Boys recall friend's death Youths rebut officer's account BALTIMORE CITY

April 27, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Three of the four boys with Simmont Donta Thomas the night he was fatally shot by a city police officer while fleeing a stolen car said the officer shouted a warning at the precise moment he fired his gun.

In separate interviews with The Sun, each youth said he heard the officer shout a command, ending with an obscenity, as the fatal shot rang out.

"It was like a stop [followed by the profanity] and then, 'ahh,' " said Quentin Montague, 17, recalling the dull groan Simmont made after he was shot. "I kept on running, 'cause I know he ain't hit me, so I kept on going. I ain't going to stop for no gunshot." The officer, Quentin said, had "no right to use the gun in the first place."

The boys -- Terill Alexander, 14, Andre Handy, 16, and the Montague youth -- recounted the April 17 shooting in interviews at the scene of the incident, a densely wooded area of Gwynns Falls Park near the 900 block of Ellicott Driveway in West Baltimore. Efforts to locate and interview the fourth boy in the car were unsuccessful.

The area of the park where the shooting occurred has thick brush, vines and leaves. A shallow stream is about 50 yards from Ellicott Driveway, midway between the street and railroad tracks.

During visits with a reporter to the site with the youths, Quentin discovered a red-handled screwdriver, which he said was used by one of the boys to pop the ignition of the stolen car. The screwdriver, which he said was dropped as the boys fled, was found partially buried beneath leaves. The three boys said the accounts they provided to The Sun were the same as those given to police detectives shortly after Simmont was shot. All the boys have been charged with car theft.

All three said they were unarmed, and a police spokesman said yesterday that they found no evidence to the contrary. Each youth admitted to riding in the 1992 Chrysler New Yorker that had been reported stolen earlier that night from the Mondawmin area.

About a half-hour after the car was stolen, according to the boys, a police car began pursuing them from the area near upper Fulton Street to Ellicott Driveway, where the car hit a curb and got a flat tire about 1 a.m.

At that point, recalled Andre, "We all bailed out and started running and running. I ran up a hill. Soon as I got to the top, I heard 'Come here you [expletive deleted].' Pop! One shot. That's all I heard. There weren't no cars coming through or nothing. It was just silence."

"I was scared. It sounded like he fired in the air. I just jumped and put my head down further, 'cause when I run I put my head down. I ran faster. It was like, 'Man, he's getting ready to start cranking [firing] on us.' "

Simmont was shot once in the lower back and was later declared dead at the scene. His body was found on the grassy area of a small hill of the park, about 20 yards from Ellicott Driveway. None of the other youths was injured.

Officer Edward T. Gorwell II said he fired his service handgun after he thought he heard a gunshot while chasing the boys on foot. Police have found no evidence that another gun was fired at the time Simmont was killed.

Both the boys and residents of the block recalled hearing the sound of only one gunshot.

Henry L. Belsky, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said yesterday the officer was scared and felt that a shot had been fired at him as he ran in a dark section of the park.

"Police have to make decisions in a split second," Mr. Belsky said. "In a fraction of a second he has to make the decision: Am I being fired upon or should I fire? My client's perception was that he was being fired upon. I don't know what their [the boys'] stories are."

According to the youths, their evening began like many other weekend nights: By stealing a car. The five youths met near the intersection of Presstman and Bentalou Streets in West Baltimore about 11:30 p.m. and walked toward Mondawmin Mall, in search of a car to take.

At least two of the youths carried dent pullers, a tool used to break into cars. Another had the red-handled screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

In an area near the shopping center and Liberty Medical Center, the boys saw the Chrysler, and within minutes had broken into the car, popped the ignition and were riding off, according to Handy, a seventh-grade student at Calverton Middle School.

A rap song played on the radio as the boys joked with each other while driving through West Baltimore. Quentin said he was at the wheel, Andre beside him, and Simmont, Terill and the other youth in the rear seat.

But the car soon became too crowded and looked "suspicious," Andre said, with all of the people inside. So they drove in search of another car.

On Fulton Street near Lafayette Avenue, a police officer in a cruiser saw them and followed. After several blocks, the police officer turned on the cruiser's emergency lights and siren.

With Quentin at the wheel of the New Yorker and the police in pursuit, the stolen car sped down Fulton Avenue to Edmondson Avenue and proceeded west.

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