One shooting, two points of view Witnesses say man killed by trooper after chase was trying to cooperate

May 20, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

A Towson woman who watched horrified on April 25 a Baltimore barbershop owner Antonio Carlos Towns was shot to death by a Maryland state trooper says Mr. Towns appeared to be trying hard to cooperate with Maryland State Police just before he was killed.

Although she and two other witnesses interviewed by The Sun don't dispute state police assertions that the shooting was accidental, their description of the events differs significantly from the police version.

Police have said that Mr. Towns was resisting arrest -- so much so that he had to be pulled from his car -- and that Trooper Chad P. Hymel's gun fired inadvertently when he and a second officer tried to pull Mr. Towns to the ground where he could be handcuffed.

But the witnesses say Mr. Towns appeared to be willing to do whatever the officers wanted.

Mr. Towns "did what I would have done," said Phyllis Stauffer, 44, an executive secretary with a Baltimore securities firm. His hands were in the air, and "it was like, 'Tell me what to do. I'll do anything.' "

She and other witnesses agree that Mr. Towns, 34, was cooperating and did not appear to do anything to provoke the shooting, which happened when Mr. Towns' car was stopped after a high-speed chase that began in Baltimore County.

Whatever happened, it happened quickly. A tape recording of police radio transmissions shows that the entire episode -- from the time the chase ended until Trooper Hymel radioed for a MedEvac helicopter -- took 62 seconds.

Ms. Stauffer, who saw the action unfold from her sixth-floor window in an apartment just west of Charles Street at the Baltimore Beltway overpass, recalled it in a statement typed on the day of the shooting and in an interview with The Sun.

According to her recollections, the fatal shot was fired well after troopers had forced Mr. Towns to the ground and seemed to have the situation under control.

A second witness, a 25-year-old sixth-floor resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the troopers had just begun to move Mr. Towns toward the rear of the Corvette when the shot was fired.

"There was no resisting arrest, no violent actions to substantiate that there was a reason for guns to be fired," he said.

A third witness, a 44-year-old furniture-maker who also declined to be identified, said he watched from the ninth floor.

He said the two troopers were standing behind the Corvette trying to get Mr. Towns to kneel or lie down when the gun went off. He said the troopers erred when they tried to deal with Mr. Towns with guns drawn.

"They [Mr. Towns' parents] lost their son for no good reason," he said. "It's a damn shame, but it was an accident."

Police found no weapons, drugs or alcohol in Mr. Towns' car, and an autopsy found no trace of alcohol or drugs in his body. No one knows why he tried to elude arrest.

A criminal investigation of the shooting is continuing this week as troopers question more witnesses, including several in the Ruxton Towers building. Investigators said the findings would be presented to Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor today or tomorrow. A county grand jury will determine whether criminal charges will be brought against the troopers.

A parallel investigation by the state police internal affairs unit has been completed, but the results have not been made public. In the meantime, Trooper Hymel, 27, is performing administrative duties, his police powers suspended.

Terry S. Lavenstein, an attorney hired by Mr. Towns' family, has filed a $20 million negligence claim on their behalf against the state, the state police and two of its troopers.

Contrasting recollections

The incident began when Mr. Towns fled after being clocked at 81 mph in a radar trap on Interstate 83 near Mount Carmel Road. He then led police on a high-speed chase down York Road to Lutherville before he was stopped at Charles Street and the Beltway.

Police and bystanders differ on what happened next.

Trooper Hymel has told his lawyer, Michael Marshall, that Mr. Towns refused his orders to get out of the Corvette and that he and another trooper had to open the driver's door and pull Mr. Towns out.

Capt. Johnny Hughes, a state police spokesman, said yesterday that investigators now believe Mr. Towns initially refused to get out of his car until a trooper opened the door and put his hand on Mr. Towns' shoulder

"At that time, [Mr. Towns] did get out of the car on his own !B volition," Captain Hughes said.

Ms. Stauffer and two other witnesses remember it differently.

She said the Corvette and pursuing police cars were just rolling to a stop when the wailing sirens brought her to the window.

She said that one trooper, his cruiser stopped in front of the Corvette, was already outside his car, crouched and with his gun pointed at the Corvette. "I realized I was watching a deadly situation," she said.

Two other police cars had stopped behind the Corvette, but trees blocked her view of their drivers.

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