Trooper not indicted in death after chase He still faces police hearing BALTIMORE COUNTY

June 30, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

A Baltimore County grand jury has decided not to indict Trooper Chad I. Hymel for the April 25 shooting death of Baltimore hair salon owner Antonio Carlos Towns.

Mr. Towns, 34, was shot to death by Trooper Hymel at Charles Street and the Baltimore Beltway after a high-speed chase.

Police accounts have indicated that Trooper Hymel's gun fired accidentally as the officer and a second trooper were preparing to handcuff Mr. Towns.

Michael L. Marshall, an attorney representing Trooper Hymel, said yesterday that his client was "very relieved."

"Nobody in law enforcement wants to kill anybody under any circumstances," he said. "For that to have happened is extremely traumatic. . . . That the grand jury has vindicated him and recognized that this was an unavoidable accident certainly helps him to put this behind him and get on with his career."

Trooper Hymel still faces an administrative review of his actions by state police and the possibility of disciplinary action.

Sue A. Schenning, the assistant state's attorney who presented the case to the grand jury during a four-hour session Monday, said, "There was no evidence that this [shooting] was intentional, and I don't think even the Towns family would suggest that their son was intentionally killed by this police officer."

What remained for the grand jury to determine, she said, was whether Trooper Hymel caused Mr. Towns' death "by conduct that would grossly deviate from the standard of care police officers owe to the citizens they're arresting."

"One looks to what that standard of care is, and there really wasn't any evidence that he grossly deviated from his training policies and procedures," Ms. Schenning said.

"His testimony, as well as all the evidence, indicated it was accidental."

Citing grand jury secrecy, Ms. Schenning declined to discuss whether she had argued for an indictment. "We can't discuss deliberations and what goes on before the grand jury," she said.

"We presented the evidence, all the circumstances of the shooting from police and civilian eyewitnesses. The grand jury is advised on the law, and they make their decision from that."

On administrative duty

An internal affairs investigation by the state police was completed some weeks ago, but action on the findings has been delayed pending the grand jury's action. Trooper Hymel remains on administrative duty at the Golden Ring barracks.

A state police spokesman, 1st Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, said the command staff will now review the findings of the internal affairs investigation and determine whether Trooper Hymel violated state police policies and procedures. That process should be completed during July.

"If there were administrative charges placed, the trooper would have a right to a hearing board, but that's further down the road," he said.

Release of the internal affairs investigation findings will not be considered until after the case is resolved.

Sergeant Shipley declined to discuss state police training and procedures as they relate to Trooper Hymel's actions specifically. But he did outline the training issues against which internal affairs investigators would compare Trooper Hymel's actions. These include:

* The state police policy on deadly force, which allows officers to draw and prepare to use their guns when they are in fear for their lives or the lives of others.

* Survival training, in which officers are taught when and how to draw their weapons, cover and take control of a suspect.

* Physical training, where officers are taught handcuffing, take-down and restraining techniques.

L * Firing-range training in how to draw and holster a weapon.

* Judgmental training, including "shoot and don't-shoot" situations.

The rest is the officer's discretion and judgment, Sergeant Shipley said. The officer "has to apply the rules and the training he has received to that specific case, and each case is different."

'He was told to get out'

Mr. Marshall, the trooper's attorney, said yesterday that his client did nothing in violation of police policy, and nothing criminal. He held Mr. Towns responsible for the accident.

"The only way to avoid [the accident] was for the driver of the car to obey the lawful order from the troopers," Mr. Marshall said.

"He was told to get out of the car. and he didn't. He was told to get on the ground, and he stiffened his body. When you're a trooper who's been involved in a high-speed chase, you don't know what's going on, and you're trained to neutralize the situation."

No weapons, drugs or alcohol were found in Mr. Towns' car, and an autopsy showed no traces of drugs or alcohol that might explain why he fled a state police speed trap on Interstate 83. His family and friends remain baffled by his behavior.

Although police accounts have said Mr. Towns was uncooperative after he was finally stopped, some eyewitnesses have said they saw no sign that he was resisting arrest.

No comment from family

Terry S. Lavenstein, an attorney representing Mr. Towns' family, said his clients would have no immediate comment on the grand jury's decision. He expressed confidence in the state's attorney's office but said that the grand jury's decision not to indict came as no surprise.

"Based on the witnesses that were interviewed by our [private] investigators," he said, "this was not a situation where the officer stopped the car, pulled out the driver and fired. I don't think it was intentional in that sense."

The grand jury's decision "doesn't answer any of the family's questions," he said. But then, "an indictment wouldn't answer their questions either."

Mr. Lavenstein has filed a $20 million negligence claim with the state treasurer's office on behalf of Mr. Towns' parents, his 3-year-old daughter and the child's mother. The claim, if not settled, would likely be filed in court as a civil suit.

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