Police chief is grilled on shooting Upton residents still angry over death of man, 23

'A lot of questions'

Frazier promises to find answers, resolve the issue

March 04, 1997|By John Rivera and William E. Thompson Jr. | John Rivera and William E. Thompson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Residents of West Baltimore's Upton community gathered last night in a neighborhood church to demand answers from police about the death of Sean Freeland Sr., who was fatally shot Saturday night after he pointed a gun at two officers.

The anger over the shooting, which nearly caused a riot Saturday night, still was evident among the more than 200 people who attended the meeting in the basement of Mount Olivet Christian Church, a block from the West Lanvale Street rowhouse where the incident occurred.

Police said Freeland, who was 23 according to court records, pointed a gun at one of the officers, leading to a struggle over the weapon in a dark, narrow stairwell. A backup officer fired four shots, hitting Freeland in the chest. Police said both officers were hit by "friendly fire" -- bullets from the backup officer's gun.

Saprina Allison, a cousin of Freeland who was speaking for the family, asked Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier why Freeland was shot if he did not fire at the officers.

"Could you explain to us why he was shot, why was he not just tussled to the floor and arrested?" she asked.

Frazier replied that when the backup officer arrived, "the first officer was in the struggle. It was described to me as a push-pull for control of the gun. At the point the second officer shot, that gun was pointed at the first officer. The second officer feared for the safety of the first officer."

Another cousin, Valerie Conaway Hudson, asked why, if the struggle took place on the stairway, Freeland's body came to rest with his feet pointing out the front doorway. "How did the body reach the front door?" she demanded.

"As the officers explained it to me, after the shots were fired at the landing, the struggle continued down the stairs and they all ended up down the stairs," Frazier said.

Others in the crowd continued to press him as to why the body was moved.

"I don't know if the body was moved or not," Frazier said, as several in the crowd shouted: "It was moved!"

"And if it was, I don't know who moved it and I don't know why," Frazier continued. But he promised he would resolve the issue. "I just don't know now," he said. "It would be, I think, clear if a body was moved."

As the hourlong meeting drew to a close, many in the crowd grew frustrated, and some began shouting questions and statements while others were speaking.

Near the end, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of nearby Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, addressed Frazier.

"Commissioner, our community is angry," Reid said. "Baltimore, right now, is a powder keg. But as angry as we are, the mother and the family are in pain. And what we need tonight are answers, clear answers from you and from your support team as to what happened from your point of view.

"Now, as I've listened tonight, there are a lot of questions that the family has that have not been answered. So Mr. Commissioner, when can we get the answers?"

Frazier noted that he took some heat from the Fraternal Order of Police when he did not defend Sgt. Stephen R. Pagotto, who was convicted in December of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Preston E. Barnes, 22, during a traffic stop.

"I took a great deal of criticism from the union when Sergeant Pagotto shot Preston Barnes," Frazier told the crowd. "What I promised was an honest investigation. The investigation is the same. Everything is the same."

Meanwhile, court documents showed that an arrest warrant had been issued for Freeland in June for not paying a $200 fine he received when he was convicted of drug possession in November 1995. He received a three-year suspended sentence and was serving two years of supervised probation when he was shot.

Freeland also was awaiting trial on charges of drug possession, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. The trial, which had been postponed twice, was scheduled for March 31, court records show.

The charges relate to Freeland's arrest Feb. 6, 1996. Two Baltimore police officers on patrol pulled over a gray Ford Escort in the 1400 block of W. Lafayette Ave. that had temporary District of Columbia tags with a missing expiration date. The officers reportedly saw Freeland, who was sitting in the passenger seat, shove something into his pants.

When the officers asked both men in the car to get out, they said Freeland looked like he was holding something. They searched him and found 21 baggies of what was determined to be crack cocaine, along with $165.

As one of the officers began to arrest him, Freeland shoved him. Three other officers had to tackle and subdue Freeland, who was kicking and flailing, court records showed.

Freeland had been free on a $20,000 bond while awaiting trial, according to court documents.

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