Gorwell acted properly, police trainer tells jury BALTIMORE CITY

August 03, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A state police training officer testified yesterday that Baltimore Police Officer Edward T. Gorwell II acted appropriately when he fatally shot a 14-year-old suspected car thief in the back.

"What Officer Gorwell did that evening was outstanding," said Sgt. Timothy P. Vittetoe, testifying in Officer Gorwell's manslaughter trial in Baltimore Circuit Court. "He did the only two reasonable things he could have done. He returned fire . . . and he ran to an area of cover and concealment."

Sergeant Vittetoe said the Police Department had trained Officer Gorwell well. "Hats off to the Baltimore City police," he said.

Officer Gorwell, 24, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter in the April 17 death of Simmont "Sam" Thomas, who was shot once after he and four other teen-agers bailed out of a stolen car near a densely wooded area at the edge of Gwynns Falls Park in West Baltimore.

During yesterday's testimony the focus remained, as it has throughout the weeklong trial, on Officer Gorwell's contention that he believed he was returning fire when he shot and killed the Thomas youth. Prosecution witnesses, including the four other teen-agers and three area residents who at the time of the chase were in their houses watching television, said they heard only one shot.

No weapon was found on the slain youth.

Earlier, jurors had been told the officer may have been reacting to the sound of a loose manhole cover on a nearby bridge or gunfire from an unrelated shooting nearby. Also, defense lawyer Henry L. Belsky has suggested that police should have conducted tests to see if any of the other four suspects had fired a gun.

Yesterday, the defense suggested the sound may have been a car backfiring or a tree branch snapping; or the sound made by the metal slide of a "dent puller," a tool some

times used to steal cars.

Jurors watched a videotape of lawyers questioning a witness identified as Jeffrey Walker, who said he was driving on a road near the park around the time of the shooting when he heard two sounds that were "like a car backfiring."

James Ozazewski, a former city homicide detective now working as a private investigator, then told the jury that he traced the path the fleeing teen-agers followed through the woods and discovered that the crack of branches "sounded like it could be a gunshot."

That statement drew groans from the Thomas youth's friends and relatives watching the trial.

Sergeant Vittetoe then took the stand to say that Officer Gorwell was justified in meeting a threat to his life with deadly force.

"He didn't hear a door or a garbage can. He heard a gunshot," Sergeant Vittetoe said. "To him that is reality. . . . He doesn't have time to stand and evaluate it because the next noise could be his life."

When cross-examining Sergeant Vittetoe, prosecutor Timothy J. Doory asked, "Is it fair to say that every police officer in the state is taught before he is allowed out on the street that you can't shoot down a suspected car thief for no other reason than they are fleeing?"

"If that's the only thing they had done, it would be unreasonable to shoot them," Sergeant Vittetoe answered.

Emmanuel Kapelsohn, a police training consultant and firearms expert, testified that he conducted tests at his rural Pennsylvania home that showed a 9 mm handgun -- the type fired by Officer Gorwell -- could be heard over the sound of a television when fired outside but that smaller caliber weapons could not.

Also, apparently attempting to counter the testimony of five city police officers who said Officer Gorwell never mentioned that he had been fired on when they arrived as back-ups, Mr. Kapelsohn said the stress of being shot at can leave an officer "almost comatose."

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