Officer saw no reason to draw gun Driver was killed during traffic stop

November 27, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police Sgt. Stephen Pagotto's partner testified yesterday that, unlike his partner, he saw no reason to draw a gun the night the two approached a suspicious car whose driver Pagotto is accused of shooting moments later.

Officer Steven Wagner, an 11-year veteran of the force, said Pagotto also told him nothing to indicate he noticed a dangerous situation in the car, as would be the normal procedure. In fact, he zTC testified, Pagotto did not tell his partner he had drawn his gun -- putting Wagner unwittingly in the line of fire.

But Wagner acknowledged under cross examination by Pagotto's lawyer, Kimberly A. Kelly, that he never saw what the driver, Preston Barnes, was doing. And he acknowledged violating procedures himself that night -- by having his hands full, so that he could not have drawn his gun even if he needed to, and by neglecting to mention that the shooting involved a police officer when he called it in.

Pagotto is charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Barnes, who was driving a white Subaru that Pagotto and Wagner stopped the night of Feb. 7 in the 2600 block of Kirk Ave. One bullet from Pagotto's Glock 9 mm handgun struck Barnes in the left armpit.

In a statement to police, Pagotto said the shooting was accidental. Prosecutor Lawrence Doan is trying to convince a jury that the 15-year veteran violated so many police policies that night that he was guilty of gross negligence, and therefore should be convicted.

Wagner's job that night was to watch the two passengers in Barnes' car as Pagotto approached the driver to look for a gun. Soon after Pagotto did so, the car began to move forward, and Pagotto ordered him to get the police vehicle they had been riding in, a short distance away. Wagner said he was returning to the car when he heard a gunshot.

He turned and saw Pagotto falling from Barnes' car, and he initially thought his partner had been hit. The Subaru, he said, crashed into a parked car and came to a stop a short distance away. Both officers got into their car, drove over and pulled Barnes out of his car. As they did so, Wagner testified, Pagotto "looked at me and says: 'I think I shot him.' "

Had he known that Pagotto had his gun drawn, Wagner testified that he would have positioned himself differently. "I'm in front of that gun," he said.

Wagner testified that in the 5,000 car stops he had conducted during his police career, he had never tried to remove a suspect from a car while holding a gun, as Pagotto has said he did.

Wagner also acknowledged on the stand that it was he, not Pagotto, who reported the incident as a regular shooting, rather than one that involved a police weapon. Prosecutors have suggested that that reporting delayed the response of supervisors to the scene and may have impeded the investigation of the shooting.

Wagner said he intentionally left out the fact of police involvement because he was afraid news reporters would hear his radio call on police scanners and come to the scene, inflaming a hostile crowd that was forming. "The crowd we had that night got out of hand," he said. "We didn't need the media on top of that."

Pagotto did not tell him to call in the shooting that way, Wagner said.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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