Attorney calls shooting 'an execution' Civil trial opens against police officer

September 25, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Attorneys representing the family of a 25-year-old man fatally shot two years ago during a police chase in Baltimore told a jury yesterday that the shooting was "an execution" that happened while the victim tried to flee arrest.

"We are here because Officer Shean Camper shot Jerrod Wagstaff while he was running away and was unarmed," said Neal M. Brown, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Wagstaff's mother and 5-year-old son. "He was not a threat to anybody."

Camper was charged with involuntary manslaughter after the May 6, 1994, shooting, but a Baltimore Circuit Court jury acquitted him of the charge 10 months later. He has since returned to full-time duty in the city police force's Northeastern District.

The action in city Circuit Court yesterday was the start of a civil claim filed by the family for unspecified monetary damages.

In opening statements yesterday, Paul Shelton, Camper's attorney, portrayed Wagstaff as a convicted drug dealer who put himself in harm's way by supposedly struggling with the officer in a narrow, dark alley in the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave.

Camper "was in a dark alley by himself he was scared," Shelton said. The officer feared that Wagstaff appeared to be ready to lunge at him and he fired one shot to protect himself, Shelton said.

Evidence presented by a state medical examiner at the criminal trial last year showed that the bullet ricocheted off a 42-inch-high chain-link fence and broke apart, with a fragment hitting Wagstaff in the chest.

The medical examiner's report concluded that Wagstaff had just climbed over the fence -- as evidenced by puncture marks on his left hand -- when the bullet shattered and hit him. Prosecutors at the criminal trial tried unsuccessfully to convince the jury that Camper fired at Wagstaff in frustration because he was about to get away.

Camper had gone to the area with a partner to investigate a report of eight to 10 gunshots. When the two officers approached a group of men to question them about the shots, Wagstaff, who was wanted at the time for a parole violation on a drug distribution conviction, bolted from the group. It was later learned that he had a small bag of cocaine in his pocket.

Camper, then 24 and on the force for three years, chased him toward the alley. What happened next is the subject of dispute between the attorneys.

Brown cited witnesses who claimed to have seen Camper fire the fatal shot from several feet away while standing on a porch, while Shelton argued that he jumped into the alley and fired after seeing Wagstaff in an intimidating position.

Camper said in a deposition that "he was in a position to lunge at me it was an aggressive position that I felt was really threatening me."

On June 1, in an unrelated incident, Camper shot and critically wounded Michael Harper. Police said Camper was off duty when he shot Harper in the 4500 block of Mainfield Ave. after Harper struck him with a baseball bat during an argument stemming from a traffic dispute.

Police said the shooting was justified.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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