Off-duty officer shoots man wielding bat Policeman acquitted in '95 of manslaughter

June 03, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

An off-duty Baltimore police officer acquitted of manslaughter last year shot and critically wounded a man wielding a baseball bat Saturday night as residents of a Northeast Baltimore neighborhood watched.

The shooting stemmed from a traffic dispute that began at an intersection about two miles away, said Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a police spokeswoman.

It occurred on a Lauraville street that neighbors of the shooting victim say was filled with children enjoying the warm spring night. Family members and neighbors who witnessed the incident were outraged yesterday.

"This is something I never thought I would have to prepare my children for," said Karen Zissimos, 26. She said she had to round up two of her three children as the off-duty officer, dressed in civilian clothes, constantly held his gun on the man during a standoff that witnesses said lasted 15 minutes.

Police said the officer fired the shot because he was struck with a bat both by the man and his nephew.

"I understand there are conflicting reports, and everything will be reviewed and investigated," Cooper said.

The officer, Shean D. Camper, 25, a five-year veteran of the police force, was placed on administrative duty pending a review of the incident by the department's homicide unit -- which investigates all shootings by police officers -- and the state's attorney's office.

Camper shot Michael Harper, 35, of the 1700 block of Wentworth Road in Hillendale once in the chest about 10 p.m. Saturday. Police said Harper struck Camper with a bat just before the shooting in the 4500 block of Mainfield Ave., where Harper's mother lives.

One witness said yesterday that he saw Harper strike the officer with the bat, but other witnesses said they did not see the bat hit the policeman.

Harper was in critical but stable condition yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Police said he has been charged in a warrant with assault with intent to murder, assault with a deadly weapon, battery and disorderly conduct.

The incident also involved the girlfriends of Harper and Camper, who were passengers in their boyfriends' vehicles. The women scuffled on Mainfield Avenue before the shooting, witnesses said.

Harper's passenger, Jennifer Van Atta, 27, was charged with assault with intent to murder, assault, battery and disorderly conduct.

Harper's nephew, Robert Charles Williams Jr., 16, of the 4500 block of Mainfield was charged as an adult with the same offenses. Police say he hit Camper with a baseball bat.

Both were being held at the Northeastern District yesterday pending a bail review hearing.

Even though an officer may be off-duty, he or she still has police powers and is expected to uphold the law, the spokeswoman said. Camper, she said, was acting as an observer notifying police so that other officers could take enforcement action.

Cooper said the incident began when Harper's pickup truck was stopped at a traffic signal in front of Camper's car at Erdman Avenue and Harford Road. When the light turned green, Harper failed to move, and Camper honked his horn, she said.

She said Harper made an obscene gesture at the officer, who was accompanied by a woman identified as Latasha Garland. Harper them made a right turn onto Harford, with Camper following him.

The spokeswoman said the truck driver weaved repeatedly in front of Camper's vehicle. At one point, she said, Camper pulled near Harper, flashed his badge and identified himself as a police officer.

But the dispute continued. Cooper said Harper got out of his truck with a baseball bat twice, one time at Harford and Walther Avenue, to shout profanities at the officer. Camper used his cellular telephone to call the Northeastern District to report a possible drunken driver and continued to follow the truck for another mile to Harper's old neighborhood, she said.

She said she did not know how much time elapsed before police officers responded. She said Lauraville residents also called 911 when the two drivers reached the neighborhood.

Once on Mainfield, Cooper said, Harper got out of the truck and eventually hit Carper with his bat. She said the Williams youth rushed to the scene and also struck the officer with a bat, and that Van Atta also attacked the officer.

Cooper did not know how much time elapsed from when they left their vehicles to when the shooting occurred.

Witnesses said Harper got out of his truck and told Camper to leave the neighborhood. Chris Clingerman, 24, who lives on Mainfield Avenue, said the officer flashed his badge quickly and said, "I could kill you because of this."

Tim Rose, 14, another neighborhood resident, said the two men shouted profanities at each other for about 15 minutes. "Mike [Harper] told him several times to get in his car and go home," he said.

Cooper said the officer felt he was in danger. "People were coming from everywhere," she said, acknowledging that the police version was derived primarily from an interview with Camper.

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