The Baltimore County police chief has asked for an independent FBI probe of the fatal police shooting this week of a 19-year-old on the grounds of Woodlawn High School, he said after he met the youth's family, their attorney and clergyman today.
Chief Cornelius J. Behan said he asked for FBI help at the request of the family of Sadiq Martin, of the 2900 block of Silver Hill Ave. in northwest Baltimore. He said that his request was immediately granted.
"The family is very, very upset over the death, and I want an independent, objective investigation," he said. "They came with the idea that we have already closed the case."
He said that is not true, and that the police plan a new appeal at Woodlawn High for students who may have witnessed Monday's incident to come forward.
Behan said that Timothy Mitchem, the 29-year-old officer who fired the fatal shots, is suffering, too.
"Officers suffer terribly in these tragedies," he said.
Behan said the officer said that he had expected the youths to stop driving and run from their Dodge Raider as he approached the scene on foot, and was surprised when they didn't. He couldn't get out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, Behan said, because a fence was behind him. That's when he fired, the chief said.
Mitchem is continuing to work but not in a patrol capacity, police said.
Martin was fatally wounded after officers tried to get he and two other youths to stop their truck after seeing what they believed was an attempt to steal equipment from a car parked on the school lot. Mitchem, police have said, fired after the truck brushed two other officers, hit a police car and then accelerated straight toward him.
Reginald Lawrence, the Martin family attorney, said he was convinced that Behan was sincere in expressing condolences to the family and assuring them that a thorough investigation will be done.
A friend who was riding with Martin during the incident, Theron Hill, 20, of the 5500 block of Gwynn Oak Ave., has been charged with grand theft of auto accessories, conspiracy to commit grand theft, destruction of property and being a rogue and a vagabond. He has been freed on his own recognizance.
A 17-year-old who was also with Martin and Hill was charged as a juvenile and released.
A county grand jury could meet as early as Monday to review the shooting.
"The person who shot Martin didn't have to shoot to kill," Hill's mother, Tessa, said last night. "Another minute or two, another boy may have been killed. My son . . . is just lucky he's not dead, too."
In the days since the shooting, Hill has heard the police accounts but doesn't believe all the details.
Police said an officer spotted three young men cruising around the school parking lot in a Raider. Because school was in session, the officer became suspicious and watched from a distance, said Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger, a police spokesman.
The officer saw one of the occupants get out and break into a yellow Ford Mustang, Doarnberger said.
A police car blocked the exit to the parking lot.
When the three noticed the officer, the driver drove across the school's athletic field, as responding officers arrived and gave chase, police said.
Two officers on foot approaching the Dodge were brushed when the vehicle accelerated. The truck later hit a police car and sped up a hill toward Officer Mitchem, police said.
Mitchem, on foot, began to back up, police said.
It was then that the four-year veteran, fearing he would be run down, fired six shots, police said. Two struck the windshield and one hit Martin in the chest, police said.
Police later learned a seventh shot was fired when one of the two officers on foot approached the vehicle and his gun discharged after hitting the window frame when the Dodge accelerated, Doarnberger said.
But Tessa Hill said she believes 15 to 20 officers fired weapons and gave chase before any warning. She did not give her source for the information. Doarnberger said eight officers were there and two fired.
Last night, Tessa Hill gave no explanation why her son and the others were at the school, but said Theron had left home to go to work. Martin had gotten off that morning from his job as a mail handler at the main post office.
The trio was leaving the parking lot of their own volition when the shooting occurred, Tessa Hill said.
Martin and her son had never been in trouble with the law, she said.
Because three black males were in the four-wheel drive vehicle, a vehicle of choice for drug dealers, Hill said, she believes police automatically believed they were drug dealers and began shooting.
Tessa Hill denied police accounts that the three were there to steal auto equipment, and that Martin tried to run over an officer.
"At no time did the driver run into a car, hit a car nor did he try to run into an officer," she said.