Shooting tells city's story One of us: Upton residents saw more than young man fatally shot in fight with police.

March 05, 1997

EVEN SEAN FREELAND's mother will admit that her 23-year-old son, shot and killed Saturday night by police, had a history of trouble with the law. But maybe neighbors who violently protested the shooting that night weren't ignoring his record. Their actions, in a sense, acknowledged his criminal record and served as recognition that Mr. Freeland was like a lot of other young men they know in West Baltimore -- sons, brothers and fathers who easily could have been in his place.

That fact is as tragic as Mr. Freeland's death. A high school dropout, he found employment in the drug trade, just like dozens of other young men on street corners in Upton. He was arrested in 1994 with 30 small bags of crack cocaine and was caught again last year with 21 bags of crack. During the 1996 arrest Mr. Freeland fought police. He was on bail awaiting trial Saturday night when police came looking for a man reported to be brandishing a gun.

An investigation will determine whether the shooting of Mr. Freeland was justified. But Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has already said he supports the officers involved. He was criticized by the police union last year for not similarly standing behind Sgt. Stephen R. Pagotto, who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting a known drug dealer, Preston E. Barnes, during a traffic stop.

There were lots of questions about the Barnes shooting. There are not as many about the death of Mr. Freeland. It is known that all of the shots, those that killed Mr. Freeland and those that wounded the two policemen, were fired by one of the officers. Police said Mr. Freeland had a gun, but it jammed.

That he was armed didn't satisfy Upton residents at a neighborhood meeting Monday night who didn't like Mr. Frazier's explanation that Mr. Freeland had to be shot to save the life of the officer he was wrestling with. All they could see was that another young man was dead, and that they are tired of seeing young men die. Even Upton residents who never knew Mr. Freeland were struck by his death. They know they live in a a city where drugs and violence can bring death to anyone's door.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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