Support, protests mark arraignment Officer is charged in youth's death

May 29, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Minutes after being arraigned yesterday on a manslaughter charge, Officer Edward T. Gorwell II received a line of well-wishers filing out of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. Dressed in suit and tie, he stationed himself outside the heavy ornamental doors and shook hands with two dozen fellow city police officers.

Nearby, on the sidewalk, protester Rashaad Ali taunted in sing-song: "Gor-well is a mur-der-er. Gor-well is a mur-der-er."

Officer Gorwell, who fatally shot a 14-year-old suspected car thief in the back, is scheduled to stand trial July 27 before Judge David Ross. The dead youth's parents and other protesters yesterday renewed their demand that the 24-year-old officer be tried for murder, and not just for manslaughter.

"I want the City of Baltimore to give me justice," said Myra Green, mother of the slain youth. "I want

that officer to go to jail and serve time like anybody else for murder, because that's what it was."

Simmont Donta Thomas was killed April 17, shot once in the back while fleeing from a stolen car in a densely wooded area at the edge of Gwynns Falls Park in West Baltimore.

Officer Gorwell has said he believed he was returning gunfire when he shot the boy. Other witnesses have reported hearing only one shot; no gun was found on the slain youth or the others who fled the stolen car.

About a dozen protesters carried signs and chanted, "Murder, not manslaughter," as Officer Gorwell and the other officers arrived for the arraignment.

Waiting in the courtroom for the hearing to begin, Officer Gorwell said of the protesters: "They just don't know the facts of the case, what police go through out there.

"It's going to be very difficult to begin with," he said. "This is added pressure."

Of the courtroom packed with police, Officer Gorwell said, "I like it very much. I know if another police was in the same situation I would support them."

His lawyer, Henry L. Belsky, said that the idea for the "show of solidarity" -- organized by Lodge 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police, bargaining agent for city officers -- came at a meeting about two weeks ago. He said that the organization is paying the officer's legal fees and that members had contributed more than $1,000 for Officer Gorwell, who is suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case. The officer said he is working in shipping and receiving for a supply company, making less than half what he made as an officer.

The arraignment hearing lasted less than a minute. Assistant State's Attorney Timothy J. Doory called the case. Mr. Belsky entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of his client, and the trial date was set.

"There are no plea negotiations," Mr. Belsky later told reporters.

Before, during and after the hearing, the protesters marched on the sidewalk on the Calvert Street side of the courthouse, carrying signs that read, "Reconvene the grand jury, murder not manslaughter" and "Stop killer cops."

Sharon Ceci, who identified herself as an organizer for a grass-roots group known as the Movement for People's Assembly, said, "I'm out here because I support the family and because of the facts of the case. . . . I personally feel the police are out of control."

"People are tired of it," said Ken Morgan, who said he is a member of the Simmont Thomas Justice Committee. He described the shooting victim as "a 14-year-old youth who had ambitions and potential. He might have made a mistake but, like his parents said, we don't even have him here to punish him and say it was wrong."

Officer William Molick, who worked alongside Officer Gorwell in the city's Western District, offered a different assessment of the slain youth, saying, "I locked him up for the same thing two weeks earlier. Not that he deserved to die, but he wasn't any angel.

"I just feel Officer Gorwell is getting a bad shake on this deal," said Officer Molick, who, like other officers present, wore a black band on his badge in memory of Officer Herman A. Jones Sr., a 23-year veteran of the city department who was shot dead Wednesday in an East Baltimore carryout restaurant while he was off duty.

After the hearing, the Thomas youth's mother and stepfather met with Mr. Doory, the prosecutor, and presented a petition they said contained more than 1,000 signatures calling on authorities to reconvene the grand jury and bring forth a murder indictment.

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