Off-duty officer critically wounds man wielding baseball bat after traffic dispute

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 late 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 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, held his gun on the man during a standoff that witnesses said lasted 15 minutes.

Police said the officer fired 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 member of the police force, was placed on administrative duty pending a review by the department's homicide unit and the state's attorney's office. The homicide unit investigates shootings by police officer.

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 both Harper and Camper, who were passengers in their 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 Ave., was charged as an adult with the same offenses. Police said 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 Road, with Camper following him, Cooper said.

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 Road and Walther Avenue, and shouted 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 a mile to Harper's old neighborhood, she said.

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

The incident is the second shooting involving Camper in the last two years.

He was acquitted by a Baltimore Circuit Court jury in March 1995 in the fatal shooting of unarmed Jerrod Dwayne Wagstaff, 25, in the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave. on May 6, 1994. Camper contended during the trial that he fired in self-defense, but prosecutors argued that Wagstaff was shot while fleeing.

Harper, who is separated from his wife, has four children, ages 4, 10, 13 and 17. He was working as a wallpaper hanger, said his mother, Nancy Harper.

Pub Date: 6/03/96

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