Baltimore officer found not guilty

March 15, 1995|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore police officer Shean D. Camper was found not guilty of manslaughter yesterday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect in May.

Officer Camper, 24, cried after the Baltimore Circuit Court jury announced its verdict. He stood behind the trial table and embraced his sergeant from the Northeastern District and as he left the courtroom, exchanged hugs with fellow officers, his mother and his aunt.

"It was like a release of all the emotions I built up over the whole ordeal," the officer said later. Although defense attorney Henry L. Belsky said his client could still be subject to a departmental investigation, the officer said he was looking forward to full duty.

"I'm going to continue to serve. That's my job," said Officer Camper, who could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison had he been convicted.

He was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the May 6, 1994, shooting of Jerrod Dwayne Wagstaff in a dark side yard in the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave. During the two-week trial, Officer Camper said he struggled with the suspect in the yard before shooting him at close range in self-defense.

Prosecutor Edwin O. Wenck argued that there was no struggle and that the officer fired into the yard from a porch. Mr. Wenck said Officer Camper fired in frustration because the suspect had outrun him, and he told the jury that evidence, such as the location of the fatal bullet's shell casing, may have been tampered with. Two jurors interviewed yesterday said jury members weren't necessarily sold on the officer's version, but gave him the benefit of the doubt because the prosecution did not offer enough evidence. The jury deliberated for nearly five hours.

The jurors announced their decision shortly after Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe, in answer to their question, said a civilian must try to retreat before using force in self-defense but that a police officer has no duty to retreat while protecting himself.

After the verdict was announced, Mr. Wagstaff's mother, Diane Flood, rushed from the courthouse. She said she was surprised at the verdict. Of Officer Camper, she said, "He's going to have to live with what he did the rest of his life."

Officer Camper said they had talked for the first time yesterday. "I just wanted her to know I was conscious of the fact that she was in pain," he said.

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