Baltimore Sun) to talk about the busy crime beat.

There's certainly no shortage of subject, and I'm sure the friendly-fire shooting of Officer William H. Torbit will dominate coverage. Among the topics -- the shooting itself and the independent review ordered by the mayor.

Here are just a few of the headlines:

Continue reading "Check out Midday with Dan Rodricks" »

January 20, 2011

No arrest yet in shooting of detective

Two days after a Baltimore homicide detective was shot during what is being described as a chance encounter with a gunman in a downtown parking garage, police officials have still not located the shooter.

The detective – who was heading to his car to retrieve a pair of running shoes -- suffered a graze wound to his leg and has been treated and released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The shooting occurred Tuesday night in a parking garage on South Frederick Street, a block from the Central District station.

Police have declined to name the officer, citing a policy of not publicizing names of shooting victims who survive their wounds. But department sources have identified him as Detective Anthony N. Fata, a 13-year veteran.

The police commissioner called the shooting a "random, chance encounter." A police spokesman said Fata had returned to his car to get the shoes so he could work out before the start of his overnight shift.

In the garage, police said the detective apparently noticed a man with a small-caliber revolver, identified himself as an officer and confronted him. Police said Fata discharged his weapon, but it was not clear whether the man was hit or who fired first.
Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Downtown, Police shootings
        

Torbit's death sparks concern in black police group

The funeral for Officer William H. Torbit Jr. is now over and we await word from City Hall on the details of how an outside review of the case will unfold. Torbit was in plainclothes when he was shot and killed Jan. 9 by four fellow officers who mistook him for a gunman. Torbit was shot while fatally shooting another man during a fight.

The incident has sent shock waves through the Baltimore Police Department -- the mayor called it a "tragedy that shook us to our deepest core" -- and homicide detectives and prosecutors are still pouring over the details. City officials say the outside review is designed to examine the practices and procedures of the police department.

On Sunday, we reported about a national study done by a Harvard University professor looking at police-on-police shootings across the country. Many recent cases involved black undercover or plainclothes detectives as victims (Read the full report here).

On Wednesday, we got an e-mail from the National Black Police Association, which stated in part: "The recent shooting of Baltimore Police Officer Torbit reminds us of the constant dangers we face as law enforcement. Even Black law enforcement professionals in plain clothes or off-duty are in danger when doing the job they have been sworn to do."

(Photo is from Wednesday's funeral for Torbit at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and was  taken by The Sun's Karl Merton Ferron)

ere is the full statement from the group, which will surely add to the debate and discussion about plainclothes officers:

Continue reading "Torbit's death sparks concern in black police group" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:57 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Police shootings
        

January 19, 2011

Bernstein faces first major test as prosecutor

Baltimore's new state's attorney, Gregg L. Bernstein, got elected by promising that his close alliance with police would help make the city safer. Opponents warned of an end to prosecutorial oversight that would let cops run roughshod over city residents.

What no one expected, Peter Hermann writes, was a case that could not only pit the community against police but also police against police. The Jan. 9 fatal shooting of plainclothes Officer William H. Torbit Jr. by four of his colleagues who mistook him for a suspect is the top prosecutor's first test, occurring just days after he took office.

Was Torbit wrong to fatally shoot unarmed civilian Sean Gamble six to eight times in the chest during a fight? Were four uniformed officers wrong to open fire on Torbit, not knowing he was a fellow cop? Three civilians were also wounded in the fracas.

Already, the mayor's decision to allow an outside review has sparked anger at the police union hall and added a new political dimension to the case. Bernstein's wife, Sheryl Goldstein, is the mayor's chief advisor on crime issues, and the order from City Hall for independent oversight on police policies and practices comes as her husband has to decide whether the officers involved committed any crimes.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 7:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Courts and the justice system, Police shootings
        

January 18, 2011

Homicide detective shot near police headquarters

UPDATE: The police commissioner told reporters outside Maryland Shock Trauma Center that the officer was getting something out of his car when the man approached with a small caliber revolver. He said the incident did not appear to be a robbery and called it a "random, chance encounter," Jessica Anderson reports.

Police are reporting that a homicide detective was shot in the leg and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries after an encounter with a gunman in a downtown parking garage near police headquarters tonight.

The shooting occurred in a parking garage on Frederick Street, across the street from the Police Department's Central District and headquarters. A spokesman said that based on preliminary information, the officer was getting into work early and was struck in the leg by an unknown gunman. Police quickly blocked off the area in an attempt to find the suspect, who had not been located as of the last update.

It's also unclear whether the detective exchanged gunfire with the suspect.

The shooting hits home for police not only because of its proximity to headquarters but because police are preparing to bury one of their own tomorrow morning when Officer William H. Torbit Jr. is laid to rest. 

Torbit was killed by friendly fire in a shooting near downtown, and in November an officer was shot at East Baltimore and North Calvert streets, just a few blocks away from tonight's shooting. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:25 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Downtown, Police shootings
        

Family of Marine shot by city officer sues for $270 million

An off-duty Baltimore police officer who is accused of fatally shooting a Marine outside a club last summer should not have been on the force after a series of questionable incidents, the victim’s family alleges in a $270 million lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court.
 
Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Tyrone Brown, a 32-year-old East Baltimore man who was shot 12 times after getting into an altercation with Tshamba as they left a Mount Vernon club.
 
Police and witnesses have said that Brown inappropriately touched a female companion of Tshamba. The officer drew his weapon and challenged Brown, who was unarmed, to “do it again,” The Sun reported in June.
 
In the lawsuit, Brown’s family acknowledges that he touched the woman and claims that he apologized. A few minutes later, the woman swung at Brown, who deflected the blow, they say.
 
Tshamba pointed to his weapon and shouted threats, then pulled the gun and pointed it at Brown.
Brown raised his hands in the air, his family claims, then was backed down an alley out of view of officers and other clubgoers.
 
The lawsuit, which names Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the agency’s chain of command, the mayor and city council and state as defendants – says that Tshamba, 37, was in violation of department protocols by carrying his weapon while intoxicated, but argues that Tshamba shouldn’t have been on the force in the first place.
 
"We believe there is a serious problem in terms of practices and procedures" used by the agency to discipline its own, attorney A. Dwight Pettit said in an interview. "We saw these same issues come up with a [2002] shooting at Lexington Market, and now what we're seeing in terms of the shooting last week [at Select Lounge] ... We're seeing that these things are continually being repeated, this type of excessive conduct."

Continue reading "Family of Marine shot by city officer sues for $270 million" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:11 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Downtown, Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

January 17, 2011

Police-on-police shootings rare, raise issues of race, training

Incidents of fatal police-on-police shootings are incredibly rare. But they do happen, and departments across the country have learned the hard lessons Baltimore is now facing after the killing of plainclothes Officer William H. Torbit Jr., The Sun reported this weekend.

A Harvard professor, who chaired a commission that looked into such incidents after two officers were killed in New York, said police will have to scrutinize not only the actions of the officers who fired on Torbit, but Torbit himself.

The incidents gathered by the commission show that criminal charges are rarely if ever brought. The panel found the "unconscious racial bias" plays a major role in off-duty or plainclothes officers being mistaken for suspects, and that departments often have gaps in protocols among their own officers and other agencies they may come into contact with. Black officers here and elsewhere say being mistaken for suspects comes with the territory, and at least one supervisor we spoke with said he was in favor of instituting uniforms for plainclothes officers so that they are more easily identified.

Click here to read the full report from the New York commission that looked into police-on-police shootings. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime elsewhere, Police shootings
        

January 13, 2011

City police union claims mayor using police shooting for "political gain"

Amid calls from the public for an independent investigation, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this week that there would be an independent review of Sunday's shooting that left a veteran officer and a 22-year-old man dead. The city police union is now claiming that her announcement is an attempt to use the tragedy for political gain.

Through a public relations firm, the union sent out this statement:

"Should the current investigation determine that an independent review is warranted, the FOP would fully support such a review at that time.  We, too, want a thorough investigation of this incident to reveal all the facts of that night's events.  However, at this point, this action seems premature.  Mayor Rawlings-Blake should have confidence in her Police Commissioner and the Baltimore City Police Department and give them a chance to conduct an exhaustive investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragedy.  The Baltimore City Police Department has one of the premier homicide units in the nation and a system of checks and balances is already in place, as the independent Baltimore City State's Attorney investigates every police-involved shooting in Baltimore.  The Baltimore City Police Department wants to work closely with the State’s Attorney’s Office to get to the bottom of this occurrence. For Mayor Rawlings-Blake to utilize this tragic incident for political gain is a tragedy in itself."

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said he would not have a response to the statement.

Tensions between City Hall and the city's public safety unions have been rising for months. A week ago, the police and fire unions held a press conference outside City Hall denouncing pay cuts and saying Rawlings-Blake wants to take credit for crime reductions while not compensating officers for their work. They also paid for billboards downtown last year that took shots at city officials.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:15 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: City Hall, Police shootings
        

January 12, 2011

Police ban plainclothes; external agency to review shooting

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Wednesday morning that there will be an external review of Sunday’s shooting downtown that injured four people and killed an on-duty officer and unarmed civilian.

Police also ordered late Tuesday that they will require all plainclothes officers in district units to wear uniforms amid a slew of changes pending the completion of the inquiry into the shooting, according to the department’s chief spokesman.

At Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting, Rawlings-Blake said she was “very concerned by initial facts that indicate only police weapons were discharged” Sunday outside the Select Lounge in the 400 block of N. Paca St. at officers tried to quell an unruly crowd.

Officer William H. Torbit Jr. was killed by friendly fire when four officers shot at him after seeing him fire his weapon, according to police and sources. Civilian Sean Gamble, 22, was also killed and three women were shot and injured.

“The police investigation and the outside review will help us understand exactly what happened and help us learn from it and make sure that nothing like it happens again,” she said in a statement.

Ryan O’Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor, said officials were reaching out to gauge availability and interest from other agencies and a decision could be made next week.

Meanwhile, police moved to establish a more cohesive policy on how plainclothes officers operate and what they can wear, said the department’s chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. Plainclothes officers will be required to wear uniforms, while detectives in the department’s elite Violent Crimes Impact Section will have to wear identifiable vests or jackets. Commanders are also reviewing how such officers respond to large crowds.

Here's the mayor's full statement:

Continue reading "Police ban plainclothes; external agency to review shooting" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:17 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall, Downtown, Police shootings
        

Praise for slain officer

Even the people William H. Torbit Jr. busted praised him.

At a vigil (picture at left by The Sun's Kenneth K. Lam) and in interviews with The Sun's Justin Fenton, those who knew the 33-year-old Central District officer who was mistakenly killed by his own colleagues this weekend called him a tough but fair member of law enforcement.

It was, as Justin wrote, "a moment of unity in a neighborhood where police and residents are often at odds."

Complete story is here.

"He would talk to you, find out what your situation was," a woman who would only give her first name, Annette.

"He was that guy who'd walk up and calm the neighborhood down," Detective Michael Miller said. "I still take it as, he's going to come out and say this is all a joke. But it's reality."

As a city native, he wasn't intimidated by the streets and didn't retreat to the suburbs after finishing up work. Instead, he often found himself right back on those same corners, eating at restaurants, driving around to make sure it was safe for kids to play, getting his car washed and talking to residents. Sometimes he'd help serve patrons.

"I said, 'What you doing coming around here after work, somebody's going to kill you, boy,'" recalled friend Sean Rideout, who said he looked up to Torbit and followed him into law enforcement. "He came back because he loved his neighborhood. He loved his people."

Gregory Lassiter, 61, said Torbit could be rough. But he had nothing but praise for the officer.

"He used to throw me down, rough me up a bit, just to try to get me straight," said Lassiter, who says Torbit called him "Merlin" because of his bushy beard. "He stayed on me for a long while, explaining how old I was and how I needed to stop [hustling], and it finally sunk in. He's going to be missed."

A moment of unity indeed. Too bad it was just a moment. And too bad it had to happen under such tragic circumstances.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:41 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Downtown, Police shootings
        

January 11, 2011

Slain officer Torbit was on-duty

Since early Sunday, the Sun has written two in-depth accounts of the fatal shooting outside a night club near downtown, but one point seems to be unclear, not only among readers but also some reporters and politicians: Officer William H. Torbit Jr. (seen at right) was on-duty when he responded to help quell the unruly crowd outside of Select Lounge. 

In the summer, the shooting of a Marine by an off-duty officer in Mount Vernon raised questions about whether officers should carry their weapons while consuming alcohol. That is not the case in this shooting - Torbit, a plainclothes officer assigned to the Central District, responded to a distress call from an officer already at the club trying to handle the crowd. His badge was either not visible or ripped off during the melee, according to the account pieced together by sources, police, and witnesses.

That point seems lost among many readers, who posted comments and e-mailed us wanting to know what Torbit's blood alcohol content was and wanting to revisit the off-duty weapon policy.

Sun reporter Jill Rosen sought comment on the shooting from councilmembers Monday, and City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young seemed to think Torbit was working security at the bar:

“With secondary employment, we need to make sure our officers know where officers are at all times — who they are and where they are,” Young said. “Somebody should have recognized him. We should at least be able to identify our own.”

Young said that the police department might consider having officers with second jobs wear something that would identify them as police.

“How can you identify another police officer unless they’re wearing something that says police?” he asked. “I feel this is something we probably could have avoided.”

Not only was Torbit not working secondary employment at Select Lounge, city police officers have been prohibited from moonlighting as bar security for more than two years, when Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III issued a ban. Instead, in key areas such as Power Plant Live and Federal Hill, police have pooled money from businesses to pay uniformed officers to work overtime at the direction of police commanders - not bar owners.

Union president Robert F. Cherry says the union and police commanders have crafted a proposal that would allow officers to resume working second jobs at bars, but he says the proposal has been sitting on Bealefeld's desk for months without a response.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:29 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: City Hall, Downtown, Police shootings, South Baltimore
        

January 9, 2011

Brother says police overreacted in club shooting

Police are not confirming the identities of the officer or the civilian killed early this morning outside Select Lounge, so we won't have much more about the officer tonight. 

But relatives of Sean Gamble, the 22-year-old killed in the incident, are speaking out and say police recklessly fired into a crowd after a fellow officer pulled a gun. 

James Gamble, 24, was at the club with his brother and said the officer, who he believed was off-duty, had been aggressive toward a woman. His brother started arguing with the officer, and the argument escalated, Gamble said. He said a group of uniformed officers then began firing on the crowd when the plainclothes officer reached for his service weapon.

Police say the officer, William H. Torbit Jr., had lost his badge in the altercation. 

"It was a crazy scene," James Gamble said. "They let off a good 20 shots, maybe six of them. They were just shooting." 

[Photo courtesy Baltimore Saints via Facebook]

Continue reading "Brother says police overreacted in club shooting" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:08 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Downtown, Police shootings
        

Two officers shot, one killed, outside downtown club

Click here for the most updated version of this story.

UPDATE 11:45 p.m. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police do not expect to provide more information today on the Sunday morning shooting. He said detectives will be gathering surveillance camera footage and reviewing physical evidence.

He said the three civilians who were shot and wounded were all women in the early 20s, who were shot in their lower extremities.

UPDATE: 10:10 a.m. Sources are identifying the officer killed this morning as William H. Torbit Jr., 33, who was assigned to the Central District operations unit. On Twitter and Facebook, friends are mourning the civilian victim, Sean "Loz" Gamble. Police are not confirming either victim's identity.

A friend, Corey Brown said Gamble had a young child and was engaged to be married. He worked for a waste management company and had no criminal record.

"He's not a violent kid - he's not in the streets," said Brown. "He's not even cut from that cloth. Apparently he got in a fight, and the cops start shooting. Not in the air - in the crowd, and they shot him."

Attempts to locate friends and family of Torbit were not immediately successful.

UPDATE: 6:45 a.m. Two Baltimore police officers were shot, one of them fatally, when gunfire erupted early Sunday outside of a club near downtown. Six people in all were shot and two killed.

Two sources said detectives are exploring whether the officer who was killed was shot by another officer amid a chaotic scene outside the Select Lounge in the 400 block of N. Paca St.

The incident occurred at about 1:15 a.m. when police were called to break up fights and control a crowd outside the club near Franklin Street in Seton Hill, said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. 

"There was an altercation that took place very near the club and some officers worked to intercede in that fight, at which time some gunshots were discharged," Bealefeld said. "Several officers fired multiple shots."

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was in the early stages, said the officer who was fatally shot was in plainclothes and was being attacked by a group of people moments before the gunfire rang out.

An eight-year veteran of the force whose name was not disclosed was shot and killed, Bealefeld said. A second officer, an 11-year veteran, was shot in the foot. Both officers were assigned to the Central District and were on duty, police said. One was in uniform and the other was in plainclothes, police said.

Continue reading "Two officers shot, one killed, outside downtown club" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:34 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Breaking news, Downtown, Police shootings
        

December 30, 2010

Retired officer shoots restaurant robber

UPDATE: Baltimore police told us a few minutes ago that the person shot has been declared brain dead. Additional details are below.

Details remain slim, but police say a retired Baltimore officer shot and critically wounded a man who tried to rob a Pimlico carryout Wednesday night.

A man described as being in his late teens or early 20s brandished a handgun inside Judy's Island Grill & Bake Shop. The retired officer, who was eating inside, confronted and then shot the gunman.

Police released no other information Wednesday night, but we're expecting an update later this morning.

The Baltimore Sun reviewed the restaurant in 2007, which offered curried shrimp, oxtail stew and jerk fish. The reviewer seemed to like the offerings of Jamaican and Caribbean fare.

NEW INFORMATION:

Det. Kevin Brown, a city police spokesman, said the retired officer is 63 years old. He had been walking out of the carry-out when he encountered man about 25 years old who tried to rob the restaurant.

"The retired Officer shot the suspect once," Brown said in a statement. "The suspect was transported to an area hospital and is clinically brain dead, and not expected to recover as his injuries are non-life sustaining. The suspect's weapon was recovered at the scene."
Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:36 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Northwest Baltimore, Police shootings
        

December 28, 2010

Maryland ranks high in police officer deaths

Five Maryland police officers died in the line of duty this year, the seventh highest number in the nation, and four of those were killed in car crashes.

The Baltimore Sun's transportation reporter, Michael Dresser, found that police fatalities across the country jumped 37 percent after two years of declines.

At left is the accident scene in October in which Officer Thomas Portz Jr. was killed when his cruiser slammed into the back of the a fire truck on U.S. 40 in West Baltimore. The photo was taken by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor.

Dresser wrote:

Police fatalities on the roads have long been a topic of concern in Maryland, where 25 officers have been killed since 2000 in vehicle crashes — nine more than have been killed by gunshots.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who wrestled with the issue of police driving when he headed the city force, said the high level of traffic-related deaths has a lot to do with "the driving habits of young police officers."

His prescription: more intensive training, refresher course and frequent re-qualification requirements. "They should take it at least as seriously as firearms training," he said.
The issue of police driving has indeed long been an issue. For more on the topic:

Continue reading "Maryland ranks high in police officer deaths" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, Police shootings
        

December 14, 2010

Man sentenced to 24 years in prison for shooting at cop

A 31-year-old felon who was convicted in federal court of shooting at a Baltimore police officer in 2008 was sentenced this morning to nearly 24 years in prison. The U.S. District Court judge enhanced the sentence for Antonio Holton because he has three previous convictions for drug offenses and robbery, making him a career criminal.

It appears that federal authorities yanked the case out of Baltimore Circuit Court in mid-trial, after testimony had already begun in February 2009. It's not immediately clear why at this point, but the feds do take many of the city's gun cases because penalties in the federal system are harsher and conviction rates are better.

The case was first tried in Circuit Court, ending with a hung jury that was in favor of acquittal by a 10-2 margin, according to defense attorney Ivan Bates. Federal authorities then agreed to take the case. Court records show the case is pending in state court, but that appears to be a formality as they await the outcome of the federal proceedings.

At the onset of his trial in state court, Holton's attorney grilled Police Officer Jared Fried, a narcotics detective, on why he shot at his client 10 times, striking him once. The attorney also questioned why his client's DNA wasn't found on the .45 caliber Hi-Point pistol.

For more details:

Continue reading "Man sentenced to 24 years in prison for shooting at cop" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:24 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Police shootings, West Baltimore
        

November 29, 2010

Suspect charged in shooting police officer

Baltimore police have charged a suspect in this weekend's shooting of a Baltimore police officer. The suspect remains at Maryland Shock Trauma Center recovering from wounds he got during a shootout up North Calvert Street. Here are some more details on the shooting.

Officer Todd Strohman is the fourth city police officer shot and wounded this year, while city police have shot 10 citizens, killing two. That's one of the lowest totals in recent memory; in 2007, city police shot 33 citizens, 13 who died; and 22 were shot last year, with 8 fatally injured.

According to Sun reporter Meredith Cohn, Gross has three recent felony convictions:

Gross has been convicted of three felonies, according to court records. A police source said he was on parole for armed robbery at the time of this shooting.

Gross was convicted in 1998 of assault and sentenced to four years in prison, but a judge suspended three years and 10 months of the term. He was convicted in March 2008 of being a felon in possession of a handgun and sentenced to five years in prison, with time starting from the time he was arrested in May 2006.

In May 2008, while still in prison on the gun charge, he was convicted of a separate armed robbery charge and sentenced to 12 years in prison, with all but six years suspended. He had been paroled, police said.
Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:16 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Downtown, Police shootings
        

October 21, 2010

Jury clears officer of wrongdoing in shooting death of fellow officer

UPDATE: Here's my story on the jury verdict. The attorney representing Stamp's widow said she was disappointed with the outcome but was pleased that the apparently differing versions of what happened are now public record. Torres' attorney did not return calls for comment.

It took jurors only a few hours to decide that Officer John Torres acted reasonably when he fired his service weapon, killing a fellow member of the force who was off duty and dressed in biker garb, The Daily Record's Brendan Kearney is reporting.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury of three men and three women returned a defense verdict Thursday morning after two weeks of trial, the paper reported on its website.

Norman Stamp, a well-liked 44-year veteran cop and cofounder of the “Chosen Sons” motorcycle club, was shot and killed in the early morning hours of April 24, 2008, at the scene of an East Baltimore strip club brawl.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Police shootings
        

October 14, 2010

Jury in Norman Stamp wrongful death civil trial visits scene

The jury in the wrongful death civil lawsuit brought by the widow of city police officer Norman Stamp, who was shot in 2008 when on-duty officers responded to a Southeast Baltimore strip club where Stamp was a patron, visited the bar Wednesday. I hadn't been able to sit in on testimony beyond opening statements last Thursday, until yesterday, when I heard testimony given by Officer Jason Rivera, who said he didn't see Stamp get shot and described a chaotic scene outside the Haven Place. Testimony continued today, and we'll update the case when a verdict is handed down.
Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:38 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Police shootings, Southeast Baltimore
        

October 6, 2010

City school police refuse to name officer who shot man

In January, Baltimore police reversed a short-lived policy in which they stopped naming officers who fire their weapons. The police commissioner decided to be upfront and accountable with citizens, and he instead modified the policy to make the names public 48 hours after an incident.

But on Sunday, a school police officer shot and wounded a masked robbery suspect. The officer had confronted him after witnesses said a Family Dollar Store on Harford Road was being held up by armed men. In the end, no weapon was found.

There has always been confusion when giving out information that crosses police jurisdictions. No one wants to step on another agency's toes, so in the end the public gets less information than it deserves.

Baltimore homicide detectives are investigating the shooting to determine whether it's legal and within department policy. But school police are investigating the break-in, even though it wasn't on school grounds, and are responsible for charging the suspect once he gets out of the hospital.

But city police refuse to name the school police officer, even on Tuesday, 48 hours after the shooting, saying that's up to school police because he's their employee. And school police refuse to release the name on the advice of their lawyers.

The Baltimore Sun fought hard -- even making the issue part of a lawsuit aimed at forcing more information out of the department -- to convince city police to not change their policy so we could not just report the names but determine whether the officers had a past history of shootings, among other things.

Now we have city schools saying their attorneys won't allow the release of the name until the investigation is complete, and city police saying they're free to release the names of their cops when they want.

This double-standard is not good for anyone.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:14 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Confronting crime, East Baltimore, Police shootings, Top brass
        

October 4, 2010

Man gets 50 years in shooting of officers

A 35-year-old man was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison for shooting and seriously wounded two Baltimore police officers. The incident occurred as a result of a domestic dispute in the summer of 2009. Here are the details from a statement issued by the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office:

Judge Charles Peters sentenced Shawn Sinclair, 35, of the 2400 block of Harlem Avenue to life in prison suspend all but 50 years with the first 10 years without parole.  Sinclair pled guilty June 10, 2010 to two counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of use of handgun in the commission of a crime of violence for crimes committed during an early morning domestic dispute that turned violent, with two police officers shot and seriously wounded.  Both officers offered victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing on September 23.

During the early morning hours of July 18, 2009 Shawn Sinclair, the defendant, became involved in a verbal dispute with his wife Angela Green, at 2412 Harlem Ave. The dispute escalated and the defendant assaulted his wife by punching her multiple times in her face.  He left the house and drove off in a red Ford Explorer – Maryland Tag # 14518M1 - that he and his wife owned.  After the defendant left the house, Ms. Green called the police to report the domestic assault.

For more details:

Continue reading "Man gets 50 years in shooting of officers" »

Weekend without any killings ends with school police officer shooting

After the weekend of September 10-13, we reported that the city had achieved - for the first time since April - a weekend without a homicide.

This weekend we can report an even better feat: no shootings.

That makes two weekends in the past four weeks without a killing. Chalk it up to whatever you like, but that's a good thing no matter how you slice it.

Technically, there was one shooting, but police say the victim was a masked man in the process of robbing a dollar store Sunday night, who was shot by a city schools police officer. He was shot once in the upper body and taken to an area hospital, and police are searching for two alleged accomplices who got away. If it is ruled justified, as most are, it will not count toward the city's annual total.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: East Baltimore, Police shootings
        

September 6, 2010

County police shoot man at shopping center

A Baltimore County police officer shot and critically wounded a man outside a Randallstown shopping center this morning.

Details remain sketchy but police said an officer responded to a call for a suspicious man and was attacked as soon as the pulled into the parking lot ofthe Kings Point Square center on Liberty Road near Marriottsville Road.

A police spokesman said a struggle broke out during which the man tried to grab the officer's weapon. A back-up officer then fired twice into the man's chest. He was listed in critical but stable condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:48 AM | | Comments (1)
        

August 29, 2010

Man shot by officer has long record

Here is some updated information on the man shot earlier today by a Baltimore police officer. It was provided by the department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi:

INCIDENT RECAP:
This morning at approximately 230am, BPD responded to Agusta and Rokeby Avenue for report of a suspicious person. Upon arrival, police witness two individuals standing next to a parked car. As officers approach the individuals for questioning, 26 year old Steven Grant flees the location and leads police on a foot chase where he eludes capture for a short time. Grant was later captured approximately 5 blocks from the scene and police are still searching for a weapon.

The second suspect, 30 year old Jimmy Lucas (left) remains at the scene and brandishes what appears to be a 22 cal. carbine rifle with banana clip (ballistics testing pending to clarify weapon cal.). An officer gives a verbal command to drop the weapon immediately, after no response from the suspect, multiple shots are fired in an effort to incapacitate the threat to police. The weapon was recovered.

Continue reading "Man shot by officer has long record" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:28 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Breaking news, Police shootings, West Baltimore
        

Baltimore officer shoots man in Southwest

A Baltimore police officer shot and critically wounded a man early today in Southwest Baltimore. Here are some initial details from city police spokesman Kevin Brown:

PRELIMINARILY:

Please be advised that at approximately 2:35 am this morning officers responded to a suspicious person call for service within the area of the intersection of Rokeby and Augusta Streets in the Southwest District. Officers engaged two armed suspects. During the course of the incident an officer fired upon and struck one of the suspects. He was transported to an area hospital and being treated (critical condition). The other suspect was also taken into custody. Sound will be given by the Director tomorrow morning at the BPD HQ Press Room at 10am.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:11 AM | | Comments (1)
        

August 16, 2010

Baltimore County police face wrongful death lawsuit

The mother of an Essex man who was shot to death two years ago by Baltimore County police officers has filed a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit against the county government and six members of the force, The Sun's Nick Madigan reports.

Gwendolyn Cann contends that her son, Taevon G. Cann, who was 25 at the time, died as a result of excessive force when officers fired more than 70 bullets at him at a gas station on Feb. 29, 2008.

"The barrage of bullets was so intense that they not only took his life but also destroyed his automobile," says the wrongful-death suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The suit contends that as Cann was "succumbing from his wounds, one of the defendants reloaded his weapon and shot Mr. Cann in the back of the head."
Posted by Justin Fenton at 7:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County, Police shootings
        

Another violent weekend

Another Monday, another death toll to tally on the streets of Baltimore: 13 shot, three dead.

Concerned about the violence, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III ordered his commanders to the streets and saturated neighborhoods with cops. The shootings, including two by his officers, continued.

Here's the opening of Annie Linskey's story in this morning's paper. It reads much like the opening to the story in Sunday's paper, and in stories in papers from the past several weeks:

Baltimore endured a bloody Sunday morning with three people shot and a fourth killed within two hours, police said. Later in the day a police officer shot a man in the leg, the second police-involved shooting of the weekend.

That meant 13 people were shot over the weekend — three fatally. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III plans to meet with commanders Monday morning to assess their violence prevention strategy.

The commissioner had pumped up police presence in the city's Eastern District and other hot spots on Saturday, after a series of shootings left two men dead and five others wounded Friday night and early Saturday morning.

The extra shifts were called amid a budget crisis that has caused deep cuts to all city departments and forced the police to vastly decrease overtime. Police commanders, who are not paid for overtime, were also put on duty throughout the weekend.

Tonight at the Southeastern District police station, worried residents of Upper Fells Point, Butcher's Hill and Patterson Park are to meet with police to discuss a series of beatings in the area. In some instances, groups of teens and young adults have robbed and assaulted people near their homes. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.

August 15, 2010

City officer shoots man near Clifton Park; 2nd of weekend

Baltimore Police just sent out a Twitter message saying an officer has shot a man in the leg near Clifton Park, at the intersection of Belair Road and Erdman Ave. Details are scarce at the moment, but that would be the second police-involved shooting of the weekend. Police say no officers were harmed in tonight's incident.

Early Saturday, a 19-year-old man was shot three times by an officer after police say he pulled out a gun during a traffic stop near Gwynns Falls Park, police said. Ttwo officers from the Southwestern District were approaching the vehicle in the 1000 block of Ellamont Ave. about 1:30 a.m. to question three men when a passenger in the rear seat pulled out a gun. Both officers fired several shots at the vehicle in response, striking it as it sped away, police said.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 8:48 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Police shootings
        

July 23, 2010

Baltimore cop pleads guilty to shooting at car

A Baltimore police officer pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to shooting at a car after a dispute in Canton last year. Patrick A. Dotson, 28, is scheduled to be sentenced in September but he agreed as part of his plea deal to a 10 year prison term, with all but 18 months suspended.

Sun court reporter Tricia Bishop writes:

According to court records, Dotson was off duty in the early morning hours of March 9, 2009, when he and other officers got into a fight with bar patrons at Fins on the Square in the 2900 block of O'Donnell St. The brawl spilled onto the street, was broken up, then resumed a block away.

Dotson battled with Dustin Jackson, who later got into a car with a buddy and drove off. When Dotson saw them pass, he "produced a handgun and fired," said Assistant State's Attorney, David Grzechowiak. The car was struck near its gas tank.

His conviction comes on the heels of Baltimore Officer Gahiji Tshamba's indictment this month on murder and handgun charges connected to the off-duty killing of an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon nightclub. Another Baltimore officer, Tommy Sanders III, was acquitted of manslaughter last month in the 2008 shooting death of an unarmed suspect who ran from him to evade arrest.

July 21, 2010

City council hearing on officers carrying weapons off-duty

From the outset of Wednesday night's city council hearing on police internal discipline and the policy of requiring officers to carry their weapons while off duty, Councilman James Kraft made it clear that no one would be allowed to discuss specifics.

That meant no discussion of why Officer Gahiji Tshamba, charged with murder in an off-duty shooting outside a club, was lightly disciplined by a previous administration and remained on the job after he shot and struck a man while driving drunk in 2005.

What followed was an overly broad discussion of police policies and the department's efforts to curb bad behavior. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said he is not against making amends to the policy requiring officers to carry their weapons, but said no change would be made without careful deliberation.

"It's not that I'm intractable or I don't listen, but I want to be cautious and deliberative that we get it right and don't mess something up with unintended consequences," he told the councilmembers, noting that he ultimately reversed a decision to withhold the names of officers who shoot or kill citizens.

Robert F. Cherry of the city police union told councilmembers not to be swayed by furor over the Tshamba incident and that officers are expected to put themselves in danger and should be armed. He said a change in policy would "put officers in grave danger and by extension the citizens we are sworn to protect." 

Tyrone Powers, a former FBI agent and professor at Anne Arundel Community College, told the council that there should be a clear ban on officers carrying weapons while consuming alcohol. "There's no training that teaches you how to deal with alcohol and weapons. They never, ever mix," he said. He said officers who know they are going to be drinking or find themselves around alcohol must leave the gun at home or extract themselves from the situation. "That's the burden of policing."

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:51 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall, Police shootings
        

July 12, 2010

Officer identified in shooting of vehicle from behind

City police have identified the officer who last week fired his weapon at a car that was driving away after ignoring a roadblock.

Officer Richard J. McCarthy, a 25-year veteran and member of the accident investigation unit, is on administrative suspension as homicide detectives investigate the Friday afternoon shooting. The victim, a 56-year-old man, was injured after the officer fired at his back window and he crashed his pickup truck into a wall on Falls Road.

Continue reading "Officer identified in shooting of vehicle from behind" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:21 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: North Baltimore, Police shootings
        

Tshamba indicted

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy held a press conference today to announce the indictment of Officer Gahiji Tshamba, charged in the off-duty shooting of a man outside a Mount Vernon nightclub. Former Marine Tyrone Brown was hit 12 times out of the 13 rounds discharged from Tshamba's weapon. Press conferences to announce indictments, which are typically only a formality in the process (Tshamba was charged last month and has been held without bond since then), are rare. Then again, this is a high profile case, and prosecutors were publicly criticized by police for moving too slow to charge, and there is that business about an election in the fall.

The Sun's Tricia Bishop was there and will be updating this story throughout the afternoon. Click on the "Tshamba" tag below or on the right hand rail to read related coverage on this case.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 2:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

July 10, 2010

Officer shoots at pickup truck driving away from him

A 56-year-old man who drove around a police roadblock was injured Friday after an officer shot at his back window, causing him to lose control of his pickup truck and crash off Interstate 83 in Hampden, police said.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said that he was concerned about the shooting and that investigators are trying to determine why the officer fired the shot after the vehicle was heading away from him.

The driver, who was not identified, was injured either by broken glass or bullet fragments, police said. His injuries were not deemed life-threatening.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:41 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Police shootings
        

June 17, 2010

City police union poised to help cover Tshamba's legal fees

The city Fraternal Order of Police union is a step closer to covering the legal costs for Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba, charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Tyrone Brown. The FOP's Judicial Review Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the full board of directors that the union support Tshamba with legal coverage, president Robert F. Cherry told me in a text.

This is notable as there were rumblings that the union was leaning toward not helping him in that area. But it's common for the union to help officers in legal troubles with representation and fees (the union also recently voted to cover costs for three officers charged with abducting a teen and leaving him in Howard County with no shoes or cell phone). Many officers choose to go with the union's preferred counsel. Tshamba has two attorneys, Adam Sean Cohen (who referred to himself as "The Prodigy" on his firm's Facebook page) and James Rhodes, as of the last we heard.

Tshamba remains held without bond after turning himself in early Sunday. He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for July 13, though he will likely be indicted by a grand jury before then. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:38 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

Tyrone Brown remembered

Marines in dress uniform came out on Wednesday to pay tribute to their fallen comrade, Tyrone Brown, who was shot a dozen times any off-duty Baltimore police officer on June 5. The officer, Gahiji A. Tshamba, has been charged with first-degree murder.

The photos here are by The Sun's Lloyd Fox. At left, mourners gaze into the casket. Below, Curtis Warren, a friend of Tyrone's, plays a musical selection.

The funeral services at Morgan State University was filled with sorrowful remembrances. Baltimore Sun reporter Jean Marbella (her full story here), wrote this:

Among those who spoke at his funeral, held in an auditorium at the Murphy Fine Arts Center on the Morgan State University campus, were friends from Mr. Brown's rough East Baltimore neighborhood and his Marine unit — with both groups noting wearily how often they found themselves at funerals for someone whose life was cut too short. "We came through a neighborhood, [if] you get to 32, 34 [years old], you don't die like this," said Taavon Stewart, a friend. "We graduated from this."

Jean ended her moving piece this way:

Soon, it would be time for his fellow Marines, some dressed in the same uniform that Mr. Brown was buried in, to assemble for a final march. His former boss, Gunnery Sgt. Ken Johnson, told the crowd that he'd made sure Brown's ribbons and buttons were straight and that his brass shone because he would't let him check into heaven looking bad — although, being a Marine, he used a more colorful term.

"Marines never die, we merely go to heaven and regroup," Sergeant Johnson said to appreciative chuckles. "I do believe God prepares a special place for Marines."

June 16, 2010

Detective in police shooting battles tough case amid personal tragedy

The Baltimore police homicide detective who led the investigation into the fatal shooting by an off-duty police officer of an unarmed man in Mount Vernon has his own strggles to deal with. His teen-aged son is battling cancer.

I first met Shawn M. Reichenberg Sr. back in 1997 (left) when he was out locking up armed robbery suspects and gunmen in Federal Hill after a rash of holdups in the upscale neighborhood. Little did I know I'd meet him again so many years later, at the heart of one of Baltimore's most controversial shootings.

I couldn't talk to him this week -- the department didn't want him to be interviewed in the midst of such a big case. The plight of his son has been well documented in local media in Anne Arundel County and on WJZ-TV.

Meanwhile, today is the funeral for the victim in the shooting. Tyrone Brown is to be remembered at a service at Morgan State University. We'll have much more on this story here and in the news section later today.

June 15, 2010

Police to respond to NAACP concerns

The head of Baltimore's NAACP sent out a missive demanding answers to questions revolving around the off-duty police shooting of an unarmed man in Mount Vernon. Marvin "Doc" Cheatham complained that a letter sent to Baltimore's police commissioner, the mayor and others went unanswered.

City police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told me this morning that he got in contact with Cheatham to let him known Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III is on vacation and would respond when he returns. Meanwhile, Guglielmi said he's trying to answer as many questions as he can but most revolve around policy issues that would have to be reviewed.

The NAACP head wants to know whether the officer charged, Gahiji A. Tshamba, gets more protection in shootings like these than afforded other suspects. The officer was not arrested immediately after the shooting, refused to make statements or submit to a breath test to see if he had been drinking and was given the chance to turn himself in when a warrant charging him with first-degree murder was issued. The officer surrendered after a 30-hour manhunt.

Here are Cheatham's concerns:

Continue reading "Police to respond to NAACP concerns" »

Suspect in trooper shooting has long criminal history

One of the suspects arrested in the fatal shooting of Maryland State Police Trooper Wesley Brown is a parolee with a long criminal record. The Washington Post details the case and notes that the main suspect had once been the state's list of most closely watched offenders.

Cyril Cornelius Williams, 27, is charged as the person who pulled the trigger after getting angry the off-duty trooper had tossed him an Applebee's restaurant in Prince George's County because he had not paid his bill.

Because of his record, The Post reports that Williams had been on the state parole and probation department's Violence Prevention Initiative, in which the most violent offenders are closely watched while free from prison on parole or probation. The idea is that any misstep -- such as missing a meeting or a drug test -- can land the person back in prison.

But the newspaper says Williams was taken off that strict supervision list in December because he had adhered to the rules and kept a job. So when he missed a meeting with his parole agent in March, it was no longer a violationt that would trigger a warrant, the Post wrote.

June 14, 2010

Tshamba held without bond; attorney begins defense

The Baltimore police officer charged with first-degree murder in the off-duty shooting an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon club was ordered held without bond Monday morning as his attorney began hitting back at the accusations, saying the officer "did what he had to do."

Addressing the incident for the first time, a defense attorney for Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba, 36, described his client as a decorated veteran who has been devastated by the allegations. He said the June 5 killing of Tyrone Brown came after the officer put himself on duty to respond to a sexual assault.

Brown, a 32-year-old former Marine from East Baltimore, was shot 12 times after Tshamba fired 13 rounds from his service weapon, according to charging documents. Police have previously said Brown was struck nine times.

"A police officer in fear for his life has to do what he has to do," attorney Adam Sean Cohen told reporters outside Central Booking. "If one shot doesn't work, if two shots don't work … you fire until the threat is gone."

Prosecutor David Chiu called Tshamba an "extreme risk to public safety."

"The last time I checked, I don't believe its police policy to shoot an unarmed suspect, particularly surrounded by patrons leaving a bar area," Chiu said.

For more, click the link

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:04 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Breaking news, Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings
        

Court papers in officer shooting released

Police charging documents have now been released in the murder case against Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba (left), who is charged in the shooting death of an unarmed former Marine in Mount Vernon nine days ago.

The information in the document is sparse. Top police commanders have already said that the victim, Tyrone Brown, had his hands in the air when he was shot by the officer who was angry that the man patted the rear-end of a female companion. Police have also said there is no evidence that the off-duty officer feared for his life when he opened fire.

This is is one of the few cases when police leaked more details about their case than they put the official document that charges the officer with first-degree murder. The union president, Robert Cherry, has denounced the leaks from police and the Baltimore Sun's articles that he said has already convicted the officer.

There is one important detail change that shows up in the charging document: It says Brown was struck 12 times. We had known from the start that the officer emptied his clip of 13 bullets (it holds 14, but he had loaded it with one shy of full clip). At the very beginnging, police said Brown was hit six times. After a preliminary autopsy, they said he had been hit nine times. Now police say he was shot a dozen times.

Meanwhile, Tshamba is due in court for a bail hearing this morning. We may hear more from his attorney. Here is the police charging document:

Continue reading "Court papers in officer shooting released" »

Officer due in court

Baltimore police officer Gahiji A. Tshamba (left) is due in court this morning for his first bail hearing.

His attorney are to argue that the officer charged with killing an unarmed former Marine in Mount Vernon should be freed before trial. That might be an easier argument to make had the 15-year veteran turned himself in on Friday instead of leading his colleagues into a weekend manhunt. He surrendered Sunday about 1:30 in the morning.

Meanwhile, the funeral for the victim, Tyrone Brown is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Morgan State University auditorium. This case now moves to a new arena and new phase (check here for complete coverage of the case) Hopefully, at some point, we'll here his side of why he shot Brown nine times in the chest nine days ago outside the club after Brown touched the officer's female companion on the rear end.

June 13, 2010

Wanted officer surrenders -- new details

The police officer being sought on a first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon bar turned himself in early Sunday. Here is a story posted just a few hours before the officer surrendered just after the Baltimore Sun's final deadline

Police have released many details, but here is brief statement:

Suspended Police Officer Gahiji Tshamba, a suspect wanted for Murder, has turned himself in to authorities at the Central Booking Intake Facility in Baltimore around 1:30am on Sunday morning.

Tshamba's surrender comes hours after Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III ordered an intensified manhunt after Tshamba went missing Friday afternoon. Police attempted to negotiate a peaceful surrender with Tshamba on Friday and when contact was lost with the officer, an apprehension task force was mobilized.

Tshamba surrendered with his attorney and will face 1st degree Murder charges as well as charges of using a firearm in commission of a crime of violence in connection with last Saturday's shooting death of Tyrone Brown.

Bealefeld commended the BPD Homicide Section and Warrant Apprehension Task Force for their diligence and swift action in investigating this case and organizing a complex manhunt to bring Tshamba to justice.

"The Baltimore Police Department is committed to holding itself
accountable to the citizens Baltimore," said Bealefeld. "The men and women of the agency protect and serve our City with the highest integrity. The allegations against Gahiji Tshamba in this incident are an aberration and affront to us all." 

The Commissioner also acknowledged the hard work of Homicide Commander Terrence McLarney and lead Detective Shawn Reichenberg who literally worked around the clock since the onset of this investigation. McLarney and Reichenberg worked closely with city prosecutors to secure Friday's arrest warrant.

The BPD will continue to work with Baltimore States Attorney's Office to support this investigation.

June 12, 2010

Baltimore police release wanted poster of cop

Baltimore police tonight released a poster and photos of Officer Tshamba A. Gahiji, who is wanted in a warrant charged with first-degree murder. The 36-year-old officer is the subject of an intense manhunt tonight in connection with last Saturday's fatal shooting of an unarmed former Marine outside a Mount Vernon nightclub.

 

 

BOLO - Gahiji Tshamba June 12[1]

June 11, 2010

Warrant issued for Officer Tshamba; early attempts to locate unsuccessful

Breaking now: Police are searching for Baltimore police officer Gahiji A. Tshamba after obtaining a warrant charging him with first-degree murder in the death of an unarmed man who was shot outside a Mount Vernon club.

The charges come seven days after police say a night of clubbing ended with Tshamba's shooting former Marine Tyrone Brown nine times at close range. On Friday afternoon, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy met with senior prosecutors and authorized a warrant for his arrest.

Authorities attempted to negotiate a surrender with Tshamba's attorney, Adam Sean Cohen, but were not initially successful Friday evening. Police then authorized the Regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force to begin searching for the officer. He had not been located in the first hours of searching.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:36 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Breaking news, Police shootings
        

Off-duty Maryland Trooper shot, killed

An off-duty Maryland State Trooper working security at an Applebee's in Prince George's County was shot and killed early today.

This just in from the Associated Press:

Officer Henry Tippett said Trooper Wesley Brown escorted a disorderly customer Thursday night from the Applebee's on Donnell Drive in Forestville. Tippett said when Brown was leaving the restaurant around 12:40 a.m. Friday, the customer shot him in the parking lot. Brown was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Gov. Martin O'Malley issued this statement not long ago: 

“Early this morning, TFC Wesley Brown was tragically shot and killed while serving security detail at a local restaurant in Forestville.  Tragedies like this remind us all how fragile life can be, and that the men and women of our public safety agencies risk their lives on a daily basis to keep the people of our State safe.  I’ve visited with Trooper Brown’s family this morning and extended my most sincere condolences.  The thoughts and prayers of all Marylanders are with them on this very sad day.

“The Maryland State Police, Prince George’s County Police, local and federal law enforcement are working tirelessly to investigate this incident, capture the suspect, and bring this killer to justice.”

Man shot by police had hands up: sources

More details spill out by the day on the shooting by the off-duty city officer of the unarmed former Marine during a dispute outside a Mount Vernon bar. Today we learn that the victim, Tyrone Brown, may have had his hands in the air when Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba shot him nine times.

Also, police sources tell us that Brown's shirt had a heat imprint from the muzzle blast of the gun, indicating one or more of the shots could've been fired from as close as 5 inches away (Tshamba is at left, in a WBAL-TV photo).

Detectives have interviewed seven key witnesses -- three who were with the officer and say he identified himself as a cop and that Brown shoved him after Brown patted the officer's female companion on the rear end. Two were with the victim and say Brown apologized and tried to walk away but Tshamba wouldn't let him. Two others described as independent backed the latter version of events. And police sources say that evdience found at the scene, including shell casings, are inconsistent with the events as described by the officer's friends.

It's unusual to have this much detail in an unfolding case. But cops are leaking like crazy because they hear angry public sentiment over why prosecutors haven't yet charged Tshamba with a crime. They also seem to believe that this is one of the worst police-involved shootings they've seen in a long, long time.

Brown's funeral is Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Morgan State University's auditorium. By then, maybe they'll be an arrest and charges. Prosecutors are hanging tough, saying they want an air-tight case before moving foward.

Part of this is a continuing fight between Jessamy and police that has gone back years to the O'Malley administration. Who can forget when Jessamy dropped charges against a city cop accused of planting evidence on an innocent man? O'Malley fumed in a profanity-laced tirade while Jessamy complained that the police investigation had failed.

They don't want a repeat.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:43 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings, Top brass
        

June 10, 2010

Police shoot dog, hit teen

Sometimes it appears the Baltimore Police Department can't catch a break.

Here's a police twitter announcement from last night: "POLICE INVOLVED SHOOTING - Fenwick / 29th St. Prelim info, officer shoots dog, bullet passes through and strikes juvenile in leg."

Everyone turned out OK, but coming just days after the controversial shooting in Mount Vernon, this one came as a shock. Police shoot a dog attacking a teenager and a bullet hits the teen. The dog also died.

Police said the teens had been harassing the dog in a Northeast Baltimore neighborhood.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:04 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Northeast Baltimore, Police shootings
        

More city cops in trouble

A Baltimore police officer took the witness stand in his own defense on Wednesday, saying he felt threatened by a suspected drug dealer who he thought was going for a gun when he shot him in the back on the parking lot of a Northeast Baltimore shopping center two years ago.

Officer Tommy Sanders told jurors about growing up in troubled Park Heights and how that formed his opinion policing the drugs and violence in the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. Prosecutors say the officer needlessly shot the man in the back after stopping and searching him.

The trial at the Baltimore Circuit Courthouse comes amid the furor over the shooting on Saturday in Mount Vernon in which an off-duty officer killed an unarmed former Marine over a slight to the officer's female companion. Sanders is the first city police officer to be charged with manslaughter for an on-duty shooting since 1996.

But that's not all.

Adding to this week's bad news for the department, in yet another courtroom in the city, this time with the feds, Officer Gregory M. Mussmacher is being tried on civil rights charges and obstruction of justice in connection with the beating of a 17-year-old boy five years ago. The U.S. Justice Department is prosecuting, and the case is expected to conclude soon.

Mussmacher was found guilty by a Baltimore Circuit Court jury in 2005 of misdemeanor assault and misconduct in office for striking the teen in 2004. But his conviction was overturned on appeal, and the feds took up the case. Two other officers, now retired, also faced charges but pleaded guilty in federal court and testified against Mussmacher.

Here is some background from a Baltimore Sun article by Tricia Bishop published in April 2009:

Continue reading "More city cops in trouble " »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:33 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Courts and the justice system, Police shootings, Top brass
        

Tshamba's turbulent past

The Baltimore police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man who slighted a woman has a long history of questionable behavior both on and off the force.

Today, the Baltimore Sun documents part of this officer's life that includes two other shootings -- one that earned him an award for saving a colleague's life, another committed while drunk and angry over getting cut off in his vehicle. He also has a string of personal and financial problems (he's at left, in a WBAL photo).

Police have turned their investigation over to prosecutors and are pushing for charges soon. But word is prosecutors might push the probe into next week, saying they want to conduct more interviews and gather more evidence. Meanwhile, the public seethes as the officer continues to work a desk as questions rise over whether he's being shielded from arrest because he's a cop.

And questions still are being asked about why Tshamba kept his job -- with only an 8-day suspension -- for shooting a teenager in the foot while being off-duty and drunk. That shooting seems to fit the pattern what happened Saturday in Mount Vernon.

In both cases, the officers appears to have gotten angry over personal slights -- in Mount Vernon, the former Marine patted the officer's female companion on the rear-end, and in the 2005 shooting, a group of young men shouting racial slurs cut him off. And each time, Tshamba took it upon himself to act instead of calling for help.

Police in 2005 ruled the shooting of the teen justified but suspended him for being drunk with a firearm. It's hard to imagine that the police force still wanted him around when he's shooting while drunk (his blood alcohol was .12 percent). We still haven't gotten answers from commanders on that questions (it was a different police administration at the time).

We've obtained the letter sent by prosecutors to police in the 2005 shooting, indicating they declined to prosecute. This is for the purposes of criminal prosecution, not adminstrative sanctions, which would come later and result in the suspension. Still, I would think the fact the officer was legally drunk when he opened fire might play a role in whether he was neglegent:

Continue reading "Tshamba's turbulent past" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:04 AM | | Comments (3)
        

June 9, 2010

Officer was legally drunk in 05 off-duty shooting

It's difficult for anyone to second guess the actions of an officer made in the heat of the moment of a potentially life-threatening situation. Officer Gahiji Tshamba, under scrutiny and likely facing serious charges for killing an unarmed man over the weekend, faced what sounds like a harrowing situation in September 2005: The way he tells it, an SUV full of men pulled up next to him, with its occupants hurling racial epithets, spitting on his car, and throwing a beer bottle. As he followed them, they turned around, and slammed into his vehicle before getting out and coming towards him in a menacing manner. He fired five shots, striking one of them. The men offered a different take, though they admitted driving at him. And the victim was so intoxicated he claimed to have no memory of the events at all.

Was Tshamba's decision to shoot justified? The state's attorney's office felt that it was, and cleared him of criminal wrongdoing. 

But what seems less debatable and may cast some doubt on his account is the fact that, according to investigative records, Tshamba was driving drunk at the time of the incident.

When an Eastern District lieutenant arrived on the scene, he suspected Tshamba was impaired and ordered him to submit to a Breathalyzer - something Tshamba refused on Saturday - and he registered a .12 blood alcohol level. That's above the legal limit of .08.

Though Tshamba was cleared in the shooting, the department disciplined him for being intoxicated.  A year later, Tshamba wrecked his car after losing control and crashing into a gas station. Alcohol was not listed as a factor, but the car was not insured and was unregistered. All in all, those are just more questionable decisions in the recent history of an officer who is being closely scrutinized.

Prosecutors continue to mull charges in Saturday's shooting.  In this article, Peter Hermann gives a rundown of the perplexing police shooting cases that have come across the desk of State's Attorney Patricia A. Jessamy, and how her office has handled them over the years. Those cases deal with on-duty shootings, though it is still instructive to see the factors weighed by prosecutors and why the process can take some time.

"I will not send a message to police officers that I will impose my judgment in place of theirs when they act within the scope of their training and the law," she said at the time. "I will not, because of personal or political consideration, create a climate where police officers hesitate to protect a citizen or themselves."

And speaking of police charged criminally for shooting citizens on-duty, the trial for Officer Thomas Sanders, the first officer charged since the 1990s, began Monday with opening arguments. Sanders' defense attorney said that he was only following his training when he shot Edward Hunt after Hunt ran away during a 2008 arrest. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:26 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: East Baltimore, Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings, Top brass
        

June 8, 2010

Baltimore police to review policy of armed cops in bars

In a post yesterday, I published the language of the Baltimore Police Department's rules and regulations pertaining to off-duty cops intervening in on-going crimes, the policy about carrying guns when not on the job.

Today, Baltimore Sun reporter Nick Madigan reveals that city police are reviewing the policy that mandates police officers be armed at all times while within the city limits, except when sound jugment indicates otherwise. You'd that includes a bar. But it doesn't, as we see from Saturday's shooting by an off-duty city police officer of an unarmed ex-Marine who had touched the officer's female companion in an inappropriate way.

Nick also talks to officials in other jurisdictions about their policies. Nick writes:

The internal review is being undertaken as a matter of course and not because the rules "aren't strict enough," Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman, said Monday. Of particular interest is whether off-duty officers should be permitted to carry guns when they expect to be drinking alcohol.

"What we ask of officers is that they use common sense and good judgment," Guglielmi said. "They wouldn't take their guns into a swimming pool, and they shouldn't take their guns into a liquor establishment when they know they are going to get intoxicated.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Police shootings, Top brass
        

Probe into police shooting continues

Baltimore prosecutors plan to re-interview key witnesses in the fatal police shooting in Mount Vernon on Saturday, which could delay by a several days any decision on whether to charge Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba.

The officer remains at the center of a firestorm over his shooting of unarmed ex-Marine Tyrone Brown, who patted the officer's female companion on her rear-end and ended up in a confrontation that left him dead in an alley off East Eager Street.

As the investigation moves forward, several details have been updated. Police had originally said Tshamba had been inside Eden's Garden, though the managor disputed that, though he admitted that the officer is a frequent customer. On Monday, police said Tshamba had been in the Red Maple, about a block away.

Also, police initially said that Tshamba fired 13 of the 14 bullets inside his department-issued Glock handgun, hitting Brown six times. On Monday, they said Brown actually had been hit nine times in the chest and groin. Police still say they have not learned of any reason why Tshamba might have feard for his life.

The officer has not yet given a statement to investigators, and he refused to let them conduct a breath test to determine whether he had been drinking. The officer shot a man in the foot in 2005, and while the shooting was ruled justified, police disciplined him for being intoxicated at the time. On Monday, police said they talked to people at various clubs and learned that Tshamba had been seen with a drink hin his hand, though it could not be determined if it was alcohol.

On Monday, Marvin L. Cheatham Sr., the president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, wrote this letter to Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi:

Continue reading "Probe into police shooting continues" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:16 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Gahiji Tshamba, Police shootings, Top brass
        

June 7, 2010

Should off-duty cops carry guns into bars?

Many are asking legitimate questions about whether police officers should be allowed to carry guns while off-duty and in bars in light of Saturday's fatal shooting of a man in Mount Vernon during a dispute over a woman. Police are trying to determine whether the officer was intoxicated at the time.

Whether this case prompts a ban or a review of the rules will be up to police commanders. Baltimore City police officers are guided by several rules, some of which appear contradictory, but are designed to allow them to exercise sound judgment when dealing with their weapons. In fact, they can get into trouble if they don't intervene in crimes that occurr in their presence even when they're off duty.

Generally, they are required to be armed at all times, off-duty and on, when within the city limits. But there are of course exceptions.

Here is a sampling of some of the rules city police officers operate under, taken directly from the official Rules and Regulations of the Baltimore Police Department:

"Members of the Department are sworn in as peace officers of Baltimore City and, as such, are considered to be on-duty or read for duty at all times. Failure to stop and perform the necessary police duties while off-duty or on leave shall be considered neglect of duty."

In another section:

"All members of the Department are prohibited from indulgence in intoxicating liquors while on duty, or while off duty in uniform or partial uniform. ... Memberes, while off-duty, shall refrain from consuming intoxicating beverages to the extent that it results in obnoxious or offensive behavior which would discredit them or the Department, or to such extent that at the time of the member's next regular tour of duty they are impaired or intoxicated and thereby unfit for duty."

And in yet another section:

"All sorn members of the Department shall be suitably armed at all times when on-duty. Sworn members, off-duty, within the City of Baltimore, shall be suitably armed, except at such times, or under such circumstances, or when engaged in such activities as a prudent person would reasonably conclude the wearing of a firearm to be inappropriate."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:32 AM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Confronting crime, Police shootings, Top brass
        

June 6, 2010

Officer in nightclub shooting had earlier alcohol-related shooting

The Baltimore City police officer suspected of killing a man behind a Mount Vernon club early Saturday after a night of reveling was disciplined by the city police department five years ago for shooting a man while intoxicated.

Gahiji A. Tshamba, a 15-year veteran of the city police force, shot a man in the foot after an off-duty confrontation outside a bar or restaurant in September 2005, a police spokesman said. Investigators and prosecutors determined that the shooting was justified, but Tshamba was disciplined internally because he was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

Police detectives are trying to determine if Tshamba was under the influence early Saturday morning when he fired his department-issued weapon 13 times at an unarmed man. Tyrone Brown, a 32-year-old former Marine from East Baltimore, was hit six times in the chest and groin and died less than an hour later.

Click here for more on this follow-up by The Sun's Robert Little. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Police shootings
        

June 5, 2010

Cop involved in shooting has shot someone before

We're learning more about the off-duty Baltimore police officer who shot and killed a man outside a Mount Vernon bar early Saturday. The officer, Gahiji A. Tshamba, was apparently angry that the victim, Tyrone Brown, (at left) had patted the behind of the officer's female companion.

Brown, an Iraqi war veteran, was only joking, his relatives said. But it quickly escalated into a shooting. Police commander say, however, they've found no evidence to indicate Tshamba's life was in danger when he pulled the trigger.

The officer has refused to give a breath test or make a statement, though his representative in the police union says a statement will be delivered soon. Still, the shooting raises all sorts of questions about off-duty officers who carry their weapons while out drinking and whether this dispute got out of hand.

Many more details about the officer, including a prior shooting, and about the victim, are on the Baltimore Sun's Internet site.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 5:22 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Police shootings
        

Police update shooting outside bar

Baltimore police have updated details surrounding the police-involved shooting from earlier today outside Eden Lounge the Mount Vernon, Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood. At this point, it does not look good for the officer involved.

At left, Maj. Terrence McLarney, head of the homicide unit, joins police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi in briefing reporters at a 7 a.m. news conference. Here are some new details:

An-off duty Baltimore police officer repeatedly shot and killed an unarmed man who witnesses said  groped the officer’s female companion outside a Mount Vernon nightclub early Saturday, a shooting that top department commanders say they find troubling.

While police said numerous witnesses confirmed that the victim had physically and inappropriately touched the woman and fought the officer, spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives have “not been able to find a concrete motive” as to why the officer felt he needed to take out his weapon and fire.

The victim, identified as East Baltimore resident Tyrone Brown, 32, was shot at least six times in the chest and groin, according to the police spokesman. The officer, a 15-year veteran assigned to the Eastern District patrol division, fired his department issued Glock handgun at least 13 times, officials said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale has been ordered to be “intimately involved in the investigation.” A police spokesman said the officer refused to make a statement and declined to submit to a breath test to determine whether he had been drinking alcohol.

For more:

Continue reading "Police update shooting outside bar" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:55 AM | | Comments (6)
        

City officer shoots man after bar dispute

An off-duty Baltimore police officer who had just emerged from a bar shot and killed a man early today outside the Eden Lounge in Mid-Town Belvedere after the man apparently made advances toward the officer's female companion, according to a department spokesman.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has ordered senior commanders to oversee the investigation. The commanders will want to know whether the officer had been drinking and whether it was prudent for him to carry his weapon while at the establishment.

Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the man had been shot several times during the altercation, which occurred in the first block of East Eager Street about 1:30 a.m. Officers are required to carry their weapons while off-duty in the city but exceptions are made for when they are in situation during which being armed would not be practical. That would include swimming or even drinking; it's up to the individual officer.

"We ask them to use their judgment," Guglielmi said.

Police said in a early morning Twitter message that the officer had shot the man in the back. In a later statement, Guglielmi said the man had been shot several times. The names of the officer and the dead man were not immediately released.

UPDATE: Guglielmi said the original Twitter was incorrect and that the man had been shot at least six times in the chest. He said detectives recovered eight shell casings from the scene. He also said the officer refused to take a breath test to determine how much he had to drink. It is is his legal right to refuse. The officer has been placed on desk duty during the investigation.

In May, an off-duty police officer shot and wounded a man who authorities said was trying to break into his car on East Chase and North Charles streets, about a block away from this latest shooting.

Here is Guglielmi's statement:

Baltimore Police are investigating an officer-involved shooting which took place outside the Eden Lounge nightclub in the unit block of Eager Street in the Central District at approximately 130am.

Preliminary investigation indicates an off-duty officer (15 year veteran - assigned to the Eastern District Patrol Division) was leaving the nightclub when an individual approached and made advances towards the officer's female companion.  The incident escalated into a verbal argument which turned physical. 

The officer removed his departmental issued service weapon and shot the individual multiple times. The shooting victim was later pronounced at Shock Trauma Hospital at 218am.

At this time investigators are interviewing witnesses and determining if alcohol was a factor in the incident. Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld has order senior commanders to oversee the investigation through its entirety.

This information is preliminary and subject to change.  We will update the media as information becomes available.  A briefing will be scheduled for later this morning - stay tuned for details.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 5:56 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Police shootings
        

May 22, 2010

Police shoot man outside Belvedere

[UPDATE: The shooting happened across the street from the Belvedere, in a lot next to Brewer's Art.  Police say the officer was having dinner when he heard a car alarm going off and went to investigate. He encountered a man breaking into his vehicle and saw the man reach for something. He shot the man in the leg. Police say the suspect was reaching for a screwdriver.]

Details are still coming in, but Baltimore police say an officer shot a man outside the Belvedere in Mount Vernon early this morning. This is an historic apartment building with several bars and clubs inside, including the Owl Bar and the 13th Floor.

It also was home to Suite Ultralounge, which if you recall was at the center of last summer's controversy over crime and kids out late in neighborhoods from the Inner Harbor to Mount Vernon. The battle over the bottle club pitted residents against youngsters, bar owners and put the city's night life on trial.

Now, we're barely into the summer season and we get this from city cops, sent out on the police Twitter page about 12:45 a.m.: "POLICE INVOLVED SHOOTING- 1 Chase St- Prelim. A susp shot in leg after pointing suspected weapon during attempted car break-in. Officer ok."

City police are having a news conference at 10 a.m. to provide more details.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Police shootings
        

March 27, 2010

Man acquitted in police shooting incident; files civil suit

From the start, Fenyanga Muhammad maintained his innocence. Shot four times by police in what was described as a drug bust gone wrong in 2007, Muhammad said he hadn't swallowed drugs as police claimed. As for his resistance as police tried to arrest him, he claimed that was because the police officers grabbing him behind caused him to choke on a Popsicle stick that had been in his mouth and which was visible in crime scene photos. He was shot three times across his back, and once in the hand.

On Friday, a city jury agreed with his account, acquitting Chestnut Muhammad, also known as Donnie Chestnut, of all charges. By that time, the case against him had already dwindled significantly - test results showed he had no drugs in his system, nixing the initial drug charges. And prosecutors had also dropped charges of assaulting one of the officers. The lone assault charges against one officer were disposed of by the jury in short order.

"We have fought hard for three years to prove my innocence," said Muhammad, who is now 40 and hasn't been charged with a crime since age 22, when he was convicted of receiving a stolen credit card. "This has been a psychological drainage on me. I can't express the relief that I feel."

So confident in his innocence, Chestnut and his attorney Granville Templeton had a civil lawsuit already drawn up that they filed and served on Officers Donald Muir and Hassan Rasheed right after the verdict came in.

Continue reading "Man acquitted in police shooting incident; files civil suit" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 7:50 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Courts and the justice system, Police shootings
        

March 24, 2010

Outrage over shooting of police

I knew publishing an article on the family of the man accused of shooting two Baltimore police officers would generate anger. It's never easy to write about somebody involved in such a tragic crime, and readers intrepret any space given to unsympathetic characters a waste and an indication that we at the paper endorse their stance.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We simply try to explore every angle possible (we also published a story today looking at the troubled McElderry Park neighborhood). Today's story notes that the mother, grandmother and cousin of Thomas Tavon Miller -- who police said shot two officers early Sunday on McElderry Street during a traffic stop and then was killed by the officers -- were angry at the way their son was portrayed and that the city's top cop called him an "idiot." (the 80-year-old grandmother challenged the police commissioner to fight!)

The story notes Miller's long record that includes just one alleged violent act and convictions for marijuana in Maryland and Texas. I'm very careful here to not let the family accuse police of executing their son or to say anything about the actual shooting that they did not witness. I tried to track down one of the other people in the car but I couldn't. But if it's the person I think it is, he has a far more violent record for guns than does Miller. Police didn't charge the two others in the vehicle.

This story was but one small piece of a larger story published over the past several days. These sorts of stories tend to dribble out. Read it and be angry -- at the family for what they say, at Miller for what police say he did. We try to explore every aspect of the shooting, and that includes trying to learn why Miller might've opened fire on police Sunday morning. And that means talking to his family to learn all we can. I'd love to talk to the two police officers who were wounded as well.

Here are some of the comments posted on the story: 

Continue reading "Outrage over shooting of police" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:33 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Confronting crime, East Baltimore, Police shootings
        

March 22, 2010

Anger after police officers shot

Update: Both police officers were released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center this afternoon.

A day after two Baltimore police officers were shot on a traffic stop on McElderry Street, nothing but anger (and new word of another shooting Sunday night of a pregnant woman in West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood):

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld: He calls the gunman, who was shot and killed, an "idiot" and says: "These guys are walking and riding around the streets of Baltimore armed. They pose an incredible danger to all of us. ... the adjectives can't be harsh enough. And the penalties can't be harsh enough."

Police union chief Robert Cherry:  "If they are willing to use [gun] against three armed police officers, what is going to stop them from using it on someone else?"

Ernest Smith, president of the McElderry Park Community Association: "We've been working toward changing the mind-set and changing the community. As these things, these numbers go up again, it's a concern. It's quite discouraging."

March 21, 2010

Two officers injured, suspect killed in overnight shooting

UPDATE: The two officers wounded in the shooting were Officer Keith Romans (shot in the face) and Officer Jordan Moore (shot in the hand), according to a law enforcement source. Both officers appear to be very new to the force - neither has any arrests in the court database prior to February 2009, meaning they've likely been on the streets for just over a year. No word yet on the victim's identity.

Baltimore police say two officers were shot during a traffic stop and are in serious but stable condition. The suspected shooter was killed by return fire.

Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the shooting happened about 12:21 a.m. Sunday. Three officers, part of the BPD's Monument Street initiative launched last year to combat a spate of violence in that area, had pulled over the suspected shooter for an unknown traffic offense and smelled marijuana. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the officers were taking the occupants into custody when one of the officers and the 30-year-old driver of the vehicle got into an altercation.

"The struggle quickly became so violent that the other two officers went to his assistance, and all three were trying to get that man under control," Bealefeld told WBAL Radio. 

The suspect was able to break free and get back to his vehicle, where he drew a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun and opened fire, Bealefeld said. One of the officers was struck in the right cheek, with the bullet lodging in his jaw, and another was hit in the hand, nearly severing his finger, in the ensuing gun battle. The suspect was hit several times and died at the scene, Bealefeld said.

The Monument Street corridor is one of the city's areas that is both high-traffic and high-crime, and last year police deployed additional resources there after 18 people were shot at a cookout and several people were fatally shot in separate incidents.

We don't know the names of the officers or the suspect, but we'll update as we learn more. I don't have my spreadsheets with me, but if my memory serves me this is the third police-involved shooting of the year, which is behind last year's pace.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:07 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Police shootings, Southeast Baltimore
        

January 30, 2010

Police reverse policy on naming officers who shoot

Today we reported on a reversal by the Police Department, reinstating the decades-long policy of naming officers who shoot or kill. Police quietly began withholding the names - possibly in violation of state law - in late 2008, and in January 2009 we got them to confirm that it was in fact a policy shift. To many, it wasn't so much about knowing any individual officer's name, but the symbolism of a department that was seeking to rebuild trust with the community seemingly on a whim deciding to restrict the information. They hit plenty of stumbling blocks, including the admission that none of the 23 threats against police that they had used to justify the change were related to police shootings. A cat-and-mouse game ensued, redacting names from public documents, or writing only an officer's badge number in charging documents.

Policies vary from city to city, but all Maryland departments release the names and St. Louis police just reversed their policy and no longer withhold them. "There will be times when, to protect cases or lives, the department will withhold information that should be available to the public. But, those occasions should be rare," said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

So what caused yesterday's change of heart? The department says publicly that they were just taking their time to weigh opinions from various stakeholders. But that doesn't hold much water considering the Fraternal Order of Police and the incoming mayor weren't even given a heads up until the decision had been made. It probably has more to do with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake about to take over as mayor - of course, we reminded everyone on this blog earlier this month that Rawlings-Blake was against the police department's decision last year to withhold the names, though aides told me that as a remedy she was leaning towards posting investigative documents online and keeping the names restricted. Will this work as a pre-emptive strike by the police department or will she push her idea?

 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings, Top brass
        

January 7, 2010

Mayor Rawlings-Blake and police

As I was putting together a blog post to address questions regarding whether City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake might seek a shake-up at the Police Department when she takes over as mayor Feb. 4, Rawlings-Blake just answered the question directly during a press conference, saying she will not seek to replace Frederick Bealefeld III with her own appointee. 

Here's what she said:

"Commissioner Bealefeld's numbers speak for themselves. We have made great strides. If you look at the last 10 years of the last century, and the first 10 years of this century, you will see a safer Baltimore, a city where in many communities, when I was graduating from college, you wouldn't walk in those neighborhoods. Now they're some of the biggest rent districts in the city. We've made progress, and I want to protect and work off that momentum."

So the bigger storyline to watch - from a crime perspective - then becomes whether Rawlings-Blake has any policing ideas that she'll move to implement. Mayor Sheila Dixon and Bealefeld, from all public accounts, have been on the same page as far as police strategy, with Dixon never urging Bealefeld to change course or implement rushed policies in response to spikes in crimes. But Rawlings-Blake may have initiatives, large or small, that she wants to install once she inherits the keys to the city.

We know that she's spoken out about crime cameras, including in a letter to the editor to The Sun just this week, saying she wants to "expand and enhance" the city's existing network, and last February summoned Bealefeld to City Hall for a briefing about the effect of overtime spending on the homicide rate (it spiked in November 2008 amid a cutback in overtime spending). She also urged the police department to make better use of text messaging to alert citizens of crime in their neighborhood, something that department moved to do but hasn't made much use of.

Today, I was cleaning up my desk, a semi-annual ritual, and came across a letter that she and Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young sent Bealefeld one year ago today, urging transparency in terms of naming officers who shoot or kill citizens. For decades, police have released the name of officers involved in shootings, but reversed course in late 2007, opting to withhold the names except when, essentially, the officers is deemed to clearly have acted heroically and appropriately. Amid controversy, Dixon ordered Bealefeld to rethink the policy, but nothing has changed. Could Rawlings-Blake order Bealefeld to reverse this policy?

Here's the text of the letter:

Continue reading "Mayor Rawlings-Blake and police" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall, Police shootings
        

December 22, 2009

On naming officers who shoot

Earlier this year, Baltimore police said they would stop releasing the names of officers who shoot or kill citizens, breaking with a decades-long practice still in effect in surrounding jurisdictions. Among the reasons they cited were 23 threats against officers in 2008 (nevermind that none related to police shootings and some were even made against officers by other officers), while pointing to several big city police departments who do not release the names. Police later said they would rethink the policy, though not much has changed. The name is released if the police commissioner decides that the officer should be commended for their actions; when an officers' actions are in question, the name is suppressed. My records show police have identified officers in five of this year's 22 police shootings.

Take St. Louis off that list of other cities who hold the names back. As Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this weekend, the chief there ordered city lawyers to modify their policy to allow the release of officers' names.

Continue reading "On naming officers who shoot" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:28 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Police shootings
        

December 15, 2009

Another police shooting

The headline reads "two in two days," but there's now been four within the city limits within the past 12 days. This one involved Baltimore County police, who tracked a robbery suspect to his probation agent's office and ended up staring down a .50 caliber firearm. Since the shooting took place in the city, BPD detectives will investigate.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Beaefeld III visited the scene, as he did yesterday when a man was shot by city police in Brooklyn outside a District Courthouse. With the year winding down, the commissioner is getting louder about his frustration with those who carry guns and what he sees as consistent slaps on the wrist by the judicial system. Perhaps he's recalling last New Year's Eve, when the commissioner himself arrested two people who fired guns into the air, only to see them enter plea deals in August that did not require them to serve jail time after Judge Martin P. Welch intervened.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 5:41 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Breaking news, Police shootings
        

Man shot by cops dies; has murder conviction

Just learned that the man shot by police in Brooklyn Monday afternoon died overnight at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police identified him as Michael S. Guest, 32, of West Baltimore, and a quick check of court records reveals that he's a convicted murderer.

We're still trying to find detailed court records; the dates we have at the moment are confusing, but it appears the slaying occurred in 1993 and he was convicted in 2000 of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, with four years suspended, and he later violated his probation. He also has a drug convction in from 2000 for which he was senteced to eight years in prison.

And looking back to this past Friday, a man who police shot while holding up a Hampden liquor store also had a previous convction, for attempted armed robbery, and got a suspended three-year sentence.

All this adds up to more frustration for Baltimore's police commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who is complaining now more than ever about bad guys with guns and how they remain free on city streets.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:17 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Police shootings
        

December 11, 2009

Family struggles to understand shooting; police account doesn't jibe with man they knew

Twenty-year-old Byron Matthews didn't fit the profile of a guy who points guns at police officers, according to his family. The father of twin girls graduated from Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy in 2008, worked on his off-days at a wine and spirits distribution company in Jessup, and had no brushes with the law as a juvenile or as an adult.

His family is seeking answers after he was shot and killed by police officers shortly after midnight Wednesday during a drug investigation. Police say he pointed a .38-caliber revolver at plainclothes detectives and was found in possession of heroin, an image that family, friends and co-workers are having trouble reconciling with his reputation.

"Byron was never in trouble. He is not the monster he's being portrayed to be," said an aunt, Janet Robertson, 47. "If they say they've got a tape that shows him and he had a gun, then I'm going to have to respect what they did. But until then, we want justice."
Posted by Justin Fenton at 8:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods, Police shootings, West Baltimore
        

December 10, 2009

Another police shooting; double standard?

A shooting by a Baltimore police officer early Wednesday brings the total this year to 21, the same as in 2008. Seven of the people shot, including the latest man, died, which is six fewer than last year.

We're still dealing with a policy in which city police withhold names of officers who fire their weapons, but there are exceptions. Officials released the name of one officer involved in a recent shooting of a robbery suspect in Hampden, calling him a hero, while withholding the name of two officers who shot a man who they said pointed a gun at them.

Apparently they're not heroes. Seems very odd.

I wonder how that makes the officers feel who shot and killed 20-year-old Byron Ranard Matthews in the 2300 block of West Baltimore St. early Wednesday. A sergeant and an officer shot the man after police said he ran during a drug investigation. Police said Ranard circled a block and pulled a .38 caliber revolver and pointed it at the officers.

Their names were withheld. But a police spokesman said Officer Adam Braskich was the off-duty cop who shot and critically wouunded a man who police said was holding up a liquor store on Falls Road in Hampden on Friday night.

For stopping the robbery, he was named a "hero."

This policy is supposedly still being reviewed. Below is a copy of a news release sent out recently by the Maryland State Police on a police involved shooting by a trooper. The shooting occurred about 6:15 p.m. and this detailed account, which includes the name of the trooper who fired, came out the same night:

Continue reading "Another police shooting; double standard?" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:07 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Police shootings
        

October 22, 2009

Police credibility -- top official ousted, youth shot

Baltimore police moved to restore some credibility to its disciplinary process by getting rid of its head of the equal employment opportunity commission. We learned earlier this year that Kim Y. Johnson had been moonlighting as a defense attorney for suspects arrested by cops in her own department, all while collecting a $94,000 city salary.

Now, she's either resigned or been forced out.

The move comes just weeks after the department clarified the kinds of cases she could work on during her own time. She was allowed to represent people in cases such as bankruptcy, but not those accused of crimes. Then a website InvestigativeVoice.com invoked her name in a dispute over a falsified discrimination complaint.

My question is when does Johnson find time to be a private attorney when she's got so much work to do in the Police Department? We've seen over and over investigations into misconduct gone awry -- many charges were thrown out because simple filing dealines were not met.

The city deserves a competent and open process to ensure its police force is above-board and working to resolve one of the most vexing problems Baltimore faces, and the cops deserve a system that treats them fairly.

While we're talking about credibility, a city police officer shot and critically wounded a 14-year-old boy Wednesday night on West Lexington St. Police say the boy had been armed with a BB pistol and had just robbed somebody. When the officer pulled up, the victim, a third-year medical student at the University of Maryland, yelled, "He's got a gun," police said.

A department spokesman said the youth ignored the officer's warnings to drop the weapon and turned toward him. The officer fired two shots, hitting the youth at least once in the stomach.

Police have routinely declined to release the names of officers who shoot people, and now are even finding ways to get around identifying them in initial court documents filed along with criminal charges. They haven't yet released the name of the wounded boy, and might not, and will most certainly regard the medical student as a witness to a crime and deem his name unreleasable as well.

All of this will eventually come out in court, if the youth survives, and if charges are filed, but it's impossible for the citizens to ascertain anything more about the incident other than what police have put forward without information that in years past was made public as a matter of routine. The policy of withholding names of officers in such circumstances has been under review for roughly 10 months now and the City Council hasn't followed up prior hearings on the issue.

Police who legitimately fire their weapons to protect themselves or others should have nothing to fear and open process. And the citizens deserve to have information to satisfy themselves that their police force is beyond reproach.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:41 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Police shootings, Top brass
        

October 8, 2009

Honoring a fallen officer

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting death of Baltimore Police Officer William J. Martin (at left, in picture from Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3), who at the age of 37 was shot in the head in an ambush while investigating drug dealing in an apartment building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Other officers returned fire and wounded the suspect, who is serving a life sentence.

On Saturday afternoon, 20 years to the day of Martin's death, a flag will be flown over the White House in Washington in his honor. It will then be escorted up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and will be presented to Martin's eldest son, William J. Martin Jr., at Hogan's Alley bar at 1501 Covington St., at East Fort Avenue.

The public is welcome to attend and should be at the tavern no later than 1:30 p.m. to meet the police escort.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Police shootings
        

September 23, 2009

Police shoot man

Two Baltimore police officers shot and critically wounded a man this morning in Northeast Baltimore who apparently was waving a spatula. Police initially said the officers thought the man was charging them with an edged weapon.

Details are still a bit murky, but cops got a call for a mental patient in the 2400 block of Bridgehampton Drive and said that paramedics approached him first and ran when he emerged with a shiny object in his hand. Police then approached and a department spokesman said they shot him when he refused to put the object down. Police later said the man charged at the officers and it was dark, so it was difficult for them to determine what he had in his hand.

It's unclear as of this moment what exactly the paramedics and the officers saw the man holding. Police told us this morningt that the man called police asking for his mother and a member of the clergy and that he might have been trying to commit what is known as "suicide by cop."

Hopefully, more details will emerge later in the day. This morning's shooting was the 13th involving a city officer this year, compared with 20 in 2008 and 33 in 2007.

Police do have a variety of non-lethal weapons they can use to try and difuse a situation without or before resorting to their guns. But each circunstance is unique and doesn't always lend itself to using either a Taser or in some cases, though not every cop carries one, a gun that shoots a bean bag to disable a suspect.

Back in 1999, a Baltimore police officer shot and killed a man after he mistook a cell phone for a gun. But in that case, officers had been searching for the man who had failed to appear for a detention hearing in federal court on a drug case. The officers chased him through alleys in East Baltimore and reported that several times the man stopped and made a gesture as if he had a gun. The officer had shot at him during the chase but missed.

A few minutes later, police said he made the same move on a street and the officer fired and hit him three times, killing him. When they reached him lying on the street, he had a cell phone, not a gun, in his hand. The shooting was ruled justified.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:54 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Police shootings
        

September 16, 2009

City cops shoots man; latest Baltimore mayhem

A Baltimore police officer shot and killed a drug suspect who tried to stab another officer early today in East Baltimore, according to media accounts. Details still still coming in but it's the latest in a series of shootings deemed to be self-defense.

In the latest case, the officer's bullet-resistant vest apparently saved him from serious injury. Just a couple days ago an officer shot a man who police said tried to rob him with a gun outside his Northeast Baltimore home. And on Tuesday, a Johns Hopkins student used a samurai sword to kill a man who had broken into his garage. That case remains under review by city prosecutors.

At left, Baltimore police officers chat at the scene of the samurai sword killing on University Parkway, near the Johns Hopkins campus, in a photo by The Sun's Lloyd Fox. The sword was described as a 3- to 5-foot long razor-sharp weapon.

I'm not sure if we're seeing more of these types of incidents -- officers have been robbed in the past while off-duty and shot back, and there usually are a handful of civilians to fatally wound someone in self-defense. We'll have to see how prosecutor rules on the Hopkins incident.

In this latest case, Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told me that officers assigned to the Monument Street Intiative were arresting people suspected of selling cocaine on Orleans Street about 12:30 this morning when one suspect got lose and "repeatedly stabbed the officer." His partner ordered the man to stop, Guglielmi said, and then shot him, possibly twice.

The wounded man was rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:36 a.m. Guglielmi said the officer was not seriously hurt. The impact "was absorbed by the vest." The officer, whose name and age were not immediately available, was not injured and was not taken to a hospital.

The dead man has not yet been identified.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:01 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Breaking news, Police shootings
        

August 5, 2009

Cop in shooting cases changes story

Baltimore Police Officer Traci L. McKissick changed her story on the witness stand and a man accused of trying to wrest away her gun during an altercation that left another man dead goes free.

This is a big deal in and of itself, but it's more important because back in February city police officials tried to withhold her name from the public citing a new policy of not revealing the identities of officers who shoot their weapons. McKissick and another officer who fired during the fight that killed the suspect's 61-year-old uncle, Joseph Forrest (seen above in a picture held by his sister, Greta, in a photo taken by The Sun's Jed Kirschbaum).

Police had the charged Forrest's nephew, also named Joseph Forrest, with stepping on McKissick's hand and trying to take away her gun. One officer shot the elder Forrest in the chest and McKissick unloaded her service weapon into the man's right thigh.

Police initially refused to name the officers, then blacked McKissick's name from a public police report on a previous shooting she had in 1995 when a suspect stole her weapon. The Sun obtained the name anyway and that led us to documents that countered what police had first told us about McKissick's encounter back in 1995 (instead of being dragged by a vehicle, as police told us, the reports showed she jumped into a car and had her gun stolen by the driver).

Now, on Tuesday, prosecutors were forced to drop charges against the younger Forrest because McKissick, who had identified Forrest as the man who stepped on her, testified in court that the person who tried to get her gun was a "mystery man."

That's quite different from a steadfast identification, an identification that helped a judge back in February order the younger Forrest held in jail without bail until his trial.

The policy of not naming cops who shoot is still being reviewed (it's now been six months) and while some identities of officers have been made public, others such as the most recent shooting of a man during a burglary in Northwest Baltimore have not.

I hope this incident with McKissick shows the department how withholding basic information such as identities prompts unnecessary questions and skepticism, and now that the officer in question has changed her story under oath, that should be taken into account as police investigate the fatal shooting of the elder Forrest.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:06 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Police shootings
        

July 15, 2009

Anne Arundel police chief names cops who shot

It took two weeks, but Anne Arundel County's police chief, James Teare Sr. finally released the names of three officers involved in two shootings last month. The Baltimore Sun's Andrea Siegel details the cases in today's newspaper.

In January, I took Baltimore police to task for changing its policy of quickly releasing the names of police who shoot people, arguing it undermined promises to run an open, transparent and accountable department and prevented the public from learning crucial details of the officers, their past history and the outcomes of the investigation into the shootings. Baltimore police are still reviewing their new policy.

So we wanted to hold Anne Arundel County to the same standard -- officials had told us when we compared the policies of various departments that they release the names within 12 to 24 hours. But when we sought the names in the two most recent shootings, we were told there is no timetable and the  names might not be released until the investigation is complete.

But Teare called me Tuesday afternoon to clarify. There is no timetable, but the chief conceded that two weeks is too long to wait to learn the names of officers who fire their guns. He blamed the delays on the unusual circumstances of dealing with back-to-back-to-back police shootings that also delayed some of the steps the department takes before making names of its officers public.

"It was beyond my normal expectations,” the chief said. “There is no reason for me not to release that information. We are public servants. We are paid by the public and the public should be knowledgeable about what’s going on in the department, especially when deadly force is involved.”

County police spokesman Justin Mulcahy then sent out news releases with the names of the officers — Dwayne Raidford, who had already been named in court charging documents, along with Lt. Harry Peterson, a 20-year veteran, and Officer Walter weeney, who has been on the force four years.

It's refreshing to learn that Teare gets that the names are important, and I hope to city reveals its decision on whether to revamp its own policy.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

July 1, 2009

Baltimore Police crime reporting on line

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III (at left talking about a drug bust, in a picture by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor) went in front of the City Council Tuesday night to talk about how to best inform the public about crime through the Internet. The department through its new spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, has been experimenting with Facebook, Twitter and Nixle, a texting program in which breaking crime and other news alerts can be sent to resident's cell phones and emails in their neighborhoods.

During his discussion, Bealefeld also talked about the still-under-review policy of when and how to name officers who discharge their weapons. Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton was at the hearing and here is his story:

The hearing was called by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who wants the city to provide citywide text or email alerts about robberies, missing persons, auto theft and violent crimes (shootings, etc.). But she also wanted the department to talk transparency when it comes to police involved shootings, an issue that has simmered in recent months.

Rawlings-Blake pointed to Chicago, where an independent police oversight commission posts investigative reports of police-involved shootings on a web site. She held up one report that was 12 pages in length and went into detail about what investigators found when they looked into one particular shooting.

Rawlings-Blake wants Baltimore police to do something similar. Bealefeld noted that his staff looked into the Chicago commission and found it had 53 investigators, 11 supervisors and a budget of $7 million. But Rawlings-Blake noted that the commission and its budget are irrelevant - she said such reports are compiled in Baltimore already by homicide investigators and later, prosecutors, and that the only issue at play here was whether to post them on the Internet or not.

"If we're already doing it, is there some reason why redacted reports are not made available?" she asked.

Bealefeld said he endorsed the idea of posting them online but stopped short of saying the department would do it. He noted that many police-involved shootings become the basis for civil lawsuits.

"That's all possible. That's where we should head. I support doing that, but we need to make sure we're covering the legal bases," he said.

Bealefeld also gave an update on the city's policy regarding naming officers who shoot or kill citizens. The department sparked controversy earlier in the year when it said it would no longer identify the officers, ending a decades-long policy citing safety concerns for the officers. Several other large cities do not name officers who shoot or kill citizens, though others continue to do so, including most Maryland jurisdictions. The department was also unable to support the notion that any officers had faced threats after their names were disclosed following a shooting.

At the urging of Mayor Sheila Dixon, Bealefeld said he would re-consider the policy. On Tuesday evening at the council hearing he said that he had met with community leaders and sought their feedback on the policy, and asked them to gather opinions from their neighbors. He also consulted a group of leaders from the faith-based community. He said he received "considerable" feedback but is still contemplating the policy; in the meantime, disclosure of officer's names remain on a case-by-case basis. It's perhaps worth noting that there hasn't been a police shooting since Bealefeld said he would rethink the policy, after a flurry of such shootings to start the year.

Also, on the notion of crime alerts and providing statistics, Bealefeld said he was all about sharing information in new and better ways, but he had serious concerns and in some cases seemed downright paranoid about posting statistics or getting too specific.  Rawlings-Blake said many cities post daily or monthly crime numbers; the department has such data at its fingertips and is shared daily in police stations among commanders. But it has yet to post it online.

Bealefeld said the danger with posting statistics is that things change. He said the department "upgrades" five times as many crimes as it "downgrades," but he said all it takes is one crime being downgraded for the public to become convinced that the department is hiding crimes.

"This police department will not get any credit for" upgrading a crime. "If we change a dot on a map, it would be more damning than opposed to having" provided no information at all, he said. The comment was similar to those he made while discussing the department's use of Twitter, the social networking site, to disseminate breaking information about crime. He said that if police initially believe 6 people have been shot and later determine after an investigation that four people were shot, some will say the police department is "yet again manipulating data."

"We don't want to create problems for ourselves," he said.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Police shootings, Top brass
        

May 4, 2009

Corrections officer shoots boy

The Baltimore Sun's Gus Sentementes just posted a breaking story on a off-duty corrections officer who shot and wounded a 15-year-old boy who police say tried to rob him with a toy gun this morning at a convenience store.

Police have not released the officer's name (it's still very early in the investigation), but I'm guessing that because of their new policy of not naming officers who fire their weapons, they won't release the name at all. Police are considering revising the policy but haven't said much about it lately.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, took issue with my statements and said withholding the name of this corrections officer has nothing to do with the policy but is being done because he's a victim of a crime. Police used to release all victims' names; now they are far more reluctant, and given the climate of retaliation it's hard to blame them. Two others involved in the holdup have not yet been arrested.

Guglielmi also argued that the corrections officer is a civilian and not a cop; in this case, he was off-duty and using his personal weapon (corrections officers have to forfeit their guns when they go off duty). It's also a valid point -- while city cops are always "on duty" even when their off, as in they are expected to intervene in crimes that are in progress and do carry their guns even when not on the job -- it's different for corrections officers.

I still believe that given an appropriate amount of time, the names of everyone who shoot people, whether it be civilians or law enforcement officers, should be made public. I don't like the  city police policy, and I believe eveyone should be held to the same standard. 

Ironically, police union lawyers were in court today to argue that a trial for a city cop charged with manslaughter in a duty-related shooting last year should be moved out of the city because the policy prohibiting the release of names of officers who shoot has created so much controversy. The police commissioner has said that he will release names of officers in questionable or bad shooitngs; this officer was named and his lawyers are now saying the department has publicly convicted him before trial.

The real story is that the officer's name was released before the policy was introduced and that it would've been released anyway upon indictment. The irony is that the union supports not naming cops who shoot but will argue the opposite in court. It just shows the confusion this new policy has brought. The judge said he would make a ruling within a week.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:27 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Police shootings
        

April 15, 2009

City school cop shoots child

Early Tuesday, a 13-year-old boy was shot in the ankle while being arrested by a Baltimore school system police officer. The cops were at the Harlem Park complex in West Baltimore checking on a report that some kids had broken into the school.

The school system issued a news release but did not identify either the officer or the child who was struck (it appears the officer's gun accidentally discharged through his pants and hit the youth). Baltimore police are reviewing their policy on withholding the names of officers who fire their weapons and have not yet made a final determination.

I asked the department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, for the names of the child and the officer, and he referred me to the school system. A spokeswoman for city schools, Edie House, told me they would definitely not release the name of the young victim citing confidentiality laws. City police have been sporadic about naming victims because of witness intimidation issues, but in the past they routinely released the names of all victims, child and adult.

As I hold Baltimore police accountable, I'm calling on authorities to release the name of the officer who fired his weapon and say more about the shooting -- was his weapon drawn or how did it discharge? And without the name of the child, we have no way of determining whether he was a student at the school and what his defense might be.

House told me she would check on whether they can release the name of the officer, but she said it  probably wouldn't be done until after Baltimore police conclude their investigation. City police are running the investigation, and in the past, when they routinely released names of police officers who shot people, they also released names of officers from other agencies who discharged their weapons:

In 1990, city police told us that Officer Kenneth M. Dean III of the now defunct Housing Authority police shot and killed Eli McCoy, a 17-year-old youth.

In 1997, city police identified Armis Paul Strickland, 46, a police officer with the University of Maryland at Baltimore who fatally shot a mentally disturbed woman who had just been released from the hospital.

Here is the statement issued by the Baltimore school system of the shooting:

Continue reading "City school cop shoots child" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:44 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Police shootings
        

March 24, 2009

Baltimore police accountability

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced a resolution on Monday calling for more police accountability in police shooting investigations. She referenced a new initiative by the Chicago Police Department -- through the city's Independent Police Review Authority -- that puts final reports about police shootings online, complete with statements from witnesses and officers (though names are withheld).

I hope Baltimore police take this seriously as they revise their policy on withholding names of officers who discharge their weapons. One of their central arguments in defending these new rules is that the department does a thorough investigation. That is true, but it's also true that there is no mechinism to tell the public the result. It's a two-tier review -- the State's Attorney's Office reviews the case to determine if a crime is committed. When they are done, the department begings an internal review to determine if the shooting was in policy or out of policy.

This can take weeks if not months. But here in Baltimore, the results almost always fall into a void. What Chicago has done is put it all out there, and I think it helps the department. Since most of the shootings are ruled justified (and aren't criminal) at the very least sharing the report with the public shows them just how thorough the investigation was, and that will go a long way toward eliminating doubt.

But it shouldn't be a compromise. The names of the police officers should be released shortly after they discharge their weapons, within 24 to 48 hours, to ensure there is accountability on the front-end as well. The city already has in place some mechinisms to ensure public scrutiny of police, but like the Civilian Review Board, they are painfully wanting. The CRB, established 10 years ago, discusses cases in such cryptic form that it's next to impossible for anyone sitting in the room to discern what they are talking about. And their semiannual reports do not say whether the police commissioner even took their advice.

Rawlings-Blake, in her resolution, also points out that the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington publishes lives crime statistics on its website; she has proposed setting a up a system in which city police text people crime updates. And police now have a Facebook page and are twittering some breaking crimes on-line.

These are all steps in the right direction. Here's Rawlings-Blake's idea:

Continue reading "Baltimore police accountability" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:39 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 20, 2009

Baltimore police shooting policy review

At the end of yesterday evening's Baltimore Police Civilian Review Board meeting, the panel's overseer Alvin Gillard, head of the Community Relations Commission, thought it would be good for members to weigh in on the department's policy of withholding names of officers who fire their weapons.

The policy being is reviewed, and possibly will be revised, after an outcry that it could cripple the trust citizens have with police and keep witnesses from coming forward if they think the cops are too scared to put their own names out there. Who better to have an opinion than the citizens picked by the mayor to scrutinize police conduct and advise the commissioner on investigations conducted by internal affairs?

The topic sparked the most spirited debate of the evening, with most of the members voting to urge Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld to overturn the policy. It turns out that the review officials had been talking about actually is a review. Members said community leaders have been asked to poll their constituents at meetings and report back to Bealefeld.

"I don't see why the names of anybody should be withheld," said William Brent, who represents residents in the Southwestern District.

Countered Pearlette Anderson from the Western: "I don't think the names should be out there because then people can come after families and I'm a family."

Brent reminded her that an officer in a recent shooting had previously shot two people, and didn't she want to know that?

Anderson said her daughter is a police officer, and "I don't want to have her name out there if she shoots someone. That puts me in danger and puts my grandkids in danger."

Other board members pointed out that members of the CRB are identified, debate police conduct cases in public and could be targeted as well. And Brent noted that 23 threats against officers and cited by police to justify the new policy had nothing to do with police-involved shootings.

In the end, a letter will be sent from the Civilian Review Board to the police commissioner.

In defending the new policy, city police continually referred to other departments that also don't release names. One was Washington, but it appears from my reading of The Washington Post that too might be changing. After the city policy made its pages, I noticed that in two shootings involving DC officers that The Post seemed to be challenging the department.

In one, the Post wrote that the Metropolitan Police Department in D.C. refused to name the officer who shot someone but cited no policy prohibiting the disclosure. Later, the Post used sources to identify an officer and said the department had in the past routinely publicized the names but now, under a new chief, that practice had stopped.

In Prince George's County, police this week revealed the names of 14 officers involved in a single shooting. And today The Post wrote a story about how one of them had been involved in two previous shootings.

 

 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:19 PM | | Comments (2)
        

March 17, 2009

Police shooting lawsuit

The civil wrongful death lawsuit now under way in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, filed by the family of 44-year-old Cheryl Lynn Noel, raises some interesting questions:

1. Did a member of the Baltimore County police Swat team unnecessarily fire a third and fatal bullet into the chest of Noel, who was already wounded, as she lay on the ground, unable to pose any threat?

2. Did county police overdo it by sending in a heavily-armed 16-member SWAT team dressed in camouflage gear, some armed with assault rifles, using a flash grenade and carrying ballistic shields with bright lights, to serve a search warrant on a Dundalk home for drugs?

Terrell N. Roberts III addressed the 10-member jury selected on Monday and set to hear at least two weeks of testimony in a case that will examine what at the time was a routine police shooting. I'll take  you through the statements by Roberts and the county attorney defending the officers, letting each tell the tale:

Roberts began by talking about Jan. 21, 2005, which he described as a "cold winter morning" in which, at 4:50 a.m., Cheryl Noel, a 44-year-old "devoted mother and wife was asleep in her bed" and, on a normal day, was to have gotten up shortly to get ready for work at the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, where she was a water technician at the Back Water Treatment Plant. Instead, Roberts told the jury, "She was shot by a police officer who is sworn to protect and serve."

What she didn't know as she slept so soundly in her bed was that "outside her home amassed a SWAT team of about 16 officers" who were about to swarm her home after having conducted an investigation that began when a county officer stopped her 19-year-old son a few weeks earlier and found a single pill of Percocet for which he did not have a prescription. Cops later searched the household trash and found "remnants, traces of marijuana, traces of cocaine." The son, Matthew, had been living downstairs in the basement. (He was convicted of marijuana possession and served 90 days in jail stemming from charges filed after the raid in which his mother was killed).

Roberts described for the jury a high intensity, high-risk home invasion by cops for what he called a minuscule amount of drugs. "The way they entered the house is what this case is all about," he told the jury on Monday. "They did not knock and announce. They took a battering ram, knocked down the front door and stampeded into the home."

He talked about the explosion, a flash grenade, set off outside the house as the cops went in, designed he said to confuse occupants so they don't know who is barging inside. He said it was timed to go off, from a pole set up outside the house and near Noel's second floor bedroom window, just cops who were already inside rushed through the bedroom door. The husband Charles, who was asleep on the bed, sat up, but "before he could say 'What the ...' his door was banged down and he saw two muzzle flashes. He looked over to see his wife beginning to go down."

Roberts said Cheryl Noel, hearing the flash grenade, grabbed her legally-registered handgun and was standing at the foot of her bed, pointing it in a downward manner, when the cops burst through the door; Officer Carlos Artson, seeing the gun, immediately fired two shots, hitting her in the upper right and upper left part of her body. She fell, and the gun came lose from her hands.

Her husband, Charles Noel, complied with officer's demands to put his hands up and said he told his wife, "Put your hands up, babe." She responded, "They shot me in the chest."

Roberts said Artson then yelled three times for her to move away or move her hand away from the gun. Roberts said Charles Noel will testify that his wife posed no threat, that she was incapacitated and could not comply with Artson's demands. He said Artson then fired a third and final shot, downward, into the center of Cheryl Noel's chest. That, Roberts told the jury, "was the kill shot."

Roberts described haphazard training. He pointed out the cops didn't have an arrest warrant, but merely a search warrant, and that the main target was Matthew Noel, Cheryl Noel's 19-year-old son who lived in the basement with his girlfriend and who fully cooperated when different officers yelled down the stairs for him to surrender. Roberts said Cheryl, had she known cops were inside her house, would've done the same given the chance. He said the officers who conducted the raid knew she feared for her life because people had called in death threats in connection with her son -- one threatened to burn the house down -- but that his clients were not dangerous individuals.

He did conceded that Charles Noel had been convicted of second-degree murder 30 years ago stemming from a fight with other teens. He said he left for the army but returned to plead guilty when charges were brought "and he served his time. It's been a matter of shame for him." He now works a waste station at the Fort George G. Meade Army base in Anne Arundel County, and has for the past 13 years. Matthew Noel also had problems -- he had recently shot a man in the foot with a .45 caliber handgun, an incident that Roberts described as fight among teens.

Of Cheryl Noel, Roberts said, "This woman did not have fair warning that the police were entering her house." He said he will put on experts who will tell you what police won't -- that such raids are designed to hide the fact that cops are busting into homes and that the use of flash grenades prove the cops want to cause as much confusion as possible. And when she was shot, "she was not going for the gun. She was incapable of going for the gun."

Of the raid itself, Roberts said: "We're not going after Osama bin Laden. We're not even going after a murderer. This wasn't even an arrest warrant."

County attorney Paul M. Mayhew, who is defending the two sergeants and three officers, stood up and wondered aloud if what his counterpart had just described was more like Nazi Germany than Baltimore County. Of police, he said, "This is not a terrorist organization we're running here. These officers are highly trained and dedicated."

While Roberts described Dundalk as a suburban enclave, Mayhew described it as part and parcel with the city -- same type of housing, same type of problems. Dundalk might as well as be East Baltimore: "We live in a very violent city and a very violent nation and a very violent world, full of guns and drugs, unfortunately."

He described how the investigation unfolded, not a keystone cops type of a thing, but from a simple stop of a car by a patrol officer of 19-year-old Matthew Noel, who was driving on a suspended license. The cop noticed a pill that was Percocet and the young Noel told the officer "he had a pill problem." The case was referred to a federal task force investigating what Mayhew described was formed in "response to a growing prescription drug epidemic." The sergeant, he said, "did what he was supposed to do -- investigate."

Officers searched the Noel's trash outside the house and three separate times found evidence of drugs -- small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, scales for measuring and "the razor blade used for cutting it up." He noted that "drug dealers are business people. They don't throw out their product out in the trash. We always find just a little."

The drugs combined with the scales led police to believe the house was being used to sell drugs, not just occupied by people who used them. He said cops did a background check on the occupants and turned up, yes, the old murder conviction for Charles Noel, but also the shooting case against the son Matthew, that his girlfriend, a nightclub dancer, also was wanted on a warrant and that there was a second handgun registered to a person in the house. They also found mail indicating another man with a long criminal record for burglary, drugs and assault might be living there. The threats Cheryl Noel was worried about were directed at Matthew.

Putting all that information together -- there were guns in the house, it's linked to drugs and occupied by people with violent histories -- the officer "went and got a warrant. That was the Noel's fourth amendment protection." Then Sgt. Robert M. Gibbons had to decide how to go into the house.  He said Gibbons had to think of all that they learned, including that another son, who had moved out, had been arrested and charged with selling marijuana "outside the home" by an officer who happened to be on the raid team. That charge was dropped when the suspect "flipped" on "someone else with more drugs," Mayhew told jurors.

In addition, Cheryl Noel, the dedicated mother and worker, had a previous conviction for possessing marijuana and driving under the influence of alcohol. Gibbons, Mayhew told jurors, "didn't think it was remotely safe to send a patrol officer knocking on the door. He knew the house was occupied by a convicted murderer and a man who had just shot another man with a .45." Police officers, he said, are here to "serve and protect" but "that doesn't mean they have to forfeit their right to protect their own lives."

He disputed Charles Noel's statement that his wife never moved toward the gun; he said Artson saw her move her hand toward the weapon and fired. He said the officer showed incredible restraint in stopping after he fired the first two bullets and yelled three times for her to move away from the gun. His partner was still subduing the husband on the bed by training an assault rifle at him, and that "any other officer, any one of you, would've kept shooting" until it was clear Cheryl Noel couldn't move again.

Mayhew told the jury, "We do not apologize one minute" for the shooting. He held up the box containing Cheryl Noel's gun to the jury: "This is a a legally registered handgun. Would you wanted it pointed at you?" ... He noted that county tactical officers have conducted 3,000 "high-risk" raids in the past 30 years and only three times "have they discharged their weapons." He said Charles Noel complied with the officer's demands and wasn't hurt at all.

He said flash grenades are not used to cause confusion but to "momentarily distract" someone as cops go in. He said in this case, officers broke down the door as a single officer shouted, "Police search warrant" over and over again. The flash grenade was set off 4.5 seconds after the door came down, giving what he said was ample warning to the people inside that police were there. He said it can be debated whether 4.5 seconds is enough time for that to register but he said the tactic has worked in most of the other 3,000 raids.

Mayhew said Cheryl Noel kept her fully-loaded gun under her pillow because she was worried about the threats made toward her son, and that she thwarted efforts by the husband to kick the young man out. He said the idea police want to conceal who they are during a raid is not true, in that cops yell who they are as they come through door, have the words "police" emblazoned on their gear and even on their shields. In fact, Charles Noel, according to Mayhem, said during his deposition that he didn't know cops were inside until he was handcuffed and brought downstairs; but his lawyer said in opening statements that he told his wife to put his hands up and that he was blinded by the light coming from the police officer's shields.

Here is a copy of the lawsuit and the police report that lists the items seized from the house:

Continue reading "Police shooting lawsuit" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:34 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Police shootings
        

March 12, 2009

Police shooting policy to be revised

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has stepped in the fracus over a new police department policy by to withhold names of officers who fire their weapons and ordered that it be revised.

This sudden turnaround, which she announced during an impromptu news conference yesterday, has her for one of the first times jumping into a policy issue that has embroiled her most important and public agency for weeks and led to tussles with the media and now the City Council, where some members feel misled by officials at a public hearing. Listen to the podcast of Guglielmi's debate on the Marc Steiner show.

Scott Peterson, the mayor's spokesman, told me this morning that Dixon wants to "take a step back" because of reaction to the policy from the press, the public and City Council members:

"Obviously this is a policy we are looking at, that we want to make sure we get right. This administration wants to make sure that policies that we put in place for this city are the best policies for its people. The mayor is working in cooperation with the commissioner. They're looking toward possibly reviewing the policy ... to make sure it fits this city. ... It's a policy debate. This happens in politics. ... Everything is on the table in looking at this policy."

Well, yes, policies do get reviewed in politics, but usually before they actually become policy. Scott is trying to make this sound like a routine part of the process; such debate and research should've and could've been done before the policy actually was thought up and implemented. The police union, the citizen groups, the police civilian review board, the City Council, and others all could've been consulted.

All the spin in the world can't rewrite history -- the policy was implemented, and now the mayor, after public flak that won't die down, is stepping in to revise and possibly reverse it, even after her police commissioner defended it at a City Council hearing and his chief spokesman repeatedly tried to defend it in the media and on a radio show.

This morning, the spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, told Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton:

"We are revisiting the policy. I think the whole issue has taken on a life of its own and is truly a distraction for the department and City Hall. We're going to try to find a middle ground between transparency and protecting officers families and officers. Each locale is different. What works in the federal government, New York City, Atlanta, may or may not work in Baltimore."

That comment came after Guglielmi had posted an unscientific Baltimore Sun web poll on the topic on the department's Facebook page. Of the 583 people who resonded, nearly 60 percent backed the police policy.

 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

March 11, 2009

Naming police who shoot

It's time for the Baltimore Police Department to start again naming its officers who shoot people and end this futile policy of withholding identities.

First off, the policy has failed. The names of seven officers who shot people this year have been revealed -- only one has not -- sometimes hours after the bullets were fired into city civilians. Their names have come from public court documents, police reports, leaks from secret sources and once even by the police commissioner himself.
 
Second, it's proved to be a giant distraction for a department that should be focusing on crime and not wasting it defending ill-conceived policies designed by a spokesman from Washington who has no background in urban policing and a proven disdain for openness and accountability on behalf of a law enforcement agency struggling for respect among the city's residents.

Third, the policy openly mocks the mayor's call for transparency in her police and her otherwise laudable push to get the community involved, a difficult task after years in which the police alienated the community by arresting more than a hundred thousand people, many on charges that couldn't even stand up to the review of a prosecutor at the booking center and had to be thrown out.
 
The only way the spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, and his followers can sustain this policy of secret
policing is through subterfuge -- they've mislead the city and the City Council on the types of threats officers receive, making shambles of their own arguments, blacking out portions of public documents to keep people from obtaining court records, failing to inform the public of an arrest at one shooting, which would have led to a court document with the name of the officer, and providing false information on an officer's previous shooting that made her look heroic when in fact her actions could be described as reckless.
 
At a City Council hearing last night, attended by Baltimore Sun police reporter Justin Fenton, members were angry at the department's explanations. They should have also been angry at themselves for the childish way they acted at a previous hearing when they blew their chance to ask Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III tough questions about this policy. Instead, they bought the department's line to the point where they fawned over the top cop and abdicated their roles as public watchdogs.

Yesterday, Councilman James B. Kraft, who last month told Bealefeld, "We don't want these guys names on the street," said: "I have a concern that if we don't ask the right questions, we don't get the right answers. I was very upset, and I expressed this privately, upset about our last hearing when we were talking about the policy that has been adopted dealing with the disclosure of the identity of officers involved in shootings."

In other words, Kraft is sorry for letting Bealefeld skate through a hearing. When Bealefeld testified that 23 officers had been threatened last year -- a number fed to him by his new spokesman, Guglielmi, who has been throwing the number around since January in the context of this new policy -- Kraft and others rightly assumed that those threats were the results of police-involved shootings.

Guglielmi claims he never meant to suggest that, which is a good thing since none of the 23 officers who were threatened last year had anything to do with police involved shootings. Most threats, numbers supplied by Guglielmi after a public records request by The Sun -- stemmed from arrests, and only a handful were deemed serious. One even involved an officer threatening another officer. But since nobody pressed Bealefeld at the February City Council hearing, he never had to come clean about the number.

And now the council feels misled: "And the 23 number; I believed myself that those 23 were officers who had been involved in shootings and therefore, they felt they were going to be threatened because of that," Kraft said. "I don't think the distinction was brought forth in the hearing. ... I feel that could've been more clearer."

The truth does tend to clear up such matters.

It seems that Kraft, at least, finally gets it: "We are constantly, constantly asking our citizens to come forward, and to be ready to stand up and identify criminals and to participate in the process ... and when a citizen sees that a police officer is afraid to have his or her name out there because they could be a victim, I think it creates the perception that, if the cops are afraid of retaliation, then why should the average citizen help out? The police department, they have vests, they have guns, they have their brothers and sisters in blue. The ordinary citizen doesn't have that. "

On the Marc Steiner show Monday, Guglielmi tried to say it doesn't matter whether the 23 threats involved police shootings, that he wants to be proactive, that he's not willing to wait for an officer to be gunned down after his name shows up in the newspaper. It matters a great deal when you use a number to justify a policy, then the number turns out to be bogus. Guglielmi is not serving his police commissioner well if he sets him up for that kind of failure at a public meeting. Not only does this policy give reason for people to further mistrust police, but the department is compounding the problem by giving us reason to mistrust the guy in charge.

Guglielmi has repeatedly said that the only redacting they are doing is of the officer's name; the citizens still have all the pertinent information needed to judge whether the shooting is justified. Trouble with this is we have to trust the department to tell us what is pertinent, and the track record in the last three months alone is not very comforting.
 
* After Officer Traci McKissick tussled with 61-year-old Joseph Forrest on Orleans Street on Feb. 18, it took reporters' questions to get Guglielmi to admit that she had been involved in a previous shooting in 2005 (he had promised that sort of information would be routinely divulged).

* At first, Guglielmi said only that she had been involved in a previous incident and that it had been ruled justified. Pressed by author and former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, the spokesman said that in 2005 she had discharged her weapon after or while been dragged by a car.

* The Sun pressed Guglielmi for further details and demanded the 2005 police report. His office faxed a copy with both the name of the officer and the name of the suspect blacked out, done, one of the officers in public affairs told us, to prevent us from obtaining the four-year-old court document. Guglielmi later apologized for blacking out the name of the suspect, calling it an oversight, but did not apologize for blacking out the name of the officer.

* We obtained the court file anyway and it showed that McKissick had not been dragged behind a car but had jumped into a car when a suspect she and a sergeant had stopped for drugs tried to flee in a vehicle the cops had failed to secure. The driver and McKissick wrestled for her gun, which went off, a bullet striking a back seat, and the suspect got the weapon and threw it out the window. It has never been found. The shooting of Forrest also involved a fight in which the man tried to get her weapon, meaning that twice in four years, this officer had been involved in a fight over her weapon and had been overpowered, details the department tried very hard to hide.

* Also in the shooting of Forrest, police neglected to tell reporters that an officer had arrested a relative of the dead man who they said tried to help wrest away McKissick's gun. She was actually fighting two people, not one, a detail that could help explain why she and the sergeant fired their weapons and how she was overpowered and pinned to the pavement. But releasing the name would have allowed the public to obtain the court document, which contains the names of the officers. Guglielmi told me he didn't know an arrest was made and wasn't trying to hide anything, but given his willingness to obliterate public records to further his policy, I no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. By the way, it was police union officials, who support Guglielmi's policy, who called this newspaper to complain that we weren't reporting the arrest and making McKissick look like she was fighting just one person.

* That brings us to the most recent shooting on Friday, in which Officer Jemell Rayam fatally shot a man who had struck another officer with his vehicle during a traffic stop in Northwest Baltimore. A police spokeswoman, on Friday night shortly after the shooting, revealed that the then-unnamed officer had been involved in two previous shootings that had been ruled justified. In Guglielmi's world, that's sufficient information for you to judge whether the department is being forthcoming.

* On Monday, after the man had died Sunday night, this newspaper again asked for a full accounting of the previous shootings and for the reports. That went on all day until Guglielmi appeared on the Marc Steiner show and at 5:30 p.m., in an effort to assure listeners that his department fully cooperates with the press and the public, said The Sun had asked for the reports and we had them in our hands.

* That simply was not true. The spokesman made it sound as if they had acted promptly to our request for the most basic public record, when in fact it took until 6 p.m. (and phone calls to both Guglielmi and another spokeswoman) to get one of reports, again with the name of the officer blacked out. Guglielmi's office said they had been given the wrong information, hence the delay; I can't help but note that it took the department more than six hours to answer the request and we were furnished with only half of it and after the courts had closed for the day -- meaning we could not pull court documents on the case until Tuesday.

* Do you find it as baffling and ironic as I do that the department, two days after working overtime to keep the public from learning Rayman's name and blacking his identity from a police report, honored him at a public awards ceremony yesterday for shooting someone in a gunfight two years ago (the very same incident covered by the blacked out report)? The agency gave out awards in connection with 24 incidents; all but six involved a police-involved shooting. The threats Guglielmi are so worried about must have suddenly disappeared. The very fact they had this public ceremony makes a mockery of their argument that these names must be kept secret.

* Topping it off, a lawyer for the police union is arguing that an officer indicted on a manslaughter charge for shooting a man last year was unfairly singled out as a bad cop, jeopardizing his right to a fair trial, because the new policy dictates that only officers found to have unjustly shot someone be named. Bealefeld had used this case at the City Council hearing to say his department is naming cops whose actions are found to be questionable.

There is a lot of effort being used to promote a public relations policy. Guglielmi says that the only thing the public is missing is the officer's name, but just three months since this new policy took effect, we learn time and time again there is a lot more information that the department can hide when it's not subject to outside review and scrutiny. Without the name, the public would still be unaware that McKissick had been overpowered four years earlier, and not dragged by a car.

We shouldn't tolerate secret policing in our cities. Robert Cherry, the president of the city police union, told me on Tuesday that he objected to Prince George's County officers working overtime at city bars -- city cops are now banned from such jobs -- because citizens here don't need someone from the outside "causing trouble and then leaving without us knowing who they are." By that logic, why should city cops be able to shoot people without their citizens knowing who they are? (Cherry later called to put his comments into greater context: he meant that with outside officers working overtime for private companies, even city police wouldn't know who they are; with a city cop involved in a shooting, city authorities would of course know who they are).

The policy dishonors the good cops who are willing and able to stand by their actions. It paints all cops and all shootings as questionable simply because we have no reason to believe what the department tells us. When the policy was first announced, Gugliemli tried to pass it off as a public affairs initiative, the new guy charging in and helping cops by altering a century-old policy -- and that Bealefeld could do as he pleases, but public affairs would not release the names. That rightly confused City Council members and the rest of as to whether Guglielmi was making his own policy and whether he really spoke for Bealefeld. City Council members told me those fears were put to rest when Bealefeld testified at the hearing last month and owned up to the new rules. I still have my doubts: if this is Bealefeld's policy, he should retract it, apologize and move on to fighting crime. If it's Guglielmi's policy, Bealefeld should order it redacted, admit he was ill-served and not allow a spokesman to form policy again.

Guglielmi's job is to speak for the department, to guide and advise the commissioner and to set his public agenda. But more than that, Guglielmi has a responsibility to the public to be honest, open, up front and to warn his boss when policies contradict the mayor's mission to restore trust in the department. If not, then Mayor Sheila Dixon needs to step in and order her commissioner to reverse a policy that flies in the face of what she's trying to accomplish. You can't ask the unarmed citizens of the city to stand up to criminals when the armed protectors want to hide.

Now, every single shooting by police will be questioned and receive far greater review than usual, until the media and the public are satisfied that the deadly actions were appropriate. Back when the names were released, usually within 24 hours of a shooting, that process was simple, easy and often led to no further coverage. Now, given the secrecy and the obfuscation, the actions of every single police officer who fires his or her weapon will be questioned, doubted and debated.

The commissioner's face should be plastered all over this city talking about ending violence, locking up criminals and restoring order. Bealefeld has served this city well over the past year but has big challenges ahead of him. He has to beat his own good numbers (homicides went down in 2008 but are up this year) with less money and fewer resources. He doesn't need additional headaches from the office he relies on to get his message out, but is instead wasting time misleading the public they are supposed to serve.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Police shootings
        

March 10, 2009

Baltimore police shootings

Baltimore's chief police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, took to the radio yesterday to defend a new policy of not naming officers who fire their weapons. It was not a pretty hour of radio. He got taken to task by David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU and David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun police reporter and author. In his defense, he had Bob Cherry, the head of the Baltimore police union.

The debate raged just days after a city police officer shot a man in Northwest Baltimore and hours after that man died Sunday night of his injuries. Citing the new policy, city police refused to release the name of the officer but did say he had been involved in two previous police involved shootings.

Guglielmi said the main reason for this policy is concern for the safety of officers. He has reiterated the potential for threats and retaliation in interviews and yesterday on Marc Steiner's radio show on WEAA, as did the police commissioner while testifying in front of the City Council.

Before getting to the show and more information about the latest shooting involving a city officer, let me direct you to a new web site put by the Chicago Police Department's Independent Police Review Authority. For the first time, the authority is releasing to the public the results of investigations into shootings by police. The names of the officers aren't there, but this goes a long way toward assuring the public that its police are investigating these cases. See below for a sample of one of the reports.

Yesterday on the show, we heard time and time again that Baltimore officers are thoroughly investigated by both city prosecutors and the department's internal affairs division. Trouble is, we rarely hear when a shooting has been ruled legally justified and within policy by the department. What Chicago is doing, even without the name of the officer, is putting the case out there, showing how thorough the review is and giving the public an idea that something is being done.

Just a few hours before airtime, Guglielmi answered a long-standing request from the Baltimore Sun to detail the 23 threats made against officers last year. At least nine were considered significant, the spokesman said, but none directly involved an officer threatened because of a police-involved shooting. According to the numbers supplied by Guglielmi, 60 percent of the threats were "threats on police after making an arrest," 15 percent were anonymous, five percent were by suspected gang members and five percent came after a trial (in which the names of the officers are part of the public record regardless of whether they're names are printed in the newspaper). One of the threats was one officer threatening another officer.

The concern here is that police officials are justifying the policy of withholding names because of threats even if those threats are not related to police involved shootings. By combining the two numbers, Guglielmi and the commissioner certainly implied there was a cause and effect, both in interviews and to the City Council, which at the very least is misleading.

On the Marc Steiner show, Guglielmi repeatedly brought up the safety issue, the ease with which names can be traced to address in the Internet age and, by questioning the policy, people are forgetting "the families" of the officers who might suffer. Never mind that again, not a single one of the threats last year were due to a police involved shooting. Simon mentioned rightly that plenty of citizens who testify are targeted and in some cases killed (a case of deadly witness intimidation is going on right now in federal court) and by Guglielmi's argument, no names should be released in any case. Why should citizens be named and cops not if safety is the real issue?

Guglielmi and Cherry kept saying that the only thing the public loses under this new policy is the name, and that everything else is available. But we lose much more than the name; we lose the ability to question, to second-guess, to hold our police officials and by extention the government accountable.

Without the name, we have to trust when Guglielmi says that an officer involved in a fatal February shooting was involved in a previous shooting that was ruled justified. The spokesman told David Simon that in the previous case involved the officer being dragged behind a vehicle, when in fact she jumped into a car after a drug suspect tried to flee, got into a struggle with the suspect over her weapon, which discharged, and then the suspect got hold of her gun and threw it out a window of a moving car.

Simon accused Guglielmi of lying about the previous incident to cover it up, arguing that's the reason not to trust the government to tell the whole store. "We release all information that is pertinent," Guglielmi said at one point. Simon answered, "You release the information that you think is pertinent."

And that's the point. After that shooting in February, The Baltimore Sun requested the police report from the officer's previous shooting in 2005. It's a public document. Guglielmi's office faxed over a copy but blacked out both the name of the officer and the name of the suspect. It was done, we were told by one of the spokesmen in his office, to prevent us from pulling the court case which would contain the officer's name. That's how far the department is willing to go to further this policy. We were able to obtain the court file anyway and obtain the name.

Pressed on blacking out the public police report, Guglielmi said on the radio show that it was an "oversight" to also black out the name of the suspect. Rocah said it's illegal to black out anything on a police report. "You can't redact a name by accident," Rocah said, to which Guglielmi responded, "I apologize for redacting the name." The spokesman then said The Baltimore Sun had requested the reports in connection with the previous two police shootings from the officer who shot and killed the man Friday night. He said on air at 5:30 p.m. that the reports had been provided to the newspaper.

That wasn't true. At that time, we did not have the reports. I called his office and was told they had been faxed internal documents, not the reports, and were still working on getting the correct information. The department sent us one of the police reports by 6 p.m. but said there was difficulty obtaining the second report. This time, Guglielmi's staff did not black out the name of the suspect who had been arrested (they did erase the name of the officer involved in the shooting) but The Sun's police reporter, Justin Fenton, was able to find out the name and it is published in his story on the shooting today.

That story also quotes the City Council president and the chairman of the City Council's public safety committee saying they remain concerned about transparancy in the department and that they might have been misled on the issue of threats. They should be concerned. Members of the public safety committee did little to press the police chief on the policy.

Simon and Rocah both reminded Guglielmi that we don't live in a police state with cops with no badges who can arrest people in secret. Withholding the name of officers who fire their weapons deprives the citizens of this city an important tool to check the conduct of the people who are empowered to deprive of them of their liberties and kill them if necessary. We have open justice in this country and people are entitled to face their accusers.

At one point, Simon told Guglielmi: "State officials cannot go against state law."

Guglielmi: "David, nobody is going against the law." He added, "That's why we have courts."

Rocah: "You might find yourself there."

The names of these officers will come out. There have been seven police involved shootings in this city this year, four of them fatal, involving eight police officers. One name was made public by the police commissioner. Others emerged in public court documents or were confirmed by law enforcement sources.

The officer involved in most recent shooting on Friday of 30-year-old Shawn Cannady is Jemell Rayam. Police say he fired into a car after it struck his partner during a drug investigation. He hit the driver, Cannady, in the chest. In October 2007, Rayam shot a man during a traffic stop after the man tried to drive away. The victim was shot in the hands and was later convicted on second-degree assault.

Just a few months earlier, in June 2007, Rayam was involved in an exchange of gunfire with a drug suspect on Barclay Street in East Baltimore. Rayam was injured in the exchange, suffering a graze wound to the toe. The suspect was wounded.

Here's a sample from the Chicago Police Department site on a closed investigation to a police shooting. It's only two paragraphs from a 10-page report. There are no names, but at least it gives af full accounting of what happened and includes statements from witnesses (again, though, without names):

Continue reading "Baltimore police shootings" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Police shootings
        

March 9, 2009

Baltimore police shooting

The 30-year-old man shot by police on Friday died from his injuries last night, and if you're keeping score, this is the seventh shooting by city officers this year and the fourth to end with a suspect dead.

It's also the latest police shooting under a new policy in which police do not release the names of officers who fire their weapons. We've gotten names in some, but not all, from various sources, including court documents.

The policy has proven difficult to maintain for a variety of reasons. The first shooting under this policy involved a gunfight between drug suspects and police and left one officer and a suspect wounded. The police commissioner broke policy and announced the name of the officer who opened fire at a news conference, calling him a hero. It would've been impossible to keep the name quiet for long anyway because the man who was wounded was eventually charged, and the name of the officer who wounded him is in public court files.

The most controversial shooting under this policy occurred in February in which two officers shot a man during a struggle for an officer's gun. The man died and police tried hard to keep the public from learning the names of the cops who fired. They acknowledged that one of the officers had been involved in a previous police shooting in 2005, but when reporters at the Baltimore Sun asked for a copy of the offense report, we got it with the name of not only the officer but also the suspect blacked out.

Police told us they blacked the names out of the public document to prevent us from obtaining the court file that would have had the officer's name. We got the court file anyway and published the name of the officer who had been involved in the earlier shooting. The name of the officer who fired the fatal shot was still unavailable. But then we learned police had arrested a person at the scene who tried to help the suspect in his fight. A police spokesman told us he wasn't aware an arrest had been made; when we learned the name, we pulled court records and got the name of the second officer who fired his weapon.

That's the length police are going to keep these names secret.

That brings us to Friday's shooting. Two officers fired on an car that they said was being driving toward them during a drug investigation. The car hit one officer, injuring him slightly, and another officer fired and hit the driver in the chest. That man, Shawn Cannady, died Sunday night at Sinai Hospital. A passenger was arrested, but police spokesman Troy Harris told me this morning he was released without charges.

That means, at this point, there is no public record that would contain the name of the officer who fired his weapon. We are asking for more details on the officer's previous shootings and are awaiting answers. As I stated before, police released a report in the last case but blacked out the names.

I'm still not sure what the previous shootings were about. It's important because as we learned in the second shooting this year, the female officer involved had been in a struggle both in February and in 2005 with a suspect over her gun; four years ago, the suspect actually wrested the weapon away from her and threw it out a car window during an abduction. The gun discharged and a bullet hit a car seat; the shooting was ruled justified but it raised questions about her training and conduct.

What will we eventually learn about the officer involved in Friday's shooting?

 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:36 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Police shootings
        

February 19, 2009

Withholding names of police who shoot

The timing couldn't have been worse for the Baltimore Police Department.

Just five days after Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III explained his new policy of not releasing names of police officers who shoot people to a placid City Council committee, two of his officers killed a man on Orleans Street during a struggle for an officer's weapon.

The fight for information had begun, and is still going, although what Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton reported today leaves many questions about a policy and efforts by the Police Department's public relations staff. They went to extraordinary efforts to hide the past of one of the officers involved in the shooting, to the point where they blacked out information about a suspect and a victim from a public police report to try to prevent us from obtaining a publicly available court file.

It turns out that the 2005 case was botched and prosecutors had to throw out a slew of criminal charges against a man -- in part due to misconduct by one of the officers in a later, unrelated assault. The suspect went free, even though according to his own attorney he admitted he grabbed the officer's weapon and threw it out of a moving vehicle.

This raises troubling questions about whether the department was trying to hide the past of the female officer, who has now been overpowered twice by suspects and had her gun taken or nearly taken. Or whether the department was trying to cover up how the cops couldn't convict a man who confessed to abducting one of their own.

Bealefeld promised that a full accounting of a police-involved shooting is possible without having to divulge the names of the officers involved. We now know that isn't the case; in fact, his public affairs staff went out of their way to prevent a full accounting be aired. Through court documents, the Baltimore Sun learned the identity of the officer, Traci McKissick, 29, a five-year veteran of the force.

The commissioner also had assured council members, as his chief spokesman Anthony Guglielmi had assured reporters earlier, that his office would give out enough information to assure the public that everything was being done to properly investigate use-of-force issues. They would make public lots of things, including the officer's rank, assignment and years on the force. After concerns were raised that without a name, we'd never know whether that officer had been involved in past shootings, Guglielmi and Bealefeld agreed to release that information as well.

But without having a name, it would be impossible to verify whether the department was telling the truth. Trust us, they said.

So now we come to Tuesday. Two officers shoot and kill 61-year-old Joseph Forrest during a domestic dispute call. A backup officer arrived to find  McKissick in a headlock and a man trying to take her weapon. The officers shot Forrest dead during the scuffle.

Few details were released Tuesday night, which is understandable, and not much other than Forrest's name was released Wednesday. On Thursday, reporters at the Baltimore Sun learned that the officer had been involved in a shooting in 2005, another incident in which she had been overpowered and her gun taken. When questioned, Guglielmi confirmed that she had been involved in a 2005 shooting in which no one had been hit and that it was ruled justified.

When pressed for more details, Guglielmi promised to review the file and get back to us. His office eventually faxed over a two-page police report of the 2005 incident, in which McKissick and her partner, Jack H. Odom, had pulled over a car and tried to arrest the driver after seeing an open bottle of whiskey and what they believed to be crack cocaine. When Odom tried to arrest the man, Timothy Lee Faith, police said he got back into his vehicle. McKissick jumped into the vehicle through the passenger door, took out her gun and pointed it at Faith as he sped away.

"She had her hands on the handle and she put her finger ... way inside the trigger all right and ... I was looking at her, she was, she was getting ready to pop me everything in the head you know," Faith told Baltimore homicide Detective William Welch during an interrogation after his arrest. "At this point in time, I took my right hand with my left hand on the wheel and I, I grabbed the hold of -- it was her facing me -- I grabbed the right side of the gun and I pushed it against the headrest of the seat."

Faith later said, "From what I could feel of it, um, I pushed it back against the ah, headrest. At this point in time she was trying to, she was trying to aim it back towards my body and then she fire the -- then she fired the gun. ... I turned the barrel away from me and down towards the ground. At this point in time, she released her hand from the gun and with my right hand I went across my body and the gun went out the window."

After a chase, Faith was arrested, with handcuffs still dangling from one of his wrists. Faith was charged with a litany of crimes, including assault, disarming a law enforcement officer, escape and reckless endangerment. His attorney, Warran A. Brown, alleged in court papers that police officers altered reports of the incident, but prosecutors said they had to drop the entire case after Odom, in October 2005, was criminally charged with assaulting a man outside a Federal Hill pizza shop. Odom received a suspended sentence and resigned from the force, but even before that his testimony was deemed unreliable in court and prosecutors said they could not move against Faith.

Guglielmi said the 2005 case was investigated and it was determined that McKissick acted appropriately. Really? She jumped into a moving car and pointed her gun at a suspect who was speeding away. You have to admire her tenacity, but I know cops who are questioning whether what she did was proper. That her gun fired, sending a bullet into the upholstery of the car, might be ruled a proper discharge, but I have a hard time believing all of her actions that day were within policy.

And the fact the department did everything it could to hide the details makes me even more suspicious. Guglielmi told me this morning that his office blacked out the names of both the victim and the suspect from the 2005 report so we couldn't trace the court file and learn the officer's name. It was not done, he said, to cover up the details or the outcome of the embarrassing 2005 incident. But that's the effect of what he did, or tried to do --  and that is precisely why obtaining the names of officers involved in shootings is so important for the public.

But now we know just how far the department is prepared to go to keep the names from becoming public: blacking out not only the names of its officers from public police reports, but also those of suspects from those same reports. Apparently, ensuring the name of a police officer who fires a gun is so important that people can now be arrested and criminally charged in secret.

The City Council public safety committee, when it met with Bealefeld, shamefully bowed to his wishes without even questioning the merits of his policy. It's too bad, because the first test has ended in failure.

David Rocah, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberities Union told Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton:

"This highlights the utter irrationality and impropriety of what the Balitmore City Police Deparmtent is doing. As the Baltimore City Police Department well knows, police reports like this are public record documents. That's central to our system of justice in this country. People can't be secretly charged with crimes, so their redaction of that document was improper. And the fact that they did it to serve the illegitimate goal of shieldiing names of police officers only doubles the wrongdoing here."

Here is one of many court documents describing the 2005 case:

Continue reading "Withholding names of police who shoot" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 4:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Police shootings
        
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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.



Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.
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